I don’t know about you, but it seems a little odd to me that Easter is so late this year, just about as late as it can be, in fact. Easter as you know is a moveable feast which means we celebrate it on different dates each year.
So, how is the date of Easter actually calculated? Why can’t we just fix a date at the beginning of April and be done with it? It would be so much easier – it happens with Christmas after all.
The answer is to be found in a Church Council long ago, in AD 325 to be precise. The Emperor Constantine had turned Rome into a Christian Empire (it’s a bit uncertain how much of a Christian he actually was, but it seemed like a good idea at the time). Constantine was extremely frustrated about the state of the Church: it couldn’t seem to agree on anything. There were so many different strands of belief and tradition. So he called a council of Church leaders at Nicaea and told them in no uncertain terms to sort themselves out. One of the many things they were charged to decide was when Easter should be celebrated. After much deliberation it was agreed that it should always be on the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which means the full moon that falls on or after the Spring Equinox.
So far so good, but why must Easter Day always be on a Sunday? The simple answer is because Sunday was the day of Christ’s Resurrection. Well why the paschal full moon then? I hear you cry. Because that was the date of Passover in the Jewish calendar, and of course the Last Supper. Therefore Easter was the Sunday after Passover.
Just to complicate things further the Church doesn’t use the exact date of the full moon but uses an approximation, because the paschal full moon can fall on different days in different time zones, which would mean that the date of Easter would be different depending on which time zone you live in. I’m glad I don’t have to calculate all of this. To make it easier it was decided that the full moon is always set at the 14th day of the lunar month (the lunar month begins with the new moon). So, the Church sets the date of the Spring Equinox at March 21, even though it can happen on March 20. This allows the Church to set a universal date for Easter (unless of course you’re Orthodox in which case it’s different, lol).
Complex isn’t it? Mind you the same Council had to make a decision about whether Jesus was the Son of God or not, which made setting the date for Easter look like a walk in the park.
Whenever it is, the story we tell at Easter is always moving and dramatic. We travel from triumph to despair in a few short days. From the cry of Hosanna, to the shouts of the bloodthirsty mob on the pavement outside Pilate’s residence shouting for his blood with the demand to ‘crucify him’. “It’s all over”, those close to Jesus must have thought. The great promise of hope had come to nothing: doubts must have set in. But the calm stillness of an early Sunday morning something momentous happened. The grave couldn’t contain the LORD of life and the gates of eternal life were opened.
Now I can honestly say that I understand the first part of all of this. Human beings are predictable after all. But the Resurrection? I wish my powers of understanding and laguage were greater when it comes to this. I have come to the conclusion that it’s probably all quite simple but somehow it’s just out of my reach. Some things you can only feel, and know in your heart that they ring true. There are no words to adequately explain. Although at Easter we certainly try.
My prayer for this season is that we all may grow in faith and understanding, but ultimately rest in the knowledge that the details are an unfathomable mystery.