17 September 2019
DATES THAT COULD DESTROY
The world around us is definitely changing and we learn more about our neighbours every day.. We were invited last week to an Eid celebration and housewarming by a Muslim family. Eid is when the end of the fast of Ramadan is celebrated. [Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, when Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until sunset.] We were asked to come on Sunday afternoon. But on Saturday evening we received a text message saying the new moon has not yet been sighted and eid would be on Monday, so come on Monday. We went and there was heaps of delicious food. Families wandered in and out and our hosts had already been around a number of other houses. Everyone was happy and had that sated look we get at Christmas. "Who had to sight the new moon " I asked, mindful of the way the Christian church had handled such things in the past. I was told that anyone in the community who saw the new moon and the Saturday night rang [or texted] a person at their local mosque who sent out the news.
I was fascinated and now understood why Eid was a moveable feast, like Easter.
Over the centuries the setting of the date of Easter has been a political hot potato and the setting of eid and Easter, which are dependant on the phases of the moon are current political issues in the European Common Market.
Our present way of life works on fixed dates. Moveable holidays mess up a whole lot of things like wages etc. Christmas is not a problem because it is set on a particular day. The reason for Ramadan being able to be observed as a statutory holiday is given because it is too mobile, and there is a movement to have Easter on a fixed date also. Unimportant stuff, well maybe but setting the date of Easter has a sad and torrid history in the Christian church and we may need to distinguish between what is really important and what is not..
In Judaism, each month includes the phases of the moon, and the Passover falls on the 14th day of the month, that is full moon. The determination of this date was a secret process carefully guarded in the Jewish temple and later, synagogues, and it was according to this calculation that Christ observed the feast. The early Christians were Jews and that tradition was powerful in their minds. But the Church resented dependence on the Synagogue for arranging its church year. Also, the Hebrew Passover falls on any day of the week and the Christians wanted a Holy Week beginning with Palm Sunday, proceeding to Good Friday and ending on Easter Sunday, the first day of the week, commemorating the resurrection. [which is why we worship on Sunday]
Therefore the Church had to set Easter for the Christian year. It was solved by the Bishops setting the date of the equinox and Easter was the first full moon after the spring equinox [Northern Hemisphere obviously] but the Eastern church still wanted to celebrate Easter on the 14th day of the lunar month and the Western Christians on a Sunday .
Anxiety over the date of Easter was one reason why Constantine the Great. summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. There It was decided that Easter must be celebrated everywhere on the same day and this day must be a Sunday. It must be the first Sunday after a full moon following the vernal equinox, March 21 with one reservation.: "and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after." The reason for this exception reveals the depth of the division between the Church and the Synagogue. For whenever the full moon fell on a Sunday, Easter would be celebrated on the same day as the Hebrew Passover. So, the postponement for a week, to avoid the coincidence.
At Nicaea they had to decide who was predict the full moon and announce the date of Easter. So the Bishop of Alexandria, [a centre of astronomy], was to declare the date each year. Travel was slow and the pronouncement had to be made in advance. It had to be based, not on observation of the moon in the sky, but on mathematics. So before each Easter the Bishop would send out a Paschal letter which among other things told people which full moon was to be Easter.
It is a sad commentary on humanity that something like setting the date of Easter has caused bloodshed and schism.
I hope the movement in Europe to make both Easter and Ramadan at set times does not end up doing the same. But maybe that rather odd passage in Colossians 2:15 -17 will have new meaning for us . Christ came to set us free, " He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ."
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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