On this weekend twelve years ago, what proved to be last of the McBrayer children was born. He entered the world as most babies do; wrinkled, wailing, and gravely disturbed at being expelled from the safest place he will ever inhabit. He was born just days before Easter, giving us a new appreciation for life, so symbolized by Resurrection Sunday.
Now, as he approaches his teen years, our son will finally get something he’s wanted: His birthday to fall on Easter. He’s always thought it would be grand to share the day with Jesus, what with all the egg hunts, feasting, festivities, and snazzy clothes. I hope he enjoys it, because it will be more than a decade before he has another Easter birthday.
As you know, Easter is not a “fixed” holiday like Christmas, falling on the same date every year. Neither is it as routine as “the fourth Thursday in November,” like Thanksgiving. No, its annual date moves with the phase of the moon. So, in one of the more difficult astronomical calculations for me to remember, it goes something like this:
Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the Spring Equinox. Consequently, Easter can fall on any date between March 22 and April 25 (and on those rare occasions, even on my son’s birthday). However, this only applies to churches of the Western tradition that use the Gregorian calendar. The Eastern churches typically use the Julian calendar, and have a different window of time altogether.
And for good measure, why not throw in the lunar calculations for the Jewish observance of Passover (the precursor of the Christian celebration) which begins on the 15th day of the first Hebrew month of Nisan? Do that, and before long you’ll be on hold waiting for Pope Francis or Neil deGrasse Tyson to answer the line so someone can explain the Council of Nicea or astrophysics.
Mercifully, I didn’t share all of this with my prepubescent birthday boy, of course. I just told him that if he is lucky, he’ll get to celebrate his birthday alongside the resurrection of Jesus four times in his lifetime. And if he’s very lucky – and as sturdy as his great-grandmother Artie was – he might even get five such celebrations.
But the truth of the matter is we get to celebrate every day – all of us – not just those with a birthday, and not just on Easter Sunday. Celebration, in fact, is the Christian vocation. Because Easter is not so much a holiday about the past as it is a way of joyful, hopeful living; living for today, not tomorrow or reserved for after we die.
Adding to all the explanations of Easter’s dating and its various meanings are the usual sermons and songs about Easter as the doorway to heaven, an escape hatch from the troubles of this earth or a coping mechanism for what lies beyond the grave. That’s all fine for as far as it goes, but that’s not the main point the early church made in its proclamation about Jesus’ resurrection.
Rather, the point made by the first Christians was that because of Easter, everything about life has changed – life today – in the here and now. Quoting the late Marcus Borg who was straightforward on the matter: “Easter is not for the sake of heaven, later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now…It is about the transformation of this world. Jesus was killed because of his passion for a different kind of world. Easter is about God’s ‘Yes’ to what we see in Jesus. Easter is not about believing in a spectacular long ago event, but about participating in what we see in Jesus.”
God’s “Yes” to what we see in Jesus: That is the exactly what Easter, indeed, what all of Christianity is about; “getting in on” Jesus’ powerful, life-giving way, so much so, that we experience life, full and running over, transforming us and the world. That’s reason to celebrate every day.