Column: Why the date of Easter changesYou 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: Rev. Lawrence Lee, For the Budgeteer News
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 (Matthew 26:17 ff, Mark 14:12 ff, Luke 22:1 ff, John 13:1 ff) in Jerusalem when he was arrested and executed. Passover begins on the first full moon after the Spring equinox (Leviticus 23:5), 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 was always on March 21; but 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 when Easter is.
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. So 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 but the Orthodox 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 rhythms in nature that we pay too little attention to 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.
Rev. Lawrence Lee is a Duluth resident, a Presbyterian minister serving in Two Harbors at United Church and is currently acting as a “spiritual advisor” on the upcoming Duluth Playhouse production of “Godspell.” He can be found on Facebook at revlawrencelee.