Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter and Esther

Joyce and I are the "young" folks in our senior adult Sunday school class and some of our classmates have been in the church since they were children, so among the members of the class, there are a lot of friendships of longstanding. And they do love to tease each other, especially about getting old.

This morning before class, someone remarked about how early Easter falls this year. Mary, a fiesty white-haired octagenarian, dazzled us with her command of statistics, "You know, the last time Easter fell on March 23rd was 1913."

John (fifteen years Mary's junior) drolly inqired, "Mary, can you also remember what the weather was like that day?"

One of the oddities of Easter's falling so early is its departure from the actual Jewish Feast upon which the Resurrection occurred, Pesach (a.k.a., Passover). Another oddity of Easter coming so early was a courtesy call from the Watchtower's Witnesses (who style themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses). In any case, two sweet clueless little old ladies came to the door yesterday to invite us to attend their "Memorial" service that evening. The "memorial" of which they speak is what orthodox Christians refer to as "The Lord's Supper".

However, the Watchtower's Witnesses have a tradition of "observing" their Memorial just once a year, on the eve of Passover (the evening that begins Nisan 14). When I pointed out that Passover doesn't happen for another month, they insisted that the Watchtower has the date correct and all of Judaism has messed up. I couldn't help but laugh at the notion that this 3500-year-old tradition celebrating the birth of the nation of Israel has been screwed up by the Jews but put right by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. I told them, "I don't hold to your Roman Catholic traditions, so I'll be celebrating the Memorial of Christ's Crucifixion next month."

These dear miguided ladies protested my claim they're holding to Roman Catholic tradition, so I replied, "Well, it appears this year you are. Invite me next month."

As I pointed out last year in this
post, there's no Biblical mandate to celebrate Easter. We Christians celebrate not because we're commanded to, but because the news of Christ's Resurrection is simply too joyous not to celebrate it. Unlike that neo-gnostic cult, the Watchtower's Witnesses, who commemorate Christ's death but deny His physical resurrection (in direct contradiction of Luke 24:39), Christians celebrate the Messiah's Resurrection, not because we have to, but because we can't help it.

Of course, since the Passover observance is deeply interwoven into the Passion story, my personal preference would be to have Easter occur during the week of Passover every year, but it's of no real consequence whether our celebration actually coincides with Passover. So admittedly I was being more than a little disingenuous with those lost souls who came knocking on our door. But I hasten to add that my sanctified sarcasm served the worthy purpose of pointing out that the Watchtower (which puts great stock in its timing of its "Memorial") flubbed it this year.

Now, it occurs to me that there is an upside to Easter coming a month before Passover. That places it smack up against the celebration of Purim, Israel's indulgence in a bit of legitimate schadenfreude, when they celebrate the foiling of Haman's plot to exterminate the Jews.

In Luke 24:25-27 [KJV] Jesus said to His two disciples on the road to Emmaus:
... O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:
Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

What "scriptures" was Jesus expounding on as He walked the Emmaus road? Of course, there are several direct Old Testament allusions to the need for Messiah to suffer, die and be resurrected (Gen 3:15; Deuteronomy 18:15; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 53:4; Daniel 7:13; Daniel 9:24-27; Micah 5:2; Zech 9:9), but as I study the Bible, I find that there's hardly anywhere in the Old Testament that doesn't prophesy of the Lord's sacrifice.

The Book of Esther is a case in point. Consider the plot of the story: The usurper [Haman], enraged that God's Anointed [Mordechai] refuses to bow to him, plots to destroy him and erects wooden gallows on which to hang the Anointed. But rather than defeating God's Anointed, the gallows become the means of the usurper's own downfall. Is there anything about that story that sounds familiar?


Jerry said...

Nice post. I was wondering why it just didn't "feel" like Easter this past Sunday. However, as long as I can remember, I haven't gotten all that excited about Easter, preferring to think that every week we should celebrate the Savior's triumph over death.

joyce said...

I agree with Jerry. Easter is usually alot of work for the mom, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. The huge meal, presents, cards, etc.

And the service has to cator to the once-a-year crowd humoring their relatives.

And the music---yikes, don't get me started. If I were a visitor, I'd think this was a holy roller church.

I had to pray about my attitude this year. And it was my turn to borrow the book: THE PASTOR'S WIFE by Sabina Wurmbrand, co-founder of Voices of the Martyrs.

Sabina Wurmbrand and her husband survived WW2 and the Nazis only to be sent to prison for sharing the gospel when Romania fell. Her husband spent 15 years in prison.

And one story stuck with me---preachers were thrown into prison for merely quoting Scripture where Jesus said to throw the net on the right side of the boat---right being synonymous with not communism. Or, a Christian saint who raised orphans was thrown in prison and her teeth beaten from her face for serving God by doing the right thing.

Bob said...

Yeah, I figure fishing for lost souls on the Left side of the political spectrum is usually a futile exercise -- but God is in the miracle business. I remember that C.S. Lewis's wife, Joy Grisham, was once a Marxist.

Gumpher said...

Hey Bob,

Non believer as you know, but the moving of easter has puzzled me.

There is as much historical evidence to the existence of Jesus Christ as there is to Julius Ceaser, so how can you move the date of death of one ?

Bob said...

Indeed, there's more and much older manuscript evidence of Jesus' life than of Julius Caesar's. But like Caesar there's no confusion about the date when Jesus died. Caesar was stabbed on the Ides of March (March 15th); Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, Nisan 14 of the Hebrew calendar. But because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar (inserting seven leap months during each 19 year period rather than a leap day once every four years), Nisan 14 falls anywhere from late March to late April on the Gregorian calendar.

However, while there's no question about the date of the year, there is some doubt as to which year Jesus was crucified. Given that: (1) Jesus died on Nisan 14, (2) He was in the tomb three days, and (3) He rose from the dead between mightnight and dawn on a Sunday, we can conclude that the crucifixion must have occurred either on Wednesday April 3rd of A.D. 30 or on Friday April 1st of A.D. 33. No other years within the possible range of Christ's later life permit a Sunday morning resurrection three days after His death on Nisan 14.

As for the seemingly random conjunction of Easter and Passover, those holidays usually coincide (a few days one way or the other), but because Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday and Passover falls on a different day of the week from year to year, they rarely coincide as they did when Christ went to the cross. And every once in a while (partly due to the Vatican's archane rules for setting the date for Easter) the insertion of a second month of Adar will cause Easter to occur a full month ahead of the Feast od Passover. (I'm pretty sure the Greek Orthodox Church is celebrating Easter next month - right next to Passover.)

If you're interested, I'll tell you which of the two years (A.D. 30 or 33) I believe is the more likely date of the crucifixion and why I think so. (But you have to ask me to torture you with that boring detail.)

joyce said...

Uh, oh, I had a thought. Seeing as how humans love to worship the stuff or the day, do you suppose Jesus died on an elusive day so we'd focus more on the fact that He is no longer dead? We celebrate the Resurrection each Sunday as when we meet to worship on the first day of the week.

Jerry said...

Re. your answer to Gumpher.

Not too bad for an engineer.

No, I take that back, it looks exactly like an engineer's approach to a theological issue.

Still, good answer.

If Gumpher won't ask, then I will bite. Which date do you find to be more plausible? Feel free to provide lots of engineer's detail.