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To the Saints that are in Los Osos, April 2020
On the willows there we hung up our lyres, for our captors there required of us songs, and our tormentor's mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.' But how shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" The movie adaptation of Godspell was released in March of 1973, a few months before my graduation from high school. It made a profound impact on my high school Christian circle that continues to resonate today
But this is April, the month of Easter. Why this song and not, for instance, "Day by Day?" The song, "On the Willows," is taken directly from Psalm 137. The psalm is a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying off of most of the population into what is called "the Babylonian exile." For centuries the worship of the Hebrew people was centered around the temple in Jerusalem. The psalm expresses the pain of those who must find God in a foreign place cut off from everything familiar and comfortable. Good things did come out of the exile. The Hebrews learned to worship where they were and returned to the Holy Land as Jews – a people united around worship rather than tribe, bringing with them the synagogue that allowed each town and village a place to gather and worship God.
I have been thinking of this psalm ever since it became necessary for us to shelter at home. We held services at church on March 15, a week after many churches had decided it was necessary to move online, precisely because we feel the need to connect directly with one another. I think we may very well feel like the psalmist and wonder how we can sing and worship without our wonderful choir, our beautiful sanctuary and all of the gifts we enjoy as Trinity UMC.
So on to Easter, then. Have you ever wondered why Easter moves around the calendar? It is what in the church is called a "movable feast." The answer is surprisingly complex and requires an astronomer. Easter usually falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. This year the equinox is March 20, the first full moon after the March equinox is on the night of April 7-8. Therefore, this year Easter falls on the following Sunday, April 12. The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. established the rule for the date of Easter. By that rule there are precisely 35 dates on which Easter can take place. The earliest possible date for Easter is March 22 and the latest possible date is April 25.
There are, of course, complications. Easter can never come as early as March 21 even though the astronomical conditions may be met earlier. That’s because, by ecclesiastical rules, the vernal equinox is fixed on March 21. That’s in spite of the fact that in the 21st century (2001 to 2100) every March equinox after the year 2007 will fall on March 19 or March 20. In 2020, the equinox falls on March 20, according to clocks in Greenwich. To complicate matters even further, an ecclesiastical full moon does not necessarily happen on the same date as an astronomical full moon. Therefore, it’s possible for an ecclesiastical Easter and an astronomical Easter to occur on different dates, as well. Then, if that isn't enough, the Eastern Orthodox church uses a different formula so that their Easter celebration may be earlier or later than ours, but rarely on the same Sunday. One might think that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover, but it doesn't. And if you think our system is hard, the calculations to set Passover are even more of a nightmare. And you may have thought it was easy.
Even as the Grinch couldn't prevent Christmas from coming by removing all the familiar trappings, (to switch movies). With or without our familiar things Easter is coming. It is impossible to keep Jesus, the living word of God, dead. Even the coronavirus cannot postpone the resurrection and the power of life it brings exploding into our world.
Like the Hebrews learning to find and worship God in new ways, we are learning new ways to connect to God and one another. Join us online for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. Like the first generation in the exile we are still figuring this out but God is with us in our homes and when the shelter at home orders are removed we will return to our holy place stronger and more firmly planted in the love of God.
See you (virtually) in Church,