Easter is a little later than usual this year (April 21), so we are just now preparing for the beginning of Lent next week on Ash Wednesday, March 6. The formula for calculating the date for Easter is far more complex than it needs to be, in my humble opinion, but for those who may be curious as to how it works, here is a brief summary from our friends at calenderpedia.com:
Easter is a ‘moveable feast’, which means that its date is not fixed in the calendar, but is instead calculated according to the lunar calendar, formalized in Ecclesiastical date tables. It is based on the date of the vernal equinox. In AD 325 the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. The date of Easter Sunday can thus fall between March 22 and April 25. The date of Orthodox Easter (also known as Pascha) as celebrated in Eastern Christianity is the same as Easter in some years, but differs in other years.
Like I said, way too complicated. As with any other holiday season, it’s way too easy to miss the forest for the trees. Rather than wasting time debating dates, let’s do our best to take full advantage of this high and holy season on the church calendar as we prepare to celebrate the most monumental event in human history – the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!
What we commonly refer to as Easter, early Christians called Pascha, a Greek term which derived from the Hebrew word for the Passover (pesach). Just as the Israelites had passed over from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land, early Christians saw the risen Christ as the one who had passed over from death to new life. And he had, in turn, given that life to all of us as well – freedom from slavery to sin and death and free access to a new and abundant life in Christ!
This is a reality that is true for every true believer every day of the year, of course, but because we are all fully human, most of us need to be reminded on a regular basis of the profound significance of those things we hold most dear. As my grandfather used to say, “My memory is what I forget with!” And that is exactly why our good and gracious God established so many special feasts and festivals for His holy and beloved people. In the midst of a dark and decadent world, He wanted us to make sure and remember those things about this life that are most true, most beautiful, most liberating, most lasting, and most life-giving. Above all, He wanted us to remember that, even when we forget about Him, He will never fail to remember us:
“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Is 49:15-16, NLT).
During this season of Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, I would encourage you to consider any ways that you, your family and the members of your congregation might set aside a little extra time and space each week to prayerfully and intentionally remember the “paschal mystery” and its ongoing impact upon each of our lives today. Allow me to offer a few suggestions:
As you give prayerful consideration to your plans for Lent this year, it might be helpful to remember that our word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “springtime.” This gives us a wonderful insight into what the days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday are all about: a special season when the seeds of faith and the virtues of the Christian life are enabled to experience accelerated growth within our hearts and souls as they are nurtured and sustained by the amazing grace of our good and beautiful God.
Lent is an ideal time to set aside those things with which we self-medicate so that we can be free to recognize what our real hungers and desires are, and to remember that only God can truly satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts. As Henri Nouwen would remind us, Lent is “a time of returning to God … a time of refocusing, of reentering the place of truth, of reclaiming our true identity.” I believe he would also invite us to join him in prayer:
The Lenten season begins. It is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death. I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life. I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you. Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me. Amen.
– David O. Williams, General Superintendent