Did you know, and I am sure you await this information with bated breath, that the latest possible date for Easter is April 25? No, it’s not that late this year but falls just one day shy of it, on April 24. We need to wait until 2038 to celebrate Easter on its latest possible date. Since that would put people like me well over 100, we will not hold our breath!
And it is even worse for the earliest possible date, which is March 22, since that will not happen until 2285. Unless there is some major breakthrough in longevity none of us will see that. And if you follow the exact sequence of dates it will take you only 5,700,000 years before the cycle will repeat.
Now there are some facts for you that don’t seem to be all that relevant to the welfare of our immediate future. Except for clergy, for whom a late Easter makes a long and busy winter. But then, on second thought, perhaps this weird arrangement of dates is important to our long term survival.
In last Saturday’s Daily News, Ralph Martin had an article extolling our relationship with the earth, or lamenting our lack thereof. He notes that most of us do not have an intimate relationship with a specific piece of land and without it we lose our intuitive sense of its appropriate use. So we buy our food from the other side of the world instead supporting our local farmers.
I grew up with that intimate connection. I remember well the Meadow upon which we skated, the pasture where we had to round up the cows for milking, the smell of new-mown hay or of freshly spread manure. Over the years I have lost many of the daily reminders that we are of the earth and live by its fecundity. I do live by a lake and cherish the daily beauty and connection with the elements of life.
How is this related to the dating of Easter? It is interesting that both Christmas and Easter are related to the cycles of the earth rather than to the actual dates of Jesus’ birth and death. We actually have no idea when in the year Jesus was born. We do know when he died. We tied his birth to the winter solstice and his death to the spring equinox, the latter being a “moveable feast” tied to the moon cycle as well as that of the earth.
This tells us that Christianity is a late comer to the elemental rituals and celebrations of humanity. The earth, and our relationship to it, has always been primary. For eons it was the earth goddesses and gods who were worshipped and celebrated. The Christian celebrations are an add-on to the celebrations of the earth which are encoded in our genes.
With the arrival of Yahweh and the whole patriarchal take-over there was a concentrated attempt to cast out earth fertility goddesses. The vehemence with which the Old Testament prophets railed against them would indicate that they were not too successful. Old ways die hard. But die they do. If the Old Testament prophets did not entirely succeed, the modern world has. The coming of science and technology has done wondrous things for us, including doing away with belief in the supernatural. The mating of the earthly representatives of the gods and goddesses probably will not increase the fertility of the soil. The down side, however, is, as Ralph has said, that our relationship with the earth has largely disappeared.
We have become a one-track people, thinking that the next technological advance will save us. It may help, but it won’t do it. We have to become the quality people who have the wisdom to live in harmony with the earth and one another. And we are far from that.
In fact, we could read the other side of the prophets with great benefit. They had their dark side but they laid down the moral foundations of western civilization. We haven’t yet grown into Micah’s injunction to “do justice, love compassion and walk humbly.”
That “humble” part is the greatest challenge we now face. We have forgotten that the earth is not a “thing” to be ravaged for our benefit. She is the wondrous nourishing source, the great Mother who has given us life. Walk gently upon her, with awe and respect for the living organism she is.