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Bosco Peters discusses a recently discussed (and probably not going anywhere) proposal to get Christians of various communions to celebrate Easter on a fixed date on the Gregorian calendar. Working toward this common date are Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, Roman Catholic Pope Francis, the Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (of the Greek Orthodox church).
Bosco provides an excellent, brief summary of why figuring out the date of Easter can be such a headache, and why Catholics and Protestants celebrate on a different date than the Orthodox. Along the way, he makes a number of important points about the nature of calendars and how they tie us to the natural world. He writes,
Although I won’t oppose a fixed Easter date, I do think there is quite a loss in doing so. We mix two calendars: A nomad’s calendar, (represented by Abel in the Bible); nomads follow a lunar calendar (with the four lunar phases the most probable source of the weekly cycle that has never been broken for millennia). The solar calendar would be Cain’s calendar, with its annual sowing and harvesting. Christmas is a purely solar celebration. Our planet is essentially in the same spot on our solar orbit each Christmas Day, December 25.
Easter, on the other hand, is essentially lunar – and when we walk out to go to the Easter Vigil, the slightly waned Full Moon shines down, and does so as we gather around the sacred new Easter Fire.
We live in a world where most are increasingly losing touch with nature. Without looking, could you tell someone what phase the Moon is in? Most cannot. Most cannot even tell me which way the Moon waxes and wanes, or identify stars or planets. Fixing the date of Easter will be convenient for our world and its focus on the god of commerce, but we will lose yet another connection with nature, our planet, its moon, and our place in this amazing solar system.
I would love for all Christians everywhere to celebrate Easter (or Pascha) on the same date, but I’m skeptical that this plan, which would place Easter on a set Sunday in the month of April every year, will gain much traction. Though the lunar calculations take a bit of effort, I wonder what we would lose by disconnecting Easter not only from its relationship to the lunar cycle but also its relationship to the Jewish faith—which connection is already lost on many in the church!
If I could wave a magic wand (or crozier), I would decree that Easter always be celebrated on the Sunday after Passover. Period. This rule would have the added benefit of underscoring Christianity’s indebtedness to our Jewish neighbors, with whom we share large portions of our spiritual traditions, not to mention our Scriptures.
This is a very nice post from Pete Enns, who is consistently insightful and entertaining. You would do well to read it. But I swear, the first thing that sprung to mind when I read it was, “Good Lord, they actually made a He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special??”
Readers today might assume that these injunctions were more or less universally known to your average Joe-Sixpack and Sally-Housecoat Israelite (pretty sure that’s a partially correct Simpsons reference.) So we read the biblical stories about the failure to worship God properly as stories of out and out rebellion—“Geez Louise, Israelites, when in the world are you going to learn to obey God?! How many times do you have to be told?!”
But it may be that your average Jimmy-Lunch pail and Susie-Soccer mom Israelite had no real conception of how God is “supposed” to be worshiped. Or they had an idea, but, like a lot of American’s singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” or “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” they effortlessly and unknowingly mix together some vague awareness of what it all “really” means and just going with the cultural flow.
Ian Paul offers an interesting line of defense of Luke’s general historicity with regard to the census in Luke’s birth narrative. Commenting on the historiographical tendencies of both Luke and Josephus, he suggests an alternative translation of Luke 2:2 that seems to account for the historical and linguistic peculiarities of the text:
Marshall notes that ‘the form of the sentence is in any case odd’ (p 104); why say something was ‘first’ when there is nothing to compare it with? Stephen Carlson has looked even more closely, and also noted that the verb egeneto also seems strange; why suggest the census ‘became’ something, rather than that it simply ‘was’? Carlson suggests that prote, rather than ‘first’ numerically, should be read as ‘of most importance’—much as we might say ‘so-and-so is Arsenal’s Number One player.’ This would then give the translation as:
This registration became most prominent when Quirinius was governing Syria.
This [decree to get registered] became the/a most important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria.
In the end, the mystery of the conflict between Luke and Josephus remains unsolved and (as Marshall puts it) ‘can hardly be solved without the discovery of fresh evidence.’ But these arguments at least offer a plausible explanation—and when considering questions of history, proof is rarely possible, but plausibility is an important measure. It certainly offers no grounds to write off Luke’s account, think it unhistorical or a fabrication, or see it as in conflict with Matthew.
Another gem from Larry Hurtado on early Christian diversity:
From our earliest Christian texts (e.g., Paul’s letters and other writings) we have candid references to diversity in the young Jesus-movement, even sharp conflicts and mutual condemnation. Maybe Eusebius could convince himself that everything was sweet agreement initially and that diversity and division only came later, but that’s not what the earliest sources actually show.
This early Christian diversity, however, was not a number of totally separate communities or forms (hence, my dissatisfaction with “early Christianities”). As I contend in a recent article, the diverse expressions of early Christianity seem to have been in vibrant contact with one another, sometimes conflicting, at other times seeming to agree to overlook differences, at other times seeking to persuade others of their own views/emphases….
Nevertheless, in that swirling diversity we also see from a very early point strong efforts to establish trans-local and trans-ethnic commonality. That’s an obvious major aim reflected in Paul’s Gentile Mission, reflected, for example, in his extended effort in the collection for Jerusalem. And note Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, that Jerusalem leaders and he proclaim a broadly shared message focused on Jesus. Of course, Paul also refers to “false brethren,” “false apostles,” etc., indicative of the real diversity and division as well. But the effort to try to form a broadly connected and cooperative trans-local religious movement didn’t start with Eusebius or Constantine. The impulse was there from very early (however it may have fared from time to time).