A Bunny Welcome for Jesus

This year, Walmart featured a very upbeat TV ad with the caption, “Easter like you mean it.” It’s about kids running around in a well cared for neighborhood, chasing each other and finding easter eggs while inside the house, the elders are preparing a sumptuous feast. [1] And in spite of all the action, the first thing to catch my attention was that they had turned Easter into a verb. [2]

When I got past that, “Eastering like you mean it” began to seem like a good idea. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth in one thing, of course, and the annual celebration of an event called “Easter” is quite another. Bede, the medieval English writer, says that Anglo-Saxon Christians adopted that name in honor of Eastre, the goddess of fertility and spring, but it may originally have meant “sunrise.” [3]

So the notion of “Eastering like you mean it” doesn’t actually run afoul of any hallowed Christian words. “Christmas like you mean it” does run afoul of Christian words, but the offense against the language is the same. It is clear in the TV ad that “Eastering” requires buying a lot of stuff, which is why it interested Walmart, I am sure, but it is hard to get any clarity on what the alternatives are. “Don’t Easter at all!” doesn’t sound like a winner. “Easter unenthusiastically!” isn’t much better.

Today I want to tIMG_0028.jpgry to understand why an Easter card has meant so much to me over the years. It first meant something to me because it was sent to me by my niece, Lisa Hess, in the confident expectation that she and I found the same kinds of things to be funny. Boy was she right about that!

So here’s the first part. You have to understand that the hill represents the tomb where Jesus’s body was placed after the crucifixion and the circle in the middle of it is a stone, intended to seal the mouth of the cave. The world’s most confident rabbit sits beside the cave and the rock rolls over him. We see the word “Easter…” with its little ellipsis and inside the card comes what is supposed to be the punch line: “It not about a bunny.”

OK, that’s a little bit funny. It’s better than “Keep Christ in Christmas,” but it’s not as good as “Easter like you mean it.”

Inside the card, at the bottom right corner, it gets a lot better. It’s funnier, for one thing; something Lisa and I both enjoyed. But there is something else, too, and that something else, whatever it is, has moved me for years. There is something serious under the funny. I get the card out of the drawer where I keep it even when it isn’t Easter. I don’t even give it up for Lent.

Here’s the second part.

Here is Jesus, obviously, and the formerly crushed bunny. Jesus and the bunny are looking very alive. Jesus declares, “You’re healed.” The bunny responds, “ThanksIMG_0027.jpg. Welcome back.” For me, this is where the funny starts.

For one thing, of the thirty some individual healings recorded in the New Testament accounts, no one ever responded verbally to Jesus. That’s to the best of my memory and since we are here exploring why this might have struck me as enduringly funny, my memory is the record that really matters. So this bunny is the first to do that. And he is surprisingly casual about it. There’s no “Blessings on thee, thou Son of David” or anything like that. “Thanks.”

But then he goes on. “Welcome back.” Well…the time doesn’t work, for one thing. The bunny was dead long before Jesus left the tomb. No one has ever suggested that Jesus rolled the stone away himself. “Back” implies a continuity of experience that makes no sense at all. I think that is why I like it.

But I think the pop in this whole card—for me, this is a private meaning—is “Welcome.” It never made any sense to me that the bunny would be welcoming Jesus “back” representing only himself. (“Back” really is a theological problem, but it isn’t funny [4]) He must represent some larger entity on behalf of whom he is welcoming Jesus. The bunny is not a host, in other words; he is a spokesman.

As I have thought about this over the years, I have become convinced that this discrepancy—the bunny as a spokesman—is the discrepancy that has generated years of funny and now, finally, a small attempt to understand what is so funny. It is very like the discrepancy between “Thanks” and “Blessings on thee, thou Son of David.” And discrepancies are the nub of humor. A discrepancy that you take playfully is funny by definition.

So who does the bunny represent? We are all guessing here. I am sure theEaster 2 artist didn’t have a candidate in mind. For myself, I think maybe “the natural order.” The relationship of God’s followers to the natural order has been contentious to say the least. Those drawing from Genesis get to choose between God’s command that we “dominate” and “subdue” nature or that we “care for it” as a steward cares for his master’s property. Quite a difference.

But the larger difference comes in visions of the natural order and the Eschaton—the end of time—when God’s rule on earth is fully realized. Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 11 is well-known. [5]

6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock beast together, with a little boy to lead them. 7 The cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like the ox. 8 The infant will play over the den of the adder; the baby will put his hand into the viper’s lair. 9 No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, for the country will be full of knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.

The Apostle Paul’s vision is even more extensive. In Romans 8, he says:

18 In my estimation, all that we suffer in the present time is nothing in comparison with the glory which is destined to be disclosed for us, 19 for the whole creation is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to be revealed. 20 It was not for its own purposes that creation had frustration imposed on it, but for the purposes of him who imposed it— 21 with the intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God.

Creation itself is broken, Paul says. It has had “frustration imposed on it.” Whatever specific meaning that points to, I think the later expression—“it’s slavery to corruption”—is intended to echo it. In this vision, it is not only that deadly conflict is removed (as in Isaiah), but also the tendency of matter toward corruption and decay. When he says that nature is to be healed, he cites as a problem to be solved, a condition that moderns, like me, don’t think of as a problem at all. We think of it as what the world is truly like.

Anyway, that’s my best guess. I have been looking for what the bunny’s casual welcome means—what larger reality it represents. I assert that the welcome represents some larger reality on no grounds other than the persistent sense I have had that there is more to the card than a first reading gives us. And to back up the notion that there is something more to the card, I have nothing but the abiding sense of discrepancy. It is like asking everyone to listen to an echo that, it turns out, only you can hear.

I was looking for some larger entity on whose behalf the bunny could welcome Jesus’s return. Isaiah’s vision and Paul’s as well, offer “nature itself” as a candidate. It is on behalf of the natural world, now broken but ultimately to be redeemed, that the bunny welcome Jesus’s return.

I don’t really know. What I know is that I have liked this card for many years and have liked it much more than I “should” if there is no more to it than just what is on the card.  The dialog on the inner card is funny, but it isn’t that funny. The cartoon drawings are funny, but they aren’t that funny. I have gone looking for an explanation by poking and prodding at the discrepancies that are only hinted at in the card itself.

And that, finally, is what I think. I think that some part of me has sensed that the dramatic scene presented on the card is a huge cosmic drama told by Amos ’n Andy. The presentation and the meaning, by this understanding, are wildly out of line.

And that is just the kind of thing that makes me laugh.

[1] It didn’t occur to me while I was being dazzled by the ad, but scarcely anyone making Wallmart-level wages could afford the life that is pictured here. I guess that is only a minor irony.
[2] This may be in retaliation for all the verbs that have become nouns in business-speak. “We have not yet got to the ask,” illustrates the problem I am contemplating.
[3] In which case the Christian justification for having hijacked yet another pagan festival would be that the Son did, in fact, rise at daybreak. I know that goes beyond the textual evidence, but we are exploring levels of meaning here in which substantiation really doesn’t matter very much.
[4] The doctrine of the Resurrection has nothing at all to do with “coming back” to life. The “life” to which Resurrection points is on beyond death. Jesus did not rebound into a continuingly mortal life like Lazarus did. He didn’t come “back.” He went “on.”  And that makes the bunny’s  greeting a sort of theological puzzle. See “The Re- of Resurrection” https://thedilettantesdilemma.com/2017/02/26/the-re-of-resurrection/ for a recent treatment.

[5] This vision treats the predatory cycle as a problem that will be solved. No more predators and no more prey. I don’t know of any biologists who think of existence of predators is a problem to be solved.A

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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