Celebrating what has been entrusted
As I sit down to write these words, the vernal equinox is just a few hours in my rearview mirror, the sun is now crossing the celestial equator on its yearly northbound journey, and spring has officially sprung. But for we theological nerds, we turn our attention to the moon, not the sun or the hopes of warmer weather.
See, it is the lunar cycle that now hails the celebrations of Passover and Easter. As you may have noticed, these are “moveable feasts” that do not occur on the same day year after year. It is the Jewish lunar calendar - not the Gregorian calendar - that determines Passover fall on the first full moon following the spring equinox. Western Easter is the immediate Sunday thereafter.
It should be a necessary kick to the gut of our pride when as contemporary Christians we gather for hand-waving hosanna-singing Palm Sunday, and as we enter Holy Week to observe with sobriety Maundy Thursday and honor Good Friday with reverence. It checks our pride because these are days of contrition and humility to be sure, but also because these rituals did not originate with us.
These high and holy holidays are the products of ancient worshippers from the East. They are from a people who looked far more like those we attempt to keep outside our own borders. And these annual commemorations, so much an essential part of our Western and North American identity, were handed down to us by those so radically alien - whose very keeping of a calendar - was so dissimilar than our own as to be rendered unrecognizable.
These, our spiritual forbearers, might have had skin color we considered too dark; their language too guttural for us to be comfortable. Their culture, with its peculiar foods and customs, its foreign holy books, and its odd view of God may have proven too much of a barrier for us to get over.
Yet, here we are. Here we are standing on their shoulders, following their paths, quoting their Scriptures, and keeping their faith. Here we are, all these centuries and equinoxes later, living out the resurrection hope these days remind us of, given to us by a resurrection people, a people so different than ourselves.
Simply, we don’t own our spiritual tradition. Christian faith wasn’t proudly “Made in America” or pulled from Silicon Valley’s mysterious ether. We are only the current keepers of this faith, entrusted to us by those who went before us, by those to whom we owe our most honored and revered practices.
One day in the future, many years from now, believers will again gather for Holy Week as the full moon will once again rise after another spring equinox. Those believers will look back at us with the same curious, suspicious eye we use to view our past. But may they also look back with humble gratitude that previous generations preserved the celebration of hope. May we, looking at our own past, do the same.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, speaker, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.org.