On faith: Easter's date observes earth's rhythms
By: From Rev. Lawrence Lee of the United Church of Two Harbors, Lake County News Chronicle
You may have noticed that Easter moves around a lot. It’s not a fixed date on the calendar like Christmas, which is always on December 25. By contrast, Easter can be any day from March 22 to April 25. Why is that?
Well, Easter, on which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is linked with the Jewish festival of Passover because Jesus was celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem when he was arrested and executed. Passover begins on the first full moon after the spring equinox (Leviticus) so Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Simple enough, right?
But, that’s not the end of it. In the west, Christians calculate Easter based on the Council of Nicea’s determination in the year 325,that the spring equinox is always on March 21. In reality it can be as early as March 19 or 20. To make matters worse we calculate Easter based on full moon charts dating back to 1583 that may be as much as two days off the actual full moon. This adds a certain amount of uncertainty as to Easter’s date as well.
To make matters more complicated, Orthodox Christians calculate Easter differently. They use the actual time of the spring equinox and the actual full moon, which makes a certain amount of sense, but they also reckon that Easter can’t fall within the week of the Passover celebration. Sometimes they have to wait an entire lunar cycle before they have their Easter. As such, the range of dates for Easter for the Orthodox is from April 4 to May 8.
In 2012, Easter on the western calendar fell on April 8 and for the Orthodox it fell on April 15, but this year Easter is on March 31 for western Christians. The Orthodox church will have to wait until May 5.
Easter, then, is special in that it is tied both to the solar and lunar cycles. It reminds us of nature’s rhythms which seldom capture our attention these days. Time, in the ancient world, was an organic thing. We read it in the heavens and in the earth, in the ebb and flow of seasons, with moonrise and sundown.
Now it’s something we wear on our wrists or check on our phone. It ticks on relentlessly and dispassionately, ignorant of the natural world around us.
As we prepare for Easter and new life, perhaps it is not a bad thing to contemplate our relation to time and the world around us.
The Rev. Lawrence Lee is pastor of the United Church of Two Harbors where he will be celebrating Easter for the tenth time. He finds peeps loathsome and likes black jellybeans the best. He can be found on Facebook at revlawrencelee.