Christmas is predictable. Firmly set at December 25th, we always know exactly when it is and we can plan around it accordingly. Easter, not so much. Easter seems to come randomly, the only guarantee being that it will be celebrated on a Sunday in either March or April. While that general understanding is helpful, it’s still pretty vague. It’s hard to book a flight back home to celebrate Easter when all you can tell the airline is that you have to leave on some Saturday in either April or March.
The date for Easter is actually fixed, in a way. It was set way back in 325 by the Council of Nicea. It was not given an actual day on the calendar; rather it was determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Since the date for Easter is based on the rhythm of the moon rather than an actual calendar date, it seems to occur rather randomly to those not in the know, but in reality, there is a logical way in which it is determined.
Easter takes place after the first full moon of the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox is a significant and hopeful occurrence. It is the day in winter when sunset and sunrise are exactly twelve hours apart. Daytime and nighttime are of equal length and getting longer as we move towards Spring. So the date for Easter is one that is based on the days getting longer and the renewal of spring getting ever closer.
Christians start their journey towards Easter forty days in advance with the season we call Lent. Lent is an abbreviation of the Old-English word, Lenten, or “to get longer”. It’s a reminder that the days are getting longer, there is more sunshine and less darkness, and the hope of new life and the resurrection of Christ are just around the corner.
Of course, we have to go through the Crucifixion first. The empty Cross we celebrate Easter morning can only happen with Christ’s death on it three day earlier. So Lent marks a journey not only to hope and new life, but also to the death of our Saviour.
This stark contrast is the challenge of the season. While the days get longer, we are still buried in snow and surrounded by bare, empty fields and forests. Death, despair and sorrow hang in the air alongside the possibility of just a few more minutes of light and, perhaps, a bare patch of ground where the snow has finally melted away.
The progressive longer hours of sunshine during Lent mark our journey towards the Cross. Let these forty days be a time to reflect on the price paid for the empty Cross that marks our new life and hope in Christ. Take time to think about the way you might have led him to the cross, to the ways that you hurt others, disobeyed God, or even did harm to yourself out of selfishness, greed or spite. Don’t wallow in those moments or let them get you down. Rather, turn them over to God so that they might be placed on the Cross to die and be buried, and prepared to bask in the hope and joy of the empty Cross that marks not only Jesus’ resurrection, but your forgiveness and new life in Him.