When I was a grade-school student in the last century, my classroom was graced one spring with the presence of an incubator. Unlike the high-tech incubators in the neonatal nursery, this incubator was a rectangular glass-walled box with a straw-covered floor. It was a little stinky, but magical. The lid was wired with naked light bulbs that provided the heat that the three chicken eggs nestled together atop a clump of straw required to mature.
For several weeks, we fourth-graders checked on the eggs daily. We made graphs of the temperature readings on the thermometer that we could read through the glass. We kept charts of the number of times a day the eggs were gently turned, which only our teacher, Sister Bernardine, was allowed to do. We craned vigilantly for signs or sounds that a little chick was struggling to break free.
For a long time, the eggs just sat. They would have been pretty boring if not for the tantalizing possibility that every time we looked in on them, we might happen on the moment of hatching. But we missed it. One morning we came into class and heard cheeping. It was loud for such small spindly-looking creatures. The shells of two had been cracked into shards and pushed aside by the baby chicks that now made their startled presence in the world known. One egg remained intact. It was a dud.
The incubator and our two little prehistoric-looking darlings vanished the next day, returned to the farm whence they came, the chicks possibly appearing as our school lunches several months later.
I think of those eggs, both the babies and the dud, as the Easter season arrives. As Christians, we celebrate the spiritual significance of the Resurrection of Christ, as well as nature's renewal of spring. The egg has long been a symbol of the cycle of life, of gestation and birth and maturity. The traditional use of the egg at Easter time came about not only because of the over-supply of all the eggs that had not been eaten due to being "given up" during Lent, but also because the cycle of the seasons, of seeds and growth and harvest, begins in spring.
When my daughters were little girls, the day before Easter was reserved for the ritual of the eggs. In the morning, the scent of several dozen eggs hard-boiling on the stove filled the house. The eggs bobbled in the pot as the rolling water broke around them. Food coloring tablets and vinegar fizzed in teacups, ready to color the eggs with the pastel hues of the season. Children on dancing feet waited for the eggs to cool, so they could write secret names on them with waxy crayons, the letters invisible until the dye made them magically appear. They dunked and decorated each egg, then left it to dry.
Dreams of the morning's egg hunt sparkled in their eyes. And then, Easter dawned: eggs on the bookcase and under the sofa, eggs in baskets, eggs for breakfast, followed by deviled eggs and egg salad in their lunchboxes for a week.
Eggs seem to hold the secret of life. But the egg is temporary. Baby birds tap their insistent way to the moment of hatching, to the realization of a bird's true life. When only the shell is left, an egg has served its purpose. A radically new creature now emerges.
If we think of Easter as new life, life transformed and reborn in a spiritual way, then perhaps Lent has been our paschal incubator. Encased by the shell of our Lenten sacrifices and practices, kept warm by somber meditation, we now break free of the egg on Easter morning, as though newly arrived in the world. With a new life come questions. What shall we do? Where shall we explore? What are our holy tasks? What mission is our renewed life meant to fulfill?
As we leave our shells behind and journey from the starting point of Easter, we bring with us the happy knowledge that we are a people redeemed, a community entrusted with the Easter message of love, peace, justice, hope, and redemption. We are not duds. We are called to a conversion of heart in order to live the Gospel, to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The eggs of this glorious season remind us that if we are to be an Easter people, our hatching is only the beginning.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.