Of course Israel of old would have denied that they were worshiping an idol made of gold - it was simply their representation of who God was. And few Christians would admit to worshiping an idol made of chocolate. But the Easter Bunny represents the attempt of many to fashion God after the likeness created in their own imagination of who they would like God to be. Where Israel wanted a god who would be as powerful as a raging bull to fight their battles, we want a god who is as melt-in-your mouth as chocolate, a god who delivers the warm comforting internal glow in which we feel that all is well with our world.
The desire to re-cast God in our own image is as old as the traditions of molding metal or chocolate. A couple of hundred years ago, new forms of re-casting God emerged in European theology in the attempts to make the Christian gospel reasonable to the so-called Age of Enlightenment. The new version of the gospel tried to remove all traces of the supernatural from the biblical narratives and reduce the wonder of the good news to a mysterious subjective experience. There was no room for the miracle-working God imagined in the Golden Calf. Such a view of God would have been like a bull in the china shop of neat scientific categories. The expectation of a powerful god who would have the audacity to actually break into our mechanistic universe and do something sovereignly and unilaterally was replaced with the therapeutic god who made us feel good. A chocolate god.
That required a re-writing of the Easter story. For surely, in a scientific age, we know that in the rational real world people don't really rise from the dead, do they? All we could imagine and wish for is a story that expresses the hope in the human heart that we can depend on God even when all our hopes are dashed, that somehow good will always triumph over evil. So, the not-so-good news proclaimed in the liberal gospel was that after Calvary, Jesus lived on in the experience of his disciples. The argument was that the New Testament was written by men in whom the continuing presence of Christ by the Spirit in their hearts could only be adequately described in terms of "resurrection" - he felt that real to them!
I grew up in circles that would never have countenanced an Easter Bunny on an Easter card (though we did enjoy the chocolate eggs). We denounced liberalism and believed in a literal physical resurrection. And thankfully we sang about it at the top of our lungs on Easter Sunday. But even for people like me who remain confident of the familiar truth of the physical resurrection of Christ, we fool ourselves if we imagine we have been unaffected by the winds of doctrine blowing in our time. And perhaps one of our favorite Easter hymns revealed a bit of the Easter Bunny in our thinking.
I serve a risen Saviour. He's in the world today;
I know that his is living, whatever men may say;
I see his hands of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, he's always near
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way.
He lives, he lives, salvation to impart
You ask me how I know he lives?
He lives within my heart!
All of this is wonderfully true. But it is not the full, authentic Easter story. I can't hear Peter or Paul answering the question, "How do you know he lives?" with the reply "He lives within my heart". Like the chocolate egg on the counter, just the time I need him for a bit of a pick-me-up, he's always near.
The apostles knew that Easter was not a spiritual experience, but a historical reality! And in the biblical accounts of gospel preaching, that is seen not so much in the reality that he lives within my heart, as it is seen in the fact that he appeared in the flesh and now he lives at his Father's right hand where he is sovereignly directing all of history. From there he did not distribute chocolate eggs to his disciples, but the Spirit of power. Pentecost was not a warm glow but a burning fire. And whatever men may say, the miracle of the resurrection sets the scene for a history of miracle-working resurrection power in real life.