Should we have a fixed date for Easter?

The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury ANL-161103-110230001
The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury ANL-161103-110230001
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Christmas is on 25 December: everyone knows that. So why isn’t Easter Day fixed in the same way?

Easter was going to be! We could plan properly and enjoy the Easter break when we could be more certain of warmer weather. We wouldn’t end up with one short school term, then a longer one. It would all be so much simpler.

Archbishop Justin Welby announced that he was in favour and was in conversation with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and hoped that the date would be fixed in five to ten years’ time – probably either the first or second Sunday of April.

It is rather confusing – calculating the date. This is how it’s been done since the year 326 in the Western Church: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal or spring equinox. Get that? So as the equinox is commonly taken to be 20 March, you need to wait for the next full moon, and then it’s Easter Sunday. This year it’s been early – we had a stunning full moon just a day or two before Easter Day 27 March.

So why doesn’t it happen? There have been various attempts – In 1928 Parliament passed legislation to set the date in the UK but it was never implemented because of the disagreement between churches. Those disagreements go way back, and are largely because the Western Churches and Orthodox Churches use different calendars – if you want to know more, just Google Gregorian and Julian Calendars.

The Archbishop is hopeful that Christians can get our act together and agree across the world to fix the date of Easter.

I have to say that I’m not sure. I like to be reminded that time follows different patterns, different cycles. I like the idea that the moon is still important in how we shape the year. Time becomes more meaningful. It’s not simply one thing after another, but has a different flow; time becomes layered with significance, with emotional depth. And the changing seasons help: when Easter is in March our dawn services are still in the dark, and we face the elements; or light the Easter fire by the light of the moon. In late April, the daffodils are over and gone: Easter has a very different feel. I like that.

A moveable Easter reminds us that time does not belong to us; that time itself is a gift; not in our control. The arguments for change that carry the least weight to my mind are those that argue the commercial benefit of a fixed Easter. With so much of the world now dominated by market forces, let’s hear it for existing patterns that keep our hearts beating to a different drum.

-- The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward is Dean of St Edmundsbury