Opinion: From 'born again' to bunnies, Easter's promise of metamorphosis remains profound

  • 31/03/2024
"[The] combination of eggs, bunnies and chocolate feels confusing and outdated."
"[The] combination of eggs, bunnies and chocolate feels confusing and outdated." Photo credit: Getty Images

By Tash McGill

Easter is a sanitised affair these days. The reality of a grisly, gruesome death has been processed and repackaged, serving us up chocolate eggs, fluffy bunnies and happy endings in its place.

In truth, the story finds a foothold in an epic political power struggle with betrayal, spilt blood and eventually, murder.

It then gets a tidy bow of redemption and resurrection, some 33 years after the first miraculous birth, offering us all a 'fresh start' and the chance to be 'born again'.

But birth is messy, and 'fresh' doesn't always mean 'clean', as new mums or anyone who buys free-range organic eggs will know. Maybe that explains how the ancient Church decided to borrow the pagan egg symbol of fertility and birth - none of the men in charge had actually seen it in real life!

Maybe Easter needs a new symbol because, while going all the way back to the beginning is a nice thought, no one really wants to learn it all from scratch again.

Being 'born again' conjures images of ecstatic religious conversion, and this combination of eggs, bunnies and chocolate feels confusing and outdated.

But those underlying themes of Easter - of fresh starts and redemption - remain profound.

How do I know? Because these ideas are still all around us.

Where baptism used to be the Christian ritual for rebirth, we now have a swathe of modern-day equivalents: tattoos, F45 workouts, career changes, haircuts, house renovations.

The phoenix rising from the ashes and the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly offer us powerful metaphors for overcoming adversity. But this is a metamorphosis - it isn't about a complete overhaul, it's about embracing the potential for change, and the beauty that lies within.

These symbols of the phoenix and the butterfly were among the most popular tattoos in Hong Kong during and immediately after the pandemic lockdowns. We experienced, we overcame, and then we marked that chapter of our lives on our bodies in ink. 

I apologise now, for the poor haircut choices of 2006 to 2008 - it was a rough patch. I do not apologise for the dramatic Facebook posts declaring radical new commitments to exercise, good health and eliminating drama between 2010 and 2013 (I just delete them).

Whether your transformation story requires the dopamine boost of group fitness and pumping tunes at 6am, a dramatic haircut to reclaim your self-esteem, or rearranging furniture at 2am (just me?), human beings are wired to make and find symbols that help us make meaning out of life.

Just ask a Swiftie and they'll tell you in an instant what the change of an Instagram profile picture can mean for the story Taylor might be telling.

I was once taught that Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday meant we could be resurrected any day of the week we liked. I still love that idea, because it means a new evolution is always at hand, a better version within reach.

While the Church has dumbed down tales of redemption to 'starting from scratch', the words of Jesus speak to metamorphosis.

He encouraged people to 'go forward and sin no more' - quite a different idea to 'go back and start again'. Jesus' words often offer an invitation to keep moving forward.

Even on the cross, he spoke of concern and instruction for the care of his mother and forgiveness for those who speared him in the side. It was an others-centred kind of death. 

Sacrifice is still a pretty powerful and relevant symbol in today's world. Sometimes the most powerful symbols are not the ones you can touch or taste, but the ones that offer an invitation to a different way of being.

A role model like Faʻanānā Efeso Collins is a symbol of sorts. He pursued social transformation with his time, energy, skills and faith until his last breath, living an others-centred kind of life. 

Jesus gave his life over and above that of his followers and friends and there's still comfort for many in the central tenet of faith in Jesus: that he sacrificed his life for all of us.

Whether you share that belief or not, that is an invitation to live sacrificially for others. We could all do with a bit more of that.

If nothing else, take comfort that the great human expression of fresh starts, new birth and hopeful metamorphosis is still relevant today - even if you'd prefer a butterfly to an Easter bunny.

Tash McGill is a storyteller, strategist and writer.