Church News –April


The Astronomy of Easter

As this will be read before Easter, I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of the most changeable holiday of the year. Anyone who has raised children has likely had to explain why Easter is not the same date or Sunday every year. The easiest and most basic explanation is that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring (which is around the 21st of March).

Our universe is so immeasurable that our orderly calendars are sadly inadequate for documenting vast quantities of time or space; we often have to manufacture computations that make sense to us. To further complicate things, Jesus was Jewish, and Jewish tradition follows a lunar calendar. The Christian calendar is a solar one. (Lunar calendars follow moon cycles, which are shorter than sun cycles). Are we having fun yet? I know I am.

The history that is available to us through the gospels tells us that Jesus was crucified on the day after the feast of the Passover. The Passover commemorates the liberation and the Hebrews’ escape from slavery to the Egyptians. The communion service that generally initiates the sacred three days that Christians observe as a memorial of the last supper, which was the Passover feast that Jesus observed with his followers before his arrest. This happens on Maundy Thursday.

Because the Passover is a Jewish holiday, we schedule Easter (Jesus’ resurrection) to coincide with the third day of Jesus’ death. This is another source of confusion, because Jesus is said to have risen on the third day after his crucifixion, which is observed on a Friday. Which is two days before Sunday. Go figure. Here we need to understand the Jewish observance of days as beginning at sunset the prior evening (see Genesis 1:5, 1:8). So according to the calendar above my desk, on Wednesday, April 5, Passover begins at sundown. So Jesus feasted with his disciples on that evening.

After the last supper they went with Jesus to Gethsemane, where he sought solitude in order to pray as he anticipated his arrest, trial and death. He was arrested that night (still the Passover). If the timeline holds, his crucifixion would actually take place on the day after (which begins on Thursday at sunset). So he would have died in the daytime after the Passover, which would be the first day of his death. Which would make Good Friday evening, after sunset, the second day of his death. And Saturday evening would begin the third day of his death. Thus, his resurrection is observed on the third day. The women come to the tomb first thing in the morning, because the observed Passover is officially over. (To attend to a dead body legally renders one unclean and so these rituals could not be observed until the holy days of Passover were ended).

So, to return us to the purpose of this exploration, we now understand why Easter is observed on a different date every year. The events leading up to Easter are measured on a lunar calendar. And we see how our timeline is a little confusing since we are translating from a lunar calendar to a solar one. And we also know why Christian folk worship on a Sunday morning, and Jewish folk on a Saturday evening (the beginning of the Sabbath).

We observe Easter on a solar morning after a lunar festival, on a little planet orbiting a light for our days, and orbited by a light for our nights. So, whatever and whenever you celebrate, may your holiday be blessed with light!


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