Before central heating, electric lighting, sodium street lights and supermarkets, the harshness of late winter and Lent scarcity was experienced first hand. It was cold and dark. The waxing of the moon and lengthening of days, the growing warmth, Good Friday’s hot-cross buns and Easter’s eggs, were looked for and longed for. In the 21st century none of us experience these things with the same intensity but they need not be lost to us entirely, especially if we get outdoors a lot.
The when of Easter is really important. It was settled for us long ago, in the 7th century, at the Synod of Whitby. The principle for fixing Easter is simple. It should fall on the first Sunday, after the first full moon that follows the first day of Spring. Its about new beginnings and darkness and light! We do things with candles in church but outside the full moon shines and, for the first time in the year, night’s darkness is shorter than the length of the day’s sun!
Reflecting on these things in the 8th century the Ven. Bede wrote about “ the sun of righteousness (Jesus) , in whose wings is salvation, …….. by the triumph of his resurrection, dispelled all the darkness of death, ascended into heaven, and” filling his Church with grace. The Church, in this extended metaphor, was represented by the moon! Like the Church the moon’s glory is reflected from elsewhere!
Some of us are privileged to live in places without street lamps and need go no further than our back gardens to experience winter’s cold, darkness and the splendour of night sky. Others may need to go further afield.
Do go! Beneath the starry sky you should expect to find fresh meaning and intensity in the Psalms – try 136, 147 and 148! In the glory of the Easter full moon you will find that Psalm 8 sings in you:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
(Cultural Notes: In Norfolk the phrase human being is pronounced human bean. Gardener’s plant their spuds on Good Friday to be ready for Ascension Day.)
Picture copyright: © NOAO/AURA/NSF used with permission
Otherwise © Richard Woodham 2007