A Moveable Feast
Easter is what is called a “moveable feast.” This is to say that the date for Easter moves, unlike Christmas which remains fixed every year. This year Easter moves to an early date. It can be a bit earlier, as early as March 22, but that hardly ever happens.
For a very long time I never had any idea how the date of Easter was arrived at. Finally, some years back I discovered the principle and am quite glad to tell anybody who wants to listen what it is. It is the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox (first day of spring). Complicated, yes. But more important than the calculation, which appears arbitrary, is the fact that the way it is figured is actually tied to the way the Jewish Passover is figured, for Easter is tied to Passover theologically. (Because of differences in the Jewish calendar and ours, the two don’t always coincide every year. Nor are the western churches always the same as the eastern churches for similar reasons.)
This is theologically important because it means that our celebration of Good Friday and Easter is not tied to a regular recurring natural event or time. It is not tied to the beginning of spring and the earth’s awakening from its winter’s hibernation (which doesn’t happen everywhere in the world at this time, anyhow). It is tied to unique events in history in which God has entered into human life and changed its course forever. In the Passover, God delivered a people who previously only existed as a promise and made them into a people, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” who bore his name and in whom his glory dwelt. That deliverance prefigures and is pregnant with the meaning of God’s later incursion into history in the life and death and rising again of Jesus Christ, by whom the world as a whole can be brought into God’s presence.
During Lent and Easter it is well worth thinking about the uniqueness of the events we celebrate. It is important for us to think about what we have in common with all other religions. If we love God, we will learn everything we can about God from whomever can teach us. But it is also important for us to remember that what we do know about God is from what he has uniquely done in history for the Jews, and for us who have been grafted into the promises he made to Abraham and his descendants. For God has entered history, he has turned it around, just as he turns around our lives. He has worked to bring humanity into his presence by making himself present, really and fully present, in Jesus Christ.
Let us therefore not look at the events we commemorate and celebrate this month as just a good idea. Let us see them as they really are – singular events that have brought us to friendship with God, and into God’s own life, because that is where God wants us. Let us see them as events that turn history and lives around, and let us live as changed lives.