What Is Easter?
About the Guest
Baskets filled with brightly colored eggs. Soft furry bunnies and tiny yellow chicks. They're a common sight in the spring, but what do they have to do with Easter? VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer joins Dennis Rainey to talk about the real meaning of Easter.
Phil VischerPhil Vischer made his first animated film when he was nine years old; by the age of fourteen, he was convinced he would be a filmmaker when he grew up. After a brief stint at a Bible college, Phil struck out on his own, looking for a way to integrate his faith with his filmmaking. This quest led him to a tomato and a cucumber. The year was 1991, and Phil was a newly married 25 year-old with no financial backing and no idea how his vegetables would ever see the light of day. Today, almost 65 mi...more
Phil Vischer joins Dennis Rainey to talk about the real meaning of Easter.
What Is Easter?
Bob: In the weeks before Christmas, most churches are starting to sing Christmas carols in the Advent season. Last Sunday, at your church, was there any mention of the fact that Easter is coming? Here’s the co-creator of VeggieTales, Phil Vischer.
Phil: I grew up in a church that had kind of thrown away the church calendar, like many evangelical churches. So, we had kind of cut it back down to just: “We’re going to wave around some palm fronds one Sunday and, then, have eggs the next Sunday.”
You know—the completely secularized Easter is a one-day affair. The church Easter, actually, starts several weeks in advance; and you’ve got the whole Holy Week of stuff to do. I’m seeing more and more churches, including my own, go back to “What are the stations of the Cross?” So, it’s the story: “Jesus is alive! He is risen. He’s risen, indeed!”—that’s the end of the story. You can’t start with the end of the story, or it doesn’t make any sense!
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 20th.
Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. It’s not just churches—how about our homes? Do our kids know that Easter is just around the corner? We’ll talk with Phil Vischer about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Look at who has shown up at the back door again! Can you believe he just wanders up at the back door and knocks and says, “Can I be on the radio?”
Dennis: He’s been on here before.
Bob: I know.
Dennis: He keeps coming back!
Phil: Was that the back door?
Bob: That was the back door.
Dennis: It was the back door.
Bob: You thought it was the front door?
Phil: I was at the wrong door.
Dennis: You broke in the back door.
Phil: I followed the guy with the pizza!
Dennis: Some of our listeners recognize that voice from VeggieTales. It is the creator of VeggieTales, Phil Vischer. Welcome back to the broadcast, Phil.
Phil: Thanks for having me back!
Dennis: And that has sold, now, over 60 million videos.
Phil: I think it’s now passed 65 million.
Dennis: I knew you’d correct me. [Laughter]
Phil: I only know—
Dennis: I really did.
Phil: —because every now and then I get a promotional piece in the mail from some publisher. And then, I’ll say, “Look, they raised the number again!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, you’re not done creating. You have created a book, just talking about “What is Easter?” and—
Dennis: —that’s the name of the book.
Phil: That is the name of the book—it’s simple. [Laughter]
Bob: You tried to design that for all of us to be able to get accessible to.
Phil: Well, you want to know: “What is this book? What am I buying here? What do I get? What…” and it tells you very easily.
Bob: You think about Easter—and we think about it, often, in relationship to Christmas because these are—
Bob: —our two big bookend holidays on the life of Jesus. Christmas gets all the press.
Phil: Yes, Christmas keeps getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Easter is now in the same category—I think Halloween is now past Easter in size.
Bob: In terms of economics and participation?
Phil: Yes. We rank our holidays based on economic impact.
Phil: There needs to be more—I was in Wal-Mart® a year ago. I noticed they were running an Easter promotion that said, “Wal-Mart: Get more Easter for your money.” [Laughter]
I just remember thinking, “How do you measure the quantity of Easter that you have?” And the only thing I could come up with was marshmallow Peeps®—
Bob: Yes, that’s right.
Phil: —just sheer cubic feet of marshmallow Peeps is what we are looking for.
Dennis: So, is that what you bought when you went in there, then? You took a whole truckload?
Phil: Whoa! “Boy, do I have a lot of Easter for my money!”
Bob: Do you have Easter memories—compelling childhood—
Bob: —Easter memories?
Phil: I think—yes, I grew up in small-town Iowa—in a town of about 25,000 on the Mississippi River. And we would go over to my grandparents’ house for Easter egg hunts. And that’s kind of what Easter was. I don’t remember a whole lot of explanation as to what that had to do with Jesus, but we would go over and hunt Easter eggs.
Bob: Do you remember, as a kid?
Dennis: It was about the same. I grew up in the Midwest as well, and it was about visiting grandma’s and grandpa’s house and being kind of chilly.
Phil: And the other tradition, which I also could not connect—I don’t know if your Easter meals—if you had a lamb made of butter. [Laughter]
Bob: No, we didn’t. Did you?
Phil: The butter lamb.
Dennis: You were in Iowa—Iowa, remember?
Phil: Yes, we had butter lambs—it is butter shaped into a lamb. That had something to do with something I was sure—I wasn’t sure if it was bunny-related or egg-related: “Did the lamb lay the egg that the bunny delivers?” So, we had all these animals going on—these animals in play. And the butter lamb—and of course, the first person gets to take a chunk out of the butter lamb. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to say something in Hebrew or you know—
Bob: Take a leg or do you take—just chop the head off the lamb to start with?
Dennis: Did you have a basket—an Easter basket—as a boy, growing up?
Phil: Yes; yes.
Dennis: Have the green—you know—the green grass?
Phil: Yes, the fake grass. In fact, when we did An Easter Carol, the VeggieTales special, we made a factory. One of the things that that factory was going to produce was the artificial grass.
As Easter was becoming more and more artificial, we needed plastic eggs because the real ones don’t last long enough and plastic grass because the real grass fades out. And that was—Mr. Nezzer was running that scam until his factory blew up.
Dennis: I think the bottom line for this—that you are really challenging parents today / grandparents—to really think through, “What are you going to do with Easter?”
Phil: Yes, I think we need to think through our traditions because kids deserve to know “Why?” I spoke at Christmas in our church on Christmas Eve—I did the Christmas Eve service. The first thing I did was just get up and say, “Why are we here?” because I don’t think we ask that question enough—I think we assume that we know: “I’m not going to ask because then I’ll look like I’m dumb.”
“Surely, we know why we are here, on Christmas Eve”; but I spent 20 minutes unpacking why we were here on Christmas Eve—“What are we celebrating?” And we need to do that with our kids. We drag them along to these traditions; but we never say, “Here’s why.” And then, like with Christmas—and this is why the first thing that I did was a book and a video explaining Christmas--
—was: “What does Jesus have to do with Santa?” because we’ve got multiple Christmases.
But now, you turn your attention to Easter; and you say: “Well, we kind of have the same thing—we have multiple Easters.” We have the Easter at church of Jesus and the tomb and “He’s risen. He’s risen, indeed.” Then, we go home and turn on the TV; and it’s “Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail,” and “Here are your eggs,” and “Here is your candy,” and “Here is your butter lamb.” [Laughter] And “I don’t know what this stuff means!”
Dennis: So, what is the big idea of Easter?
Phil: The idea of Easter is very simple.
Bob: I hope he knows—don’t you? I hope that was one of those softball questions. [Laughter]
Phil: Yes, “He is risen. He is risen, indeed!” That’s the—Easter is the bookend to Christmas. And when we walk kids through it—in What’s in the Bible? and the DVD series—it starts with the fall—that’s where Easter starts. That’s one of the reasons some of these holidays don’t mean anything to our kids—is because we’ve kind of skipped over teaching them about sin—teaching them about the problem.
And if you don’t know what the problem is, the solution doesn’t really make any sense!
Dennis: You don’t have a need for Easter because you don’t need a Savior who has defeated—
Dennis: —death and has paid for our sins.
Bob: It really does kind of feel like Jesus’ resurrection is more like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! than it is the monumental—
Phil: “Can you believe what happened?!”
Bob: Yes, as opposed to this monumental event in human history—
Bob: —that brings redemption, that brings hope / that brings new life.
Phil: And it’s so important—you know, the early church didn’t celebrate Christmas because they didn’t celebrate people’s birthdays. They just didn’t—birthdays weren’t that important. Easter was everything for the early church because it was the source of their hope. Easter is why we have hope. You know, if Christ did not rise, then, we should be pitied among all men because we are just going through the motions for something that is meaningless.
And what I tried to do with VeggieTales—with the Christmas specials—when I did The Star of Christmas and An Easter Carol was put the two together in a story that continued so you can see how they bookend.
Christmas is God inserting Himself in history to bring the solution. Easter is the solution. So, you can’t have one without the other. And we’ve turned Christmas into the Super Bowl of holidays. Easter has just become a different reason to put sugar and marshmallow in a different form and color and sell it to us.
Dennis: And Phil, the opportunity for parents to teach their kids about the historicity/the nature of what happened at Easter—Christ lived, He died, He defeated death—and there is evidence that He is alive today—that our faith is not in vain. It really is an opportunity to be teaching your kids an apologetic for their faith.
It was Josh McDowell, for me, on the college campus, when I was a college junior, who taught me about the proof for the resurrection.
Phil: Huh? Okay.
Dennis: And that was one of the key components of lighting my fire to be a true Christ-follower and say:
“If He did defeat death, He’s the only One who has.”
Bob: Well, and your wife’s been working on all kinds of resources designed to equip—to open up the conversation about what the meaning of Easter is.
Dennis: Well, this is really her soapbox. She is all about wanting to help families reclaim this holiday and to teach the truth about what took place on Easter weekend, and do it over a period of a week. She’s created a resource called Behold the Lamb that is a group of stories that walk you through, starting with Palm Sunday, and gives you an overview of what took place on Palm Sunday. And it gives you a little card that you open up and you can read this aloud to your family.
Then, it goes through Monday, where it talks about Jesus being the bread of life; Tuesday, “I am the Light of the World”; Wednesday, “I am the Door”; Thursday, “I am the Good Shepherd”; “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” on Good Friday; and then, Saturday, “I am the True Vine.”
And then, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” on Resurrection Sunday.
And Phil, what Barbara has done here is—during Holy Week—is really help parents reclaim this holiday, to your very point, around its purpose to teach our kids about the resurrection of Christ.
Phil: Here’s another problem, though, because some of the symbols of Easter that we know so well—bunnies and eggs, in particular—we no longer see their connection with the gospel message. But what Jesus said was, “I have come to bring life and bring it to you abundantly,”—it’s about new life.
So, then, you get to Easter; and you look at an egg. You say, “What does an egg represent?” Ding, ding, ding!—new life!—that’s what it represents! Why are bunnies a symbol for Easter?—because, every spring, a gazillion new bunnies show up—it’s new life!
So, even in the book for kids, we unpack this by saying: “Okay, let’s talk about winter. What happens in winter? Are there new eggs in winter?” “No!” “Do your trees have leaves in winter?” “No!”
“Are there baby bunnies in winter?” “No!” “There is no new life in winter; but then, we hit spring. Suddenly, we’ve got bunnies, we’ve got eggs, we’ve got little chicks, we’ve got flowers, we’ve got green grass—the world explodes in new life every spring. And guess when Easter happens? It happens in spring!”
So, these symbols connect: Jesus, when He died on the cross—it was like winter forever. Then, he rose again; and it was spring. And that’s the new life that we celebrate at Easter which is why eggs and bunnies are actually the perfect symbol because they’ve been symbols forever, going back pre-Christian times, of new life.
Bob: Can’t help but hear you talk about that—and think about the crack in the stone table and the thaw that begins when the stone table cracks in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Phil: Yes. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—and what was the curse of that land?—“…always winter but never Christmas.” When that spell is broken, the first thing that happens is—
—Father Christmas shows up. So, Christmas arrives, followed by the thaw, and the spring and Easter.
Bob: And you start to see the buds on the trees—
Bob: —that you haven’t seen before.
Bob: It really does tie together—in fact, I’m also thinking about the fact that, in the early church, the only time they did baptisms—
Bob: —was on Easter.
Bob: They celebrated new life in Christ, once a year, with baptism services as a part of their Easter celebration.
Phil: Right; right. And the church has used eggs, for example—way back, in the Middle Ages, they would take eggs and paint them blood red as a symbol of Jesus so they could tell the story. We have to remember that up until the last 400 years, teaching the Bible was teaching illiterate people. So, you weren’t dealing with written words. You were dealing with symbols.
And when you go into an old cathedral, the whole purpose of the stained glass windows was to teach the stories to people who couldn’t read.
So, everything was in pictures somewhere. So, these symbols—and we’ve lost touch with symbols because we’re so literate now—we’re always reading books, we’re always reading blogs, we’re always looking at words. But just an egg—a red egg—was all people needed, in the Middle Ages, to tell the story of Jesus.
Dennis: Phil, you probably don’t know this story, but when FamilyLife Today first started, back in the early 1990’s, we had a grandma come into our studio with a basket of eggs. There was like—Bob, wasn’t there like 25—
Dennis: —in that basket?—kind of a list of objects that were found in each of the eggs that told the Easter story.
Phil: Okay. That was a grandma who came up with that?
Dennis: Yes, she came in here; and we said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we put those in an egg carton”—
Dennis: —“and we offered them to our audience?” And we did.
Phil: How did it go?
Dennis: We figure around 30 million children have heard the gospel now through Resurrection Eggs®.
Phil: See, and that’s a way to reclaim non-verbal story telling. It doesn’t have to be written words. You can use images. You can use symbols, and it makes things sticky for kids.
Dennis: And each of those eggs had an object—
Dennis: —that parents would use—or Sunday school teachers, or classroom teachers in public education and Christian schools used them—to open the eggs or have kids discover what was in the egg—all 12 of them—to ultimately explain—back to what the question you are asking in your book—“What is Easter all about?”
Phil: Yes, that’s just a brilliantly simple idea of walking through a pack of eggs to tell the story. It’s a little bit like an Advent calendar, where you can tell the story—
Phil: —through little windows. There is that sense of discovery, where each day: “Let’s open the next window,” “Let’s open the next egg.”
Bob: And every year, we get moms and dads who come to the website—come to FamilyLifeToday.com—
—and order sets of those because they’re—guess what?—there are new kids being born every year.
Phil: Is that true?!
Bob: New life.
Phil: New life!
Bob: New life happening every year.
Dennis: How about in your family? You and your wife have three kids.
Phil: My wife is really big on Easter baskets. She loves Easter baskets and making very elaborate Easter baskets.
Dennis: How do you connect your kids to the real purpose of Easter, then?
Phil: Well, my oldest is married now.
Dennis: But when they were growing up?
Dennis: A lot of our listeners have got toddlers/young children.
Phil: You know what? My wife’s mother gave us a set of Resurrection Eggs, and we used those when my kids were young.
Dennis: How about that.
Phil: So, you helped me pass that on to my kids.
Bob: Would you do it differently today, I mean, given where you are in kind of this renaissance around Easter?
Phil: See, I love telling stories. I have used some of my own stories. I mean, An Easter Carol is—the big one was the first VeggieTales episode, where I ever found the opportunity to tell the story of Jesus.
It’s the only one where Jesus shows up because my mother made the rule, in the very beginning, “You will not portray Jesus as a vegetable,” because she was my content advisor, having a doctorate in children’s ministry. She said, “No, vegetable Jesus.” I said, “Okay, well, how do I ever tell the story of Jesus?”
And we got to An Easter Carol. I realized I could do it in a church, through the stained glass windows. We could have human forms in the stained glass windows and, then, tell the story there. We had a tradition where we would watch that story, every Easter, because I’m better at teaching things that way, through film, than by standing up in front at a chalkboard and trying to do it that way.
Bob: You have developed a lot of new characters in the last five years.
Phil: [In character] “Oh, yes! I have numerous new characters, Bob Lepine.” [Laughter]
Bob: Buck Denver shows up in the Easter book; doesn’t he?
Phil: Yes, the Easter book is starring Buck Denver and his friends: [In character] “I’m Buck Denver. I’m going to teach you all you need to know about Easter!” Yes, Buck Denver is kind of my homage to Ted Baxter from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Phil: Or if you are the younger generation, Stephen Colbert. [Laughter] He’s the news guy who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is. So, he sets it up; but he doesn’t have the answers to anything. And see, typically, Sunday School Lady: [In character] “Hello, this is Sunday School Lady because I have a magic flannelgraph.”
Bob: You needed, in the book, those buttons you push so we could hear—
Phil: [In character] “Oh, that would be fantastic! But it would just kill the budget, Bob!” [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, our listeners—some of our listeners know who Jonathan Winters was.
Dennis: Well, if you’ve ever wondered what it would have been like to have interviewed Jonathan Winters, this is—this is a snapshot.
Phil: [In character] “I think he’d be even weirder.”
Bob: Yes. If you are sitting down with a mom or a dad today and they said: “You know, here is what happens to us—Easter sneaks up on us. We kind of forget it’s even coming until: ‘Oh, this is Palm Sunday. I guess next Sunday is Easter. We should go buy some new shoes for the kids.’” That’s kind of the way it works.
Is there a way that moms and dads can be a little more proactive on this?
Phil: Yes, you can look for things that churches are doing because the completely secularized Easter is a one-day affair. The church Easter, actually, starts several weeks in advance; and you’ve got the whole Holy Week of stuff to do.
I grew up in a church that had kind of thrown away the church calendar, like many evangelical churches. We kind of had cut it back down to just: “We’re going to wave around some palm fronds one Sunday and, then, have eggs the next Sunday.”
I’m seeing more and more churches, including my own, go back to: “What are the stations of the Cross? Why don’t we do something?” So, we’ve done all family events, where we’ll set up the Stations of the Cross in our church, even though it’s not from our tradition; but we’re bringing it back from the historical church. And then, take our kids—a family event—where you walk your kids through the Stations of the Cross to see what Jesus did that last week.
And so, it’s the story: “Jesus is alive! He’s risen. He’s risen, indeed!”—
—that’s the end of the story! You can’t start with end of the story—
Phil: —or it doesn’t make any sense!
Dennis: I think this holiday is a great opportunity for those of us who have faith to begin to become intentional and take a look at some of these various ways we can teach about Easter—like your book—read that aloud / talk about new life out of death.
Dennis: Take kids into that experience—talk about that—but, also, go a little deeper and begin to equip our kids around apologetics / around the proof for the resurrection. Josh McDowell has got some great—
Phil: And Lee Strobel.
Dennis: Yes—have got some great books to help parents pass on the reality of: “The tomb is empty. You’re not going to find the body because the body isn’t here.”
Dennis: “He is risen. He’s risen, indeed!” He is in heaven; and therefore, we have hope.
Bob: Well, and the book you’ve written—the target age group for that? Is that for—
Phil: It is younger kids.
So, it’s preschool up to early elementary. What I am trying to get across is—these holidays, Christmas and Easter, have all these symbols that we don’t necessarily see a connection back to Jesus—whether it is Santa Claus and Christmas trees or whether it’s the Easter bunny and eggs. Because we don’t see the connection, we get uncomfortable with the symbols, and we kind of want to throw them away.
Dennis: Yes, we do—that’s right.
Phil: Then, we can strip the holidays of the kind of symbols that are easy for kids to grasp. Rather than doing that, I am trying to say, “Let’s unpack Santa Claus, and go all the way back to Saint Nicholas and talk about a man who loved Jesus.” Okay, now, you can still have the symbol, and it means something to kids because you connect it back to Jesus.
And for Easter: “Let’s talk about bunnies. Let’s talk about eggs. Let’s talk about new life. Let’s talk about Jesus’ promise: ‘I have come to give you life that you may have it abundantly.’”
Bob: So, when you are eating the marshmallow Peep, [Laughter] you can think, “I know what this is about—it’s about new life!”
Phil: “I just ate new life!” [Laughter]
Dennis: “I just ate a truckload!”
Phil: “I know why I feel sick,” then. [Laughter]
Bob: I think—if our listeners are interested in seeing what you’ve been working on, they can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, where we’ve got copies of Phil Vischer’s book to be read to younger kids or those kids, who are starting to read, can read it for themselves. It’s called What is Easter?—and it’s obvious what the book is about. So, if you’d like to order a copy, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,” and you’ll find a link to Phil’s book there.
There is also information about the complete series of DVDs that Phil has produced called What’s in the Bible?—Genesis to Revelation—13 DVDs that explain the Bible to children and to some moms and dads, along the way. Find out more about the What’s in the Bible? DVD series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.”
Let me also mention—Dennis talked about the resource that Barbara Rainey has created for Holy Week—it is called Behold the Lamb.
It takes the “I am” statements from John’s Gospel, where Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World”—those statements—and during Holy Week, you can use this resource to talk about the One who is the perfect Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Find out more about Behold the Lamb, the resource from Barbara Rainey, along with the resources we’ve talked about from Phil Vischer, on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,” and the information about these resources is available right there. Or if you’d like to call to order, our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Now, speaking of the fact that Easter is right around the corner, many of you are familiar with the resource that FamilyLife developed, a number of years ago, to help explain the Easter story to children.
It’s the Resurrection Eggs. Dennis mentioned those earlier. Well, this week, if you’re able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation, we’d love to send you a set of Resurrection Eggs as a thank-you gift. Your financial support is what keeps FamilyLife Today on this station and on our network of stations, all around the country. We’re always grateful when we hear from listeners who help support this ministry.
And if you’ve never made a donation to help support FamilyLife Today, why don’t you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click in the upper right-hand corner where it says, “I CARE,” find out more about making an online donation; and again, we’ll send you a set of Resurrection Eggs as a thank-you gift when you do. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone and ask for your set of Resurrection Eggs. Or if you’d like to mail a donation to us, our mailing address is FamilyLife Today at Post Office Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family can worship together this weekend and, then, I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about the computers, and the smartphones, and all the other tech devices that you’ve got around your home—and your kids—and how you manage all of that: “Where are the dangers?”and “How do you, as parents, guide your kids through what is life in the modern world?” We’ll talk more about that on Monday. Hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. Will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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