The Church Council that met in A.D. 325 in Nicaea, a city in northwest Asia Minor, determined that Easter Sunday would be observed on the first Sunday after the full moon that falls on or after March 21.
That means that Easter cannot occur before March 22 or after April 25.
Thankfully, calendar makers keep up with the date so we don’t have to calculate it every year. This year Easter falls on March 31, in 2014 on April 20 and in 2015 on April 5.
For years I have said, “I wish that Easter was on the same Sunday every year,” because it would make planning a lot easier. When it comes to worship – not to mention family dinners and egg hunts – we wouldn’t have to deal with a different calendar each year.
I testify to you today that I have changed my mind about that, because we need to be reminded that everything depends on Easter, and Easter’s movable date imposes such a reminder on us.
The date on which Easter falls determines the date on which many other Christian observances occur.
Ash Wednesday falls 46 days before Easter because Lent, of which Ash Wednesday is the first day, is made up of the 40 days plus the six Sundays immediately preceding Easter Sunday.
Pentecost – on which we celebrate the falling of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus and thus the beginning of the Church – occurs 50 days after Easter.
So Easter, the most important day on the Christian calendar, determines when most of the other important days will be observed.
The “movability” of Easter, then, reminds us that Easter is the controlling event for other days. Indeed, Easter is the controlling event for all the days of our lives – the resurrection of Jesus determines the meaning of all of our days.
Just as the date of Easter determines so much of our Christian year, so does the reality of Easter fill all of our days with life.
The “movability” of Easter also keeps us a little bit off balance. Most of us probably don’t give too much thought to the date of Easter until we get into February or even early March and then we often find ourselves saying, “I can’t believe Easter is so early” or “I can’t believe Easter is so late.”
We don’t control Easter; it happens when it happens. Once we do learn when it is going to occur, though, it controls us.
It controls when a lot of church and family events are going to happen and, for those who follow the Christian calendar, it controls our pattern of Christian worship and our practice of Christian disciplines.
Easter can and should also control the ways we view and live our lives.
Easter can and should, for one thing, cause us to believe in life more than we believe in death. That’s a challenge because we are surrounded by death, both literal death, as people die all the time, and figurative death, as we all go through crises that make us feel like we are going to die.
Easter means, though, that God’s way is that life wins out in the end.
Jesus lay dead in his tomb on Saturday, but on Sunday his life burst back into the world with a power that is transforming many of us from death to life and that one day will transform all of creation from death to life.
Meanwhile, we face the challenge of thinking, believing and behaving in ways that affirm life rather than death.
Easter can and should, for another thing, cause us to believe that God’s ways are right and will be vindicated. Jesus not only taught love, mercy and peace with his words, but also demonstrated love, mercy and peace with his life.
He not only told us to pray for our enemies, to forgive those who hurt us and to turn the other cheek, he actually lived in all of those ways.
Living in those ways led to his crucifixion, and we have no reason to believe that if we were actually to live in those ways it would not lead to pain and suffering for us.
But on the other side of crucifixion was, is and will be resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus vindicated Jesus’ way of living out God’s way in the world; it also invalidated the way of responding to God’s way through manipulation, violence and death.
Our resurrection will – provided we, by the grace of God and the power of God’s spirit, live in God’s way – continue to vindicate God’s way as it is seen in our lives.
Meanwhile, we face the challenge of thinking, believing and behaving in ways that affirm God’s love, grace and peace rather than the world’s hate, selfishness and discord.
As Easter 2013 approaches, let’s be mindful of the centrality of the Easter event in our lives, in our world and in history. The way it moves around may confuse us, but it also reminds us of what – and Who – matters most.
And I would suggest that we be ready to be surprised, but I guess that’s an oxymoron. Instead, I’ll just say let’s be open to however God chooses to make the new life in Christ evident to us, even if it does shake us up, which it will.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.