Life returns to the world and to us

Kieron Conry, of the Catholic Media Office, continues our series of meditations for Holy Week with a consideration of the meanings concealed by the timing of the festival.

The riddle of the shifting date of Easter continues to puzzle and even annoy people. Would it not be better if Easter were always 1 April or (if we have to keep it on a Sunday) the first Sunday of that month? Can we not fix the date, as we do at Christmas?

In fact the date of Easter is set so that the seasons collaborate in our worship. It is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. This means that, as the days are already longer than the nights and getting longer, spring is with us and the year is changing. It is changing quite visibly all around us. The change is probably most visible in the countryside, but even in the towns there are green shoots on trees and plants pushing through the earth. The celebration of Easter is very much tied in with what is happening in nature. The words and images we use in Easter worship reflect the changing of the seasons.

When he first approaches the Pharaoh (Exodus v,1), Moses asks that the people be allowed to go out into the wilderness to "keep a feast" in honour of God. The Pharaoh refuses, and the battle of wills goes on until the destroying angel of God sweeps through Egypt, killing all the firstborn.

The children of Israel are spared because they have painted their doors, as they were told to do by God, with the blood of the lamb they have sacrificed. They survive, hurriedly eat their Passover supper and escape through the Red Sea into freedom. Passover, however, cannot refer simply to the night of the escape from Egypt, but must also refer to something that had been happening already, the celebration for which Moses had asked Pharaoh's permission.

The word "Passover" is often taken to refer to the angel of God "passing over" the children of Israel and visiting the houses of the Egyptians. The Jewish word pesach does contain the idea of passing or leaping over. But, curiously, it also means "to jump" or "spring". Passover, then, probably refers as much to the spring of the year as to the flight of the angel. The word "spring" itself is related to the idea of "bursting out", an image that is easily connected to the tremendous energy of this time of year.

The origins of the Jewish people seem to have been, first, nomadic. They depended on their flocks for their livelihood. Later they appear to have settled down and become farmers, raising crops and tending livestock. Each spring was crucial, then, for their future. It would tell them if the flocks were breeding and if the crop was successful. When the earth did provide them with food for the coming year the people thanked God, and offered back to him some of what he had given. A lamb would be taken from the flock and bread made with the new wheat.

Passover is a celebration of the return of life in spring after the apparent death of the earth in winter. Like the Christian Easter, it is rooted very strongly in the earth. It is not clear why it is celebrated on the night when the moon is full. When Moses and the people wanted to go out into the desert to celebrate, however, they wanted to go out at night. Passover is an evening meal. Although it may appear that there was a purely practical reason for wanting the light of a full moon, presumably there is more to it than this. A long way back in the origins of this celebration, the moon must have made a much more powerful impact on people's consciousness as they tried to find their place under a vast and mysterious sky.

The images of Easter have the power of this cosmic drama. Christ is buried in the earth, and for the disciples at the time the promise of a spring seemed empty. It was as if the crops had failed and the flock not bred. Where was life to come from now?

The accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels do not attempt to describe the event itself. This would be impossible. They talk instead about the women finding the empty tomb. All the Gospels make the point that it is early in the morning on the first day of the week. Our own word "Easter" surely refers to the place where the sun rises. We celebrate the Resurrection of the Son with the rising of the sun. It is a new day, and the spring of a new year. It is a dramatic picture of the beginning of new life.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy