Monday, April 2, 2012

Christ is Risen! He's Risen, Indeed!

Easter is less than a week away. The apex of the church calender is upon us; the celebration of the climax of history is about to come as it does each year. God because of His great love for us took on flesh and dwelled among us. Jesus Christ who is both perfect man and perfect God walked with us and taught us, and was arrested, crucified and buried on the cusp of Passover. On the third day, Sunday and the beginning of the new week, God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus ascended in to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father as King of God's kingdom forever and ever. This is the Gospel: Jesus is King. And if we acknowledge Him as our king and therefore follow Him, we enter into His kingdom that is our salvation: we are forgiven and live by Him in the power of His Holy Spirit forever, accomplishing what God has purposed for us as dwellers of His kingdom. God has proven His faithfulness to His covenant promise to Abraham; God has restored His kingdom through the faithfulness of His Son on the cross. And we know all of this is true because Jesus is alive! Jesus is risen; He is risen, indeed. For this reason Easter should be the most revered day on anyone's calender.

It's interesting, however, that unlike Christmas,Easter falls on a different day each year. You'd think Easter being the day of days--so to speak--would have been fixed in stone. Actually, in the last century there had been talk of holding Easter on the 2nd Sunday of April. It never materialized. So why does it change?

The exact day for Easter is determined on a complex set of calculations based on golden number and epacts. The former is the number given to designate the position of a given year in Meton's cycle of nineteen years--Meton being the Greek astronomer who constructed the calendar on the basis of the fact that every nineteen solar years equals almost perfectly 235 lunar months. One can calculate the golden number for a given year by dividing by 19 and adding 1 to the remainder; hence, the golden number for 2012 is 18. Epacts are the number of days difference between a given lunar year and a given solar year. The number starts off at 11 days, and increases by 11 each new solar year to determine the day of the lunar year. When the epact reaches 30 days, a month is chucked into the lunar calendar, and the epacts are reduced by thirty. Clear as mud? Me too. Thus, one calculates the day for Easter using these numbers purely on the basis of the calendars, not celestial observation--the age of the moon is based on the calendar. Based on the calculations, Easter will occur on the Sunday after the full moon on or after the vernal equinox (March 21) and so will occur on a Sunday any time between March 22 and April 25.

It's interesting to note that there was a disagreement in the second century church regarding the whether Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday or always at Jewish passover which always occurs fourteen days after Nisan (the Hebrew month of Aviv), and could be any day of the week. Those who opted for passover were called Quatrodecimans (i.e., fourteen). Saint Polycarp, who was the last person in the second century to have actually studied under an original apostle (i.e., the apostle John) claimed John said the resurrection should be celebrated on passover. Polycarp even went to Rome to convince the Bishop (Pope) of Rome at the time. But the church ultimately repudiated the Quatrodecimans and has celebrated Easter on a Sunday ever since.

In my opinion the whole brouhaha was largely political. The church wanted to completely divest itself from the Jews, which was a horrible mistake (see Romans 11) that only in recent times it has started to reverse. On the other hand, from a theological point of view I can understand both the Quatrodecimans and their opponents' positions. The former had correctly seen the intimate connection between the passover and Christ's resurrection. The passover, penultimate to the exodus of Israel from their exile in Eqypt, prefigured our permanent exodus from our (Jew and Gentile, alike) exile in death, through the Death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus' last words on the cross were, "It is finished." We lose something in the translation. The Greek is actually in the perfect tense (lit., "It has been finished"), which means (to the Greek) the result of what happened remains forever after it happened. What Jesus accomplished on the cross is permanent; we who acknowledge Him as our king will live through Him forever in His kingdom. I can easily see why the Quatrodecimans would be anxious to retain this powerful imagery and tie Easter with the Passover.

But I can also understand those who opposed the Quatrodecimans. Jesus was not raised on just any day of the week, but on Sunday, the beginning of a new week. I haven't researched this, so please chime in, but the resurrection happening on the first day of the new week could be symbolic of the seventieth week spoken of by the prophet Daniel (see Dan. 9:20-27). It would be the final week when Christ's kingdom, ushered in by His death and resurrection, coexists with the fallen world as God fully restores Israel into His kingdom through much tribulation--the time we are in now. If so, apart from the simple fact the resurrection occurred on Sunday, celebrating Easter on Sunday also potentially carries important theological imagery. Whether or not those upholding Easter Sunday understood all this, or if I'm even on the right track, remains to be seen.

It's sad the church treated the Quatrodecimans so harshly in the end. They hadn't excommunicated Polycarp and the Quatrodecimans of his time. Saint Irenaeus, who, interestingly enough because he studied under Polycarp, did not support the Quatrodeciman position, went to Rome to petition for leniency. They wouldn't capitulate, and the Quatrodeciman movement died out soon after that.

So what's my point? Easter, regardless of when we celebrate it, is the day on which God liberated us from our exile in death to be a kingdom with Him. The purpose of the kingdom during this seventieth week is to be a light to both the Jews who are our brothers and sisters--the apple of God's eye--and the rest of humanity who are desperately in need of King Jesus. In short, God showed great mercy to us, we must show great mercy not only to each other within the kingdom, but to every one still on the outside, so they might turn and be healed. We must remember that only Jesus matters, not our pet ideas, constructs, theories, doctrines, festival days and alike. We will only remain in the kingdom of God if we keep our eyes fixed on the king; for He is risen! He is risen, indeed!