I think most of us already understand this, but God’s time and our time are not the same thing. But when Easter falls on April Fool’s Day, you can’t help but wonder how that happened.
Easter is the central celebration in the Christian year, and the oldest. It has been observed from the 1st Century, a time when yearly calendars were mostly unknown.
People in the ancient near east lived by the seasons, and their celebrations were usually harvest festivals. The Hebrew calendar was tied to the cycles of the moon more than the sun. Around the world most people didn’t have a clue what year it was. And it really didn’t matter to them.
The date of Easter was originally tied to Passover, and is usually still pretty close. Early in the fourth century the current formula was settled – “the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.” Except it really isn’t.
In its wisdom, the Church decided the date of the equinox would be March 21, even though it’s nearly always March 20. As I said, God’s time and our time are not the same.
For Christians in the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, Easter can come as early as March 22. The last time was that happened was back in 1818, and the next will be in 2285.
Because it is tied to the lunar cycle, rather than a fixed date, Easter is known as a “moveable feast.” It will actually take some 5,700,000 years to make our way through one complete Easter cycle.
And if that weren’t confusing enough, Orthodox Christians are used to observing Easter a week later than the rest of us. They follow the Julian calendar, while the rest of the Christian world follows the Gregorian.
From time to time our Easter celebrations line up. But not this year.
Actually, I welcome variations in the calendar. Most of the dates we pay attention to stay the same from year to year. Christmas is always December 25. Independence Day is always the Fourth of July. They fall on different days of the week, but the same date. It’s not hard to keep track.
But then along come Easter and Passover, and most of us have no idea when they will take place from year to year. They have their own rhythm and timing, in no way tied to the other calendars by which we live.
I like that.
Even when it is inconvenient, it is healthy to be reminded that the world is not organized around me. Of course traffic lights offer the same lesson.
The celebration of two such important events in the life of the Jewish and Christian communities makes this a remarkable time of the year. Both Passover and Easter share stories of hope in the midst of defeat. Both offer the encouragement that when the odds are against us, when things look worse than bad, God may still be working to accomplish the impossible.
The story of their liberation from slavery has given hope not only to the Jewish people over the centuries, but to countless others who struggle under the burden of oppression and yearn to be free.
Christians see Easter as a sign that death is not the final word. It is powerful enough. It threatens all that we know and love in this life. But it is not the end of the story.
Perhaps it should not surprise us that the God who opened the path to freedom through the sea also opened the door to the tomb. The children of Israel escaped death at the hands of their oppressors. The followers of Jesus saw a new day dawning, just when they had given up hope.
It really is true that God’s time and our time are not the same. That is something worth remembering all the time.
Jonathan Chute is Senior Pastor at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, which worships each Sunday at 8:30 and 10 a.m., and 5:30 p.m. He was educated at Harvard University and Pacific School of Religion, and lives with his wife in Palos Verdes Estates. He can be reached by email at: email@example.com.