On Sunday, one of my church members approached me, saying, "I have a column idea for you."
Always on the lookout for help, I eagerly gave him my attention. "Would you please tell me how the date of Easter is calculated? I always know when Christmas is, but never understand when Easter will fall."
Excellent question. Quick answer: It's the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. The spring equinox, March 21 (technically, it may be the 19th or 20th, but the church settled on the 21st), is the day when both the northern and southern hemispheres enjoy equal amounts of sunlight. After this, the days continue to lengthen in the northern hemisphere and shorten in the southern until the summer solstice, approximately June 21, when the pattern switches.
Using these calculations, Easter can never be earlier than March 22 or later than April 25. With Easter on April 24, we are at the late end of the cycle this year.
Now, while I could rattle that off my tongue, I realized I had no idea of how that formula appeared.
Research showed this: there was considerable controversy over the setting this date. This particular formula may have come from discussions at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Because of differences in calendars, along with other factors, this formula did not get full adoption for hundreds of years. Even today Eastern churches, using a different calendar, generally celebrate Easter a week later than Western churches. However, this year both land on the same date.
Now, the more important question: Why Easter?
Because without this day, we have no hope. Without this day, Christianity has no real eternal meaning; it's just a nice group of sometimes helpful moral thoughts and stories about some people at different places and different times who were trying to find their way to God. Without this day, we do not grasp the real, cosmic, unending truth: God Wins!
I must return to this truth daily.
As I walk with people in the often overwhelming pains and losses of our lives, I need to know: God wins.
As I seek to embody the good news of my own reconciliation to God, my own welcome into the heavenly places, I must know at all times and in all places: God wins.
The Scriptures say, "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
This is the "why" of Easter. Death no longer has power over us. Sin has been vanquished. We need have no fear because the Son has indeed arisen.
Easter makes the most sense if we will take the time acknowledge the events preceding the day of resurrection. Take time to accompany Jesus from the high of his welcome into Jerusalem by the procession of palms, to the melancholy of the Last Supper, during which he gives a new commandment (a mandate, hence Maundy Thursday services of Holy Communion), to the real horror of the crucifixion on Friday, and into the blackness and hopelessness to follow.
Then we arrive at the utter joy of the newness of life on Sunday morning. Sunrise services on Easter Sunday let us enter into our own need for the powerful redemptive hand of God to reach us and bring us into the light as the sun rises and we can sing joyfully, "Up From the Grave He Arose, With a Mighty Power O'er His Foes!"
If you only make one day of worship a year, make it this day. It is this day that gives hope. No other day comes close. Here we know for sure: God does indeed win!