Easter and Functionalism? Community in Our Differences
I grew up in a house where Easter traditions were filled with Easter sunrise service, breakfast, egg dying, Easter egg hunts, baskets, and all the reminders of Spring! New outfits, flowers, parades, and the overwhelming symbolism of renewal and rebirth.
I loved Easter! Then my dad died. When I was 11, I lost my dad to diseases quite common in the Black community- complications of diabetes, high blood pressure, stress, etc. For a long time, my mom did her best to continue the traditions that she was able to give my older brothers and sisters, but it became harder over time and more diluted.
I’m not a religious person, or even Christian, but I miss sunrise service. There was something wonderful about communing with the sunset, the collective energy that everyone felt as the sun rose above our heads and represented a magnificent love- because ultimately, that’s what was being celebrated. I don’t have to be a believer to know that this imagery and symbolism is powerful. The idea of resurrection is not new or particular to Christian faith. I think it’s important to not only identify where these motifs and stories come up, but to recognize what the underlying importance is that binds them all; the thing that says “we’re not so different”.
One of the earliest resurrection stories comes to us from the Egyptians- Isis and Osiris.
In the story, Seth is jealous of Osiris being king, so he plots to kill him and take his place. Seth lures Osiris into a sarcophagus, slams the lid and locks him in. The sarcophagus is thrown into the Nile. Isis, Osiris’ love, goes to look for him and learns of his fate, but worries that he will not be able to find the land of dead since he did not receive the proper burial rites.
Isis finds out that the sarcophagus gets stuck in a tree that is then taken to build a palace. Seth finds the coffin, and dismembers Osiris into 14 pieces, spreading him across Egypt (each part represents one of the 14 full moons in a year). Isis sets out to find the pieces, but only discovers 13 because a fish ate 1. So, she creates a phallus out of gold, and chants to bring Osiris back to life. He is resurrected and becomes Lord of the Dead.
Another pre- Christian resurrection story is Ishtar and Persephone. Both die every year, and are then reborn. Much like seasons.
How about the Sumerian goddess, Inanna? Inanna went into the Underworld, where she was made into a corpse. Her servant went to the gods to plead for her and one of the gods frees Inana and she’s reborn.
Check out the Chinese, Quanyin, or the Norse, Odin, to name a small few.
These stories exist in many ways, all over the world. For some they myth. For others they are Truth. Clearly, these motifs have been an important part of human history whether you embrace Judeo- Christian traditions or not.
My whole point of this is contextualize the importance of rebirth and renewal in our individual lives. So important are these aspects, that they have found a way to be culturally represented within our traditions, practices, even the ways in which we govern our communities.
Consider the ways we think about rebirth and metamorphosis outside of religious constructs- butterflies, cocoons, seedlings, birth, etc. Perhaps, I am taking a more Emile Durkheim functionalist point of view when it comes to the whole concepts of Easter, but I hope that what you take away is not only the importance of traditions and how they evolve and translate over time, but how we can learn and be richer by acknowledging the cultural and philosophical differences of others.
Don’t be afraid to speak your truth, to allow your traditions to change and morph because they do. Culture isn’t static. It’s dynamic and living.
Find away to celebrate your change, your renewal and rebirth. Will it be a new idea? Perhaps new life to an old idea? Will you take on a challenge? Will you spend time in worship and have a spiritual cleansing?
HAPPY EASTER! HAPPY SPRING! HAPPY REBIRTH!