In the shorter, cooler days of autumn and winter, chickens lay fewer eggs, or stop laying altogether. Among the surest signs of spring’s return are the first fresh eggs. Thus did the egg become a potent symbol of life and hope. To celebrate the return of light and growth, people decorated eggs with paints, waxes, dyes, and sometimes even gold. As the followers of Jesus spread out over the world, they found ways to use such folk traditions to proclaim the Gospel. Legends and traditions grew up around colored eggs to explain the mystery of Easter.
One story tells that when the women went with spices to Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene brought a basket of cooked white eggs to share for breakfast. When she and the other women reached at the tomb, all the eggs in Mary’s basket had become a vibrant red. By this, Mary understood that by his blood Jesus had defeated death and brought new life. The women cracked their eggs together as a sign of the open tomb.
According to legend Mary Magdalene was later permitted an audience with Emperor Tiberius to protest that Pilate had condemned an innocent man to death. Again she brought a cooked white egg. After laying out her complaint, Mary held out the egg and proclaimed, “Christ is Risen.” Tiberius burst out laughing and said that Jesus was no more risen from the dead than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately the egg turned scarlet.
These traditions are why we turn eggs into richly colored gems to share. These are profound gifts that help us celebrate how Christ died for our sake and rose for the glory of God. They tell us that Death does not have the final word, and that Jesus has opened for us the gates of eternal life.