How to make Easter mean more

Easter is the most significant event in the Christian calendar but its message of new beginnings, hope, and redemption are universal and can be appreciated by everyone.

What do eggs, palm fronds and a traditional baked bun symbolise? What are the positive messages we can all take from these Easter emblems? And how can we apply these to our daily lives?

Eggs and new beginnings

In many cultures around the world, the egg has long been a symbol of new life, fertility and rebirth: one Hindu creation story states that the universe came from a cosmic golden egg and for thousands of years Iranians have decorated eggs on Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which falls on the Spring equinox.

For Christians, the egg symbolises the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the hard shell representing the sealed tomb from which he broke free. At Easter we roll them down hills (to re-enact the rolling away of the tomb stone), decorate them and, of course, exchange chocolate versions the size of ostrich eggs.

The idea of rebirth or a fresh start is one that we can all appreciate. It can be hard to make big changes in life but Spring presents the perfect time to get a new job, mend or end a relationship, or move house. But a “rebirth” doesn’t have to be so tangible: it can also be about a change in attitude or approach. When you tuck into your chocolate eggs this Easter, embrace the changes that you want to make – inside and out. In the words of T.S. Eliot: “Every moment is a fresh beginning.”

Hot cross buns and self-sacrifice

There’s one baked product that floods the shops at Easter time, and that’s the hot cross bun. It’s thought that the bun was first baked by a 14th Century monk from St Albans Abbey, who handed them out to the local poor on Good Friday. Whoever is behind the delicious tradition, the cross is said to symbolise the crucifix that Christ died upon, and to serve as a reminder of the sacrifice he made for us.

The idea of giving one’s life for others is a powerful one. Easter offers an opportunity to reflect on the notion of self-sacrifice and selflessness. In what ways can we make our own sacrifices, concessions and compromises for the people we love or those in need? A sacrifice could be giving up time to volunteer for a charity, donating hard-earned cash to a worthy cause, or something as simple as missing the football in order to help bake a batch of hot cross buns for friends and family.

Palm branches and warm welcomes

On Palm Sunday, which falls a week before Easter, Jesus is said to have entered Jerusalem on a donkey with the happy people welcoming him by waving palm branches. To commemorate the event, many churches provide their congregation with small crosses made from palm leaves.

These days, we would likely balk if someone waved a large branch in our face, but we can all try and replicate the act of openly welcoming someone new. Notably, we can be hospitable to those fleeing places of conflict or violence, but we can also show welcome to people we meet on a day-to-day basis. If someone new enters the office, look up and smile when they pass by. As the writer Max Eastman said, “A smile is the universal welcome." Try proactively introducing yourself to a new neighbour, welcoming your sibling’s nervous new partner with open arms, and encourage your children to say hello to the new kid at school – no matter where they are from.

Candles and holding on to hope

Many congregations have a Paschal or Easter candle – a large, white candle which is blessed and lit every year at Easter. This candle represents the risen Christ bringing light into the world and – with it – hope.

This Easter, we can all nurture hope within ourselves, and try to remain optimistic and positive in the face of obstacles or pitfalls. We can also endeavour to inspire hope in those we care about who might be experiencing difficulty in their lives. It was Martin Luther King who said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Easter on Radio 4