Every year around Easter, my children and I watch a Walt Disney Productions Silly Symphonies called “Funny Little Bunnies.” The short is part of a series of Disney animated short films set to music made between 1929 and 1934. It features rabbits who make chocolate candy and Easter eggs to fill children’s Easter baskets. It’s adorable – and completely nostalgic. (You can find it on YouTube if you’d like to watch it.) “Funny Little Bunnies” has nothing to do with why we celebrate Easter in the church, but it is innocent and fun. It reminds us of childhoods spent searching for Easter eggs, waking up early for baskets filled with jellybeans and plush stuffed rabbits, and dressing up for Easter Sunday worship.
Because of our cultural traditions surrounding the Easter celebration – even wonderfully innocent and family-oriented celebrations – we often forget the biblical and theological truths behind Easter. The lyrics to “Funny Little Bunnies” are cute, but the lyrics to our favorite Easter hymns are less cute and more victorious. For Methodists, our hymns have always been ways to make a joyful noise to the Lord and to teach and learn theology. One of my favorite Easter hymns does just that: it is joyful, and it teaches us about the theological meaning of Jesus’ resurrection.
If you’ve ever attended a Methodist church on Easter morning, you’ve begun the morning triumphantly singing Charles Wesley’s hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” It’s a classic, and it’s written by the granddaddy of Methodists! It’s a perfect choice for Easter Sunday. But, in its lyrics you won’t find an Easter bunny or a Cadbury egg mentioned. In fact, in this hymn, Wesley just may have created the perfect lyrics to celebrate the biblical and theological victory of Jesus’ resurrection.
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!
King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!
Meditate on these words. Wesley’s words tell us why Easter matters, and it’s more readable than any theological textbook. Wesley’s beautiful lyrics remind us that the empty tomb at Easter means the defeat of death itself – a reversal of the created order, the battle won. The empty tomb means that death is no longer the end of life but a new beginning. The empty tomb means that Jesus keeps his promises. The empty tomb means salvation and everlasting life. The empty tomb means victory for Jesus and for all who believe in him. This is truly the Good News that Jesus asked us to share before he ascended to be with the Father.
I’ll watch “Funny Little Bunnies” with my children this Easter. It’s a family tradition. The new Easter clothes are purchased. Somewhere, there is Easter candy with my name on it! But, I’ll also talk to my children about why Easter matters – about what Jesus’ victory means for us as Christians and disciples of a crucified yet victorious Savior.
Come and worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday morning. When it’s time to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” sing loudly with joy at knowing that the victory has been won!
Your sister in Christ,