LETTER FROM THE VICARAGE
On this page we reproduce the monthly letter from our Vicar (or occasionally from our Licensed Reader Janice Taylor) as it appears in our parish magazine, the Parish News.
Letter from the vicarage
FROM THE VICARAGE - MARCH 2019
Spring is in the air (I trust – as I'm actually writing this on a bitterly cold day in February!).
But March brings with it a hint of the warm sunny days ahead, and we begin to see our gardens and the hedgerows springing back into life. What a joy. And March also sees the beginning of Lent on the 6th, as Easter is 'late' this year.
Several people have asked me recently why the date of Easter moves, probably because there has been some discussion in the media about trying to fix a date for Easter (mainly to make the school terms more even) in the way we have a fixed date for Christmas. So, I'll try to be brief ….
Many of the Christian festivals are celebrated on existing Jewish festivals, after all, Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, as were most of the first followers of Jesus. As Jesus brought new understanding to the Law of Moses, and to our understanding of our relationship with God, so the Jewish followers of Jesus began to celebrate these festivals in slightly different ways and these celebrations were passed on to the church when Christianity became a separate religion.
No one knows who actually set the date for Christmas as the 25th December, but the first recorded celebration of Christmas was in 336 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine. There is much speculation about why that date. Many say Christians hijacked the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, but it is most likely a Christian celebration of the Jewish festival Hanukkah – the Festival of Light. Jesus said 'I am the Light of the World' (John 8:12). Strictly speaking Christmas is a celebration of Jesus' birth, not his birthday – because we have no clue from the bible as to when Jesus was actually born. Unlike Easter, where we do have biblical direction as to the date. Bear with me ….
Easter is set by the Jewish festival of Passover. Think back to Joseph and his technicoloured dream-coat and the Israelites becoming enslaved in Egypt. Moses is called by God to lead the Israelites back to their promised land, but Pharaoh has other ideas, so God sends plagues on the Egyptians and their land, the last one being the Angel of Death who is sent to kill all the firstborn. To save the Israelites this plague, God tells the Israelites to eat a special meal and use some of the sheep's blood to mark their doorways so that the Angel of Death passes over them – hence the annual celebration of Passover to commemorate their deliverance from this plague, and also their release from captivity in Egypt.
The Jews were told to commemorate the Passover each year, and we read in the bible that Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover – Palm Sunday. We are also told that he was crucified on the following Friday – Good Friday, and that the night before he died, he shared a Passover supper with his friends – Maundy Thursday, and the meal our Communion service is based on. He rose from the dead on the 'third day' (the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset) and so we celebrate Easter on the Sunday after the Jewish festival of Passover. Unlike our Gregorian Calendar which has set dates each year, dates for the Jewish festivals are set by the lunar calendar which changes with the phases of the moon – which is why the date for Easter changes every year. Phew, got there in the end ….
So where does that leave us, and does it help with the question of fixing a set date for Easter?
Personally, I can't see the Church agreeing to fixing a date. Our Christian heritage and identity is rooted in Judaism and to lose this connection with the celebration of Passover would be too great a loss. Fixing the school terms makes sense but this is actually, I think, a separate discussion and it may mean that on occasions Easter is celebrated outside of the school holidays.
Our cultural heritage and identity are hot topics of conversation right now. And just as I have no idea what the weather will be like as this magazine goes to print, so I have no idea where we will be in the Brexit process. I am neither qualified enough - nor daft enough - to give an opinion on Brexit, but I do know it's been preoccupying our minds – and discussions – an awful lot recently. Perhaps folk chatting to me about fixing a date for Easter has just been a helpful distraction!
In our post-modern world we like to think we have our lives 'fixed' and 'sorted', we like to feel confident and certain about how life should pan out – but in reality, it seldom does.
As we journey with Jesus this Lent, we realise that he never quite does what we would expect him to do. No sooner had the disciples thought they understood what Jesus was about, and the direction his mission and ministry was going in, then Jesus would do the 'unexpected' and they would have to have a rethink. The one thing the disciples had to learn to live with, was hearts and minds open to the 'unexpected' – because it was in the 'unexpected' that God worked most powerfully. Only once they had grasped this, could they fully live the life of a disciple.
Living in the 'unexpected' is part of our discipleship. That doesn't make us immune to the concerns of the present day – be that in our personal lives or in the life of our country – but it does give us a firm and 'fixed' foundation to help steer us through the muddle that is life. Living in the 'unexpected' doesn't mean we don't plan ahead, we all need to do that, but knowing Jesus in our lives helps us to not be overly worried about what the future holds.
I was blessed to have had a wise and loving Mum. She also had quite a dry sense of humour, and on our wedding day she gave me a little present. It was a small wooden plaque with this prayer on it, by Reinhold Niehbuhr:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Wise words Mum!
PS – if you're interested, the next time we celebrate Easter on April the 21st will be in 2030.