I saw Ingmar Bergman’s movie The Serpent’s Egg over 35 years ago, and most of it was entirely forgettable for me. It’s not one of Bergman’s better movies, and there’s not much I do remember about it. It concerns two circus performers who are stranded in Berlin in 1923, and while they’re there they witness the anti-Semitism of the culture, the desperate financial problems of the people, and Hitler’s first steps in his rise to power. As German society races in the wrong direction a main character explains what’s going on:
“One day you can tell all this to anyone who is willing to listen. No one will believe you despite the fact that anyone who makes the slightest effort can see what is waiting in the future. It's like a serpent's egg. Through the thin membranes, you can clearly discern the already perfect reptile.”
That’s the image that stuck with me. I’ve seen many “serpent’s eggs” in my life; situations where I knew trouble was growing. I could see it forming behind a thin membrane, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before the trouble hatched fully formed and ready to release its venom.
And depending on who you’re listening to, our present world is littered with a variety of serpent eggs, hidden around every corner and in every crevice. The collapse of civilization is imminent, just awaiting the election of the opposite political party. Terrorism, including bioterrorism, and cyberterrorism, are never far removed from news reports. Climate change is a hot topic along with the resulting rise in ocean levels and other scary repercussions. Pollution is increasing making safe water and safe air harder to find. I could go on, but you get the point. There are plenty of serpents taking shape in our midst if we look for them.
I don’t want to minimize the numerous real dangers we face, and there are plenty of growing problems we really do need to address. But there has to be more to life than our fear of death, destruction, and emerging serpents, and Easter points us to that something more.
Imagine what it was like being an ordinary person in Judea back in Jesus’ day. You were a conquered and occupied people, living under the yoke of Rome. Every attempt at resistance was met by brutal and excessive force. You worked hard all your life, often going without food and other necessities. Many of your family died before adulthood, and you yourself were likely to die at an early age. Sickness and disease were rampant and most major diseases had no effective treatment or cure.
If we think our world is full of serpent eggs, just try living awhile in the world to which Jesus ministered. And it’s to these people who lived in darkness that there came a great light: Jesus shared that world, suffered with those people, and ran afoul of the same oppressive Roman regime. The serpent bit him, and he died.
Only that’s not the end of the story. He rose from the grave, to bring new life and victory to all those who follow. In the face of all the serpent eggs that littered the landscape, God gave us an Easter egg that overshadowed them all. And through the thin membranes, we can clearly discern the already perfect Christ-won victory within.
Too many people go through life engaging in a serpent egg hunt. Instead, we’re looking for God’s Easter eggs! And we celebrate the brightest and clearest of them all: Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen from the grave.