Recently I was asked, “Why does Easter move anyway?”
I knew I had learned this at one time, but I also knew I did not remember.
Other than knowing it had something to do with the moon, I could not articulate my answer.
We know the date for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick ’s Day—but Easter, well that one moves.
Here is the short answer:
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox, unless the full moon falls on a Sunday, then it is delayed a week.
Is your head hurting yet?
The vernal equinox is the Spring Equinox- March 21.
March 22 is the earliest Easter can occur on any given year, and April 25 is the latest.
You may be wondering, as I did, just how this formula got put into place.
Easter and Passover
Easter was once determined by the date of Passover.
Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples.
Passover celebrates how the Israelites, when slaves in Egypt, were protected by the blood of the lamb across their doorways, as death passed over them during the plague. Because of the blood of the lamb they were protected and liberated. God saved them and brought them to freedom through the sea.
That Passover meal became the Last Supper where Jesus instituted the sacrament Holy Communion.
Here in this meal Jesus shared the new covenant offering forgiveness, love, and grace. In the New Covenant Jesus shared a four part blessing—he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
His life was taken, blessed, broken, and given so that we would have new life in this new covenant, forgiven, and made new.
Jesus became the Paschal Lamb, whose blood would protect us, free us, and lead us to new life.
On that night Jesus was betrayed and the next day he was crucified and on the third day he rose again.
In this way, Easter is connected theologically to Passover.
A Little History
But the date became no longer dependent upon Passover at the Council of Nicaea.
This was the first ecumenical gathering of the Christian Church where the church uniformly came together to agree upon doctrine which is articulated in the Nicaean Creed.
At this meeting the Church also argued over the reliability of dating mechanisms and chose to no longer use the Jewish Calendar to determine Easter. Instead they began to calculate the date using the Julian Calendar whereby the date would be calculated using the date from spring equinox so that Easter would be the first Sunday following the full moon after the spring equinox.
The Church continued this practice calculating Easter with the Julian Calendar until the 1500’s when the church realized that their reliance on this calendar was causing them to incorrectly date the spring equinox (the spring equinox is the one day in spring when there is exactly 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness).
The Julian calendar assumes the year is exactly 365.25 days long. Unfortunately, the actual solar year is slightly shorter (it is 365.242199 days to be exact). Although the difference appears minor, it can add up over the centuries. In fact, every 129 years, the Julian calendar slipped one additional day out of synchronization with the actual solar year.
So if the date for Easter was off- then Lent, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost would so be off.
To correct this, Pope Gregory XIII, issued a papal bull in 1582 that resulted in several calendar revisions, the most important being the creation of the Gregorian calendar. [i]
The Western Church decided to use a Gregorian Calendar system, while the Easter Orthodox continued to use a Julian Calendar. So the date for Easter, for the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Church continues to be set using this calculation, while the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian Calendar.
Who is Easter Really About?
However the Church has begun to talk about creating a set date for Easter . The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that it would help schools and families to arrange terms and holidays. [ii]
Having a set date certainly would help us arrange our schedules and plan our lives. And I’m definitely glad that the spring break in Chesterfield County falls the week after Easter this year, rather than the week of Holy Week, so that families can worship through the week at church on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.
Yet, something in me finds the fact that Easter moves a good thing.
The purpose of Lent is for us to refocus and stop putting ourselves first, to repent and believe the Gospel remembering that we are dust and it is Christ who give us life—new life!
Moving Easter for our convenience, seems to me to contrary to the reason for Lent.
Perhaps when Easter messes up our schedules, it is a good thing.
We have to repent and reorient ourselves.
Every year, we have to ask ourselves, “When is Easter?” And perhaps that may become the start of our Lenten practice? Have our habits and spiritual disciplines become old, worn, rote even?
When is Easter and how can we reorient our lives to be in line with the meaning of Easter, rather than move Easter be in line with our desires.
Jesus Christ comes and makes everything new!
When the date of Easter changes each year—we have to shift and be made new.
Nothing stays the same, except for the steadfast love of God.
We drift away filing our lives with our plans and our purposes.
We create our life, and in so doing we forget how Christ gave His life for us.
Easter this year is on March 27, and the 40 days leading to this day begin Lent.
On February 9, I hope to see you for Shrove Tuesday as we begin putting Christ first in our schedule and plans and walking with our Savior first in our schedule.
The next day, February 10 is Ash Wednesday, we will place the ashes burnt from last Palm Sunday’s palms as the sign of the cross on our heads, humbling ourselves, remembering who we are- from ashes we came and from ashes will we return, and knowing that when we repent and believe the Gospel we have new life. We will offer a Children’s Ash Wednesday Service at 6:30 and a Traditional Ash Wednesday Service at 7:30 so that people of all ages are able to experience and understand the power of this humbling service.
Each Wednesday throughout Lent we will offer Lenten Lunches at noon at church. We will have be having a time of fellowship sharing in soup and bread and then we will worship together.
The First Sunday of Lent is February 14 and we will begin our Lenten Series “A New Normal.” We begin our “New Normal” series recommitting ourselves and renewing our covenant in line with the New Covenant Jesus offers.
February 14 is also Valentine’s Day!
Could your relationship use a new normal-- a revival of the heart- a re- commitment and renewal? Following the 11:00am worship service we will offer an opportunity for couples to Renew the Covenant of their Marriage. We will have extended childcare on this day and we invite all couples, whether you have been marred 40 years or 4 years to not only recommit your lives to Christ in this worship service, but also recommit to the covenant of your marriage.
Christ has come with a New Covenant, New Wineskins, New Birth, New Commandment, a New Understanding, a New Kingdom, and New Life!
I pray that throughout this Lent we will all take the opportunity to develop a New Normal in Christ Jesus our Savior!
In God’s Love, Grace, and Peace
[i] The new Gregorian calendar had an extra day in those years that were divisible by 4 (just like the old Julian calendar), but unlike the Julian calendar, it did not add an additional day in years that were divisible by 100, unless the year was also divisible by 400. Thus, under the Gregorian calendar, the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 were leap years.
• To make up for the errors in the old Julian calendar, ten days were omitted from the new Gregorian calendar. Thus, Thursday, 4 October 1582 in the old Julian calendar was immediately followed by Friday, 15 October 1582 in the new Gregorian calendar.