There are run-of-the-mill Easter eggs. They look nice for a few moments; then you break them open, eat what’s inside, and throw away the rest.
And then there are the kind you keep.
A few years ago, a student of mine gave me a pysanka as a gift. It’s the emptied out shell of an egg, beautifully decorated in the Ukrainian Easter tradition. Knowing my fondness for handcrafts, my wife bought me a starter kit last year. After a bit of research, I finally decided to give it a try this past Easter.
The process is fascinating. A design is lightly drawn with pencil on a clean white egg. For true pysanky, various folk symbols are used and even passed on as family traditions. The eggs are dyed using a wax-resist method. First, melted beeswax is carefully applied over any white lines or spaces in the design, using a writing tool called a kistka; when cooled and set, the wax protects the white egg underneath from taking dye. The whole egg is then dipped in a light color (typically yellow). Next, wax is applied to where yellow spaces are desired, and so on–wax, dye, wax, dye–working successively through darker colors, all the way to black as needed.
With each stage, the surface of the egg gets covered with more and more wax. In some places, where the wax is thinner or clearer, the underlying colors show through. But because the wax is melted in a candle flame, it is often blackened. Whole areas of the egg get coated in sooty wax, making the design underneath ever more mysterious. The penultimate result is an intriguing but unattractively dark and lumpy mess.
But then comes the moment I’ve come to call “the big reveal.” The pysanka is held briefly and gently in the flame of the candle; the wax melts and is wiped away. Bit by bit, the sooty exterior is removed, exposing the vibrant colors beneath.
It’s a bit of a breathless moment. Admittedly, I don’t pencil in an entire design, so am making things up as I go. And all through the process, I have to think “backwards”–for example, putting black wax where I want white doves (in the photo, facing into the corners of the cross), and so on. Some of the design is visible even before the wax is removed (e.g., the cross with the red crown of thorns motif). But I don’t really know how the final result will look until the moment that all the layers of darkness have been burned away.
I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a wonderful metaphor for our sanctification, perhaps even resurrection itself.
In Scripture, fire often signifies the judgment of a holy God (e.g., Heb 10:27; 2 Pet 3:10-13). By extension, fire purges and purifies (e.g., Isa 1:24-26). The apostle Peter, writing to scattered and persecuted Christians, reassures them that the trials they’ve faced are part of God’s plan:
This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Pet 1:7, CEB)
Similarly, Paul tells the Corinthians that fire will eventually reveal the quality of each person’s work for the kingdom, burning away what is worthless and leaving only whatever has been built to last (1 Cor 3:10-15). We ourselves will be saved, but “only as one escaping through the flames” (vs. 15, NIV). Many of us, it seems, may enter eternity with the smell of smoke about us.
Eventually, we will dwell on a renewed earth in imperishable resurrection bodies (1 Cor 15). Truth is, we don’t know what we will be on that day. Our faith is being refined now; hopefully, some cross-centered aspects of our lives show through even in the present. But much may still need to be melted away by fire.
Only God knows the beauty of what will finally and fully be revealed in us.
That’s a day worth waiting for with breathless anticipation.