Of all the symbols of Easter, perhaps none is so familiar as the Agnus Dei. We see it in woven damask for frontals and vestments, on banners and even on special small linen sets for the altar. It must be crowned with a three-rayed nimbus or halo, signifying that it is a symbol of divinity and is featured with the white ground, red cross Banner of Victory.
The LAMB is the symbol associated with Jesus. He is often referred to in the Bible as the “Lamb of God” (Revelation 5:6-14). John the Baptist described Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Passover lamb (Exodus 12:1-11) has been interpreted by Christians as foreshadowing Jesus’ sacrificial death (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Although the white lily is most often connected to the Mother of God, and is a symbol for purity and innocence, the EASTER LILY, which blooms in the spring close to Easter time has become a popular symbol. Because they are shaped like trumpets, lilies are symbols of immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52). Lilies are seen as pot decoration and cut for altar vases for Easter as well as motifs on church altar rail kneelers, stained glass windows, Easter bulletin decoration and Easter banners.
More rarely seen in decoration or textiles is the BUTTERFLY. It symbolizes the life cycle of Jesus and the Christian in the following order: the caterpillar stage represents natural earthly life; the cocoon represents death of the body; the butterfly emerging from the cocoon represents the resurrection. Another animal connected to the resurrection is the PHOENIX. Believed to have retained its immortality since, unlike the rest of the birds, it refused to eat from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden.The phoenix lived for 500 years between rejuvenations. Every 500 years, it created a combination funeral pyre/nest for itself of spices and herbs, sat on it and set itself on fire. When the fire died down, an egg would be found among the ashes from which the phoenix which laid it would hatch. It has become a symbol of the resurrection.
Rarely seen in America as a symbol of the resurrection is the SWALLOW which flew around the cross chirping “Svale! Svale!” which is Scandinavian for “Cheer up! Cheer up!” Since this bird hibernates in the mud during the winter, his awakening in the spring is a symbol of the resurrection.
Another rare symbol is the WHALE for as Jesus said “For as Jonas was 3 days and 3 nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40).
The HARE, or wild rabbit is a symbol of the moon. It became associated with Easter because the moon is used to determine the date of Easter. According to the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21st. Have you ever seen this in church? It just might explain the “Easter Bunny” popularity in modern culture at Eastertide.
The PEACOCK Symbolizes immortality and the resurrection since its flesh was once believed to be incorruptible or immune to decay. The peacock damask below was found in a Rhode Island chasuble
The LION and EGG are other resurrection symbols. In the Bible, Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The genealogies of the New Testament point out that Jesus was a descendant of Judah from whom the eternal ruler was to come. The EGG shell can be seen as a nurturing, life giving tomb. The hatching chick represents Christ emerging from the tomb. The resurrection symbolism of the egg is enhanced by the legend of the phoenix.
Do you know of other symbols for the resurrection?