Easter moves around a lot from year to year. Unlike Christmas, which always falls on December twenty-fifth, no matter the day of the week or the number of shopping days since Thanksgiving, Easter can fall on most any Sunday between March twenty-second and April twenty-fifth. There is, in fact, an entire section of the Book of Common Prayer devoted to finding the date of Easter Sunday in any given year. Read it some evening if you are having a difficult time falling asleep.
Before you drift off, you will learn about golden numbers and Sunday letters, astronomical and ecclesiastical equinoxes, and the phases of the moon â all of which are critical in determining when exactly it is that we celebrate the feast of the Lordâs Resurrection. In fact, the dating of Easter was one of the earliest controversies to face the early English Church and incipient Anglican community long before the time of Henry VIII. Sadly, it has not been the last. But that is another story.
Time has always been important to Christians for the simple reason that our redemption takes place in time. Unlike the gods and heroes of mythology, Christ lived among us in time and history. He was born. He grew up. He preached the kingdom, and he died. It is recorded there in scripture for all to read. It is part of salvation history.
And as the Gospel of Luke tells us, on a certain first day of the week â specifically at early dawn â Christâs empty tomb was discovered, and the proclamation of his Resurrection began as the women made their way back to the eleven and told them what they had seen and heard. That proclamation continues to this day.
It is no wonder then that over centuries the Church has been so precise and meticulous about the timing of such an important feast. But as arcane as the computation is for establishing Easter Day, it is only part of the story. For not only is Easter a special time, it is quite literally special time. It is time out of time, time like no other.
The Resurrection is something completely unique and unprecedented. Here is how New Testament scholar Holt Graham explains the Easter event: âWe do not understand it and indeed cannot. â¦ It never happened before, and it has never happened again. What we have learned from ordinary existence is no help when we come up against the absolutely unique happening. It is in the full and literal sense a mystery. It occurred beyond the boundary line of our existence.â
The Resurrection in other words, while a part of our salvation history, nevertheless occurs beyond our experience and senses. Other scholars explain the Resurrection as the âbursting forthâ into time â into history â of eternity itself. It is as if all eternity were concentrated into this moment when Christ overcomes death and the grave, and the infinite sweeps away the temporal. Yet if the Resurrection is unique in our experience, it is essential to our existence as Christians.
No one saw the Resurrection. No one knows just when it happened or how. There was no car chase. No congressional hearing. No film at eleven. No leads. No body. The tomb is open and empty, abandoned except by a couple of ethereal, angelic figures and a few devoted, if somewhat disconsolate, women. For something at the very heart of our faith, this remains pretty slim pickings. Where was CNN? Where was Fox News or, if you prefer, Jim Lehrer? An embedded reporter or two would have been nice.
But of course we donât get any of it. There is quite literally nothing to this story. An empty tomb. Our great Christian symbol of life and hope is found in something missing, something not there, a displacement. âThe Case of the Missing Body,â as mystery writer Agatha Christie might have called it. It is indeed a mystery, but unlike anything Agatha Christie ever imagined.
For this empty tomb is full of meaning. From this empty tomb, hewn in rock, we as Christians draw forth all of our faith and hope for this world and for the kingdom to come. At this empty tomb we find the Christ of eternity alive in the here and now. From this chasm, a symbol of death and defeat, comes forth victory and life itself. Christâs tomb is the earthen fissure through which Godâs love pours out upon our parched world of sin and death.
We do not know how this is so. But then there are a lot of things we do not know. How life began in some ocean lagoon billions of years ago, for instance. Or even how our parents fell in love. Just as our lives today are in some real sense mysteries we shall never fathom, so is the Resurrection for us a sharing in the mystery of Godâs own life. Or perhaps more to the point, it is a sharing by God in our lives.
Time is on our side. Our life and our world mean something. They are not random events, and we are not lost among the dust and debris of history, footnotes in a book of no meaning or consequence. In this single event, the Resurrection, everything is changed for all time. We live now in Christ forever. In Baptism, we have been raised with him, and death no longer has a grip on us. We seek now, as Paul says, âthe things that are above, where Christ is.â
As Christians, we do not see and then believe. We believe in order to see. And what we see in the Resurrection is our lives transformed. âLet the whole world see and know,â we pray in one of the final liturgies of Holy Week, âthat things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.â Christâs Resurrection is finally the most real thing there is or ever was or ever will be.
The Lord is risen indeed.