Unlike Christmas, Easter does not occur on the same date every year. The date of Easter in western Christianity changes according to the lunar calendar: Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21) of each year. This means that the date of Easter can vary quite a bit; the earliest possible date is March 22 (in 2008 Easter was on March 23) and this year Easter is on April 24, just one day earlier than the latest possible date.
We like this about Easter. It adds an aura of mystery that’s consistent with our faith. After all, we believe that the birth of a child in Judea 2000 years ago is somehow the incarnation of God’s love on earth…that in the person Jesus we can experience the grace and truth of God…that Christ died on the cross so that we may have life… and the last, greatest mystery that is Easter: that death could not hold him and Christ burst from the tomb full of life and light.
All of this is a mystery that is not something to master and understand and then move on. This is a mystery to be lived and discovered and experienced…a mystery that, like the date of Easter, is new each year.
Palm Sunday worship at Wildwood always ends with a shift in mood. We begin upbeat, celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem, but we end by foreshadowing the events that took place just five days later, on a lonely cross. On Maundy Thursday, we break bread, share the cup, and then listen to the scriptures tell of our Lord’s death as the sanctuary candles are extinguished, one by one, leaving us in darkness. On Good Friday, we experience the story of God’s love for the world in drama and in song. Then on Easter morning, we celebrate the good news of the gospel – the best news ever – that even death is not stronger than the love of God for us in Christ Jesus.
To truly understand resurrection, however, we must first stand under the cross. It’s almost as if Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are really one service of worship spread out over a week’s time. Any one of these services tells only part of the gospel story, but all of them together shape a celebration of God’s love that is real because it honestly and openly acknowledges the darkness of the world in which we live.
So we encourage you to make Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday/Good Friday an essential part of your Holy Week worship. Then Easter will truly be Easter, and the words of Jesus will ring true: “Be of good cheer,” Jesus said, “for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 KJV).