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You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. Galatians 4:10-11
Easter’s older and better name is the Feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Easter was a pagan festival. The Feast of the Resurrection of Christ can come no earlier than March 22 and won’t do that again until 2285. I hope to be at another feast by then. It can come no later than April 25. That will happen again in 2038. I have two chances of attending that Feast of the Resurrection, slim and none. And Slim just may be out of town.
Easter is a movable feast, that is, it won’t stay still. I would love to explain to you how the date of Easter moves from year to year. As soon as I figure it out, I will. It has something to do with the Paschal Full Moon which may differ from the actual full moon by up to two days. How you have a full moon that is not a full moon is an interesting question in itself, isn’t it?
Paul chided the Galatian Christians (the Colossians too, 2:16f) for their adherence to a calendar of supposed sacred events and days. He went so far as to say that this made him afraid for them. He felt that his preaching of Christ and the cross and Christian freedom had been useless. The Galatians seemed to be happier trying to please God through religious ritual and observance than through celebrating their freedom in Christ and pursuing a genuine spiritual fruitfulness in life.
Paul’s fear is neither old nor distant. We like the way its always been done. Repetition gets easier as it goes along and it offers a comfort all its own. In a world where life changes as frequently as the ocean tides, rehearsing things we already know may provide emotional stability.
So, if ritual and repetition comfort us, why is Paul afraid for us? Paul knew the content of the Old Testament and he knew the Gospel. What he found there warned him that such comfort may be false and therefore dangerous. To what or whom will you trust the welfare of your soul? The Galatians wanted to trust a calendar of days (sabbath), months (new moons), seasons (recurring festivals) and years (jubilee years). Paul wanted them to trust Christ alone.
The Biblical evidence of the danger is strong. In Isaiah 1, the people were keeping all the festivals and special days. They were performing all the rituals. Their hands were even lifted high in prayer. But God was not listening. He wanted an honest, heart to heart talk with his children. What they were doing was all show. “Come,” God said, “Let’s argue this out.” (1:18)
Jesus said the Gospel was like new wine, far too powerful to put in old wine-skins. (Matthew 9:14-17) He didn’t follow the accepted path with all its sacred repetitions. Jesus had been challenged by men who might have acknowledged his leadership if he would only bless what they were already doing. But Jesus pointed out that what they were already doing was the problem. He didn’t come to bless it but to break it up, to start something new, to start something so radical that only the cross could secure it and so powerful that even the grave could not hold it back.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be crammed into a calendar, an event, or an observance. Even the commands of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, those great and God-ordained observances of the Christian life, are not containers of grace, as if the powerful grace of God could be canned, placed upon a shelf, and pulled out when the calendar says its OK. No, they are windows, God’s windows on a scene so vast, so magnificent that it boggles the mind, breaks the heart, and bends the knee in worship and adoration.
Paul was afraid. I too am afraid. I am afraid for Christians who comfort themselves by how things have always been done and who shackle themselves to a calendar of Christmases and Easters, Advents and Lenten seasons, Pentecost and saint’s days, a calendar which some of our spiritual forefathers rejected at great cost. They rejected it because it appears that Paul rejected it, also at great cost.
I am indeed afraid for Christians who are content to live by man-made traditions, but I am not in the least afraid for the Gospel. It is still the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. And this Gospel will break every chain of every child who truly wants to be free. Praise be to God for the thief on the cross who had no chance to look through either of those mighty windows of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Yet he found all that his nearly spent life needed in the face, in the words, in the person of Jesus, the Christ of God.
I can’t explain how Easter moves on the calendar from year to year, but I am glad that it does. It keeps us alert. I hope that one year very soon it will show up in July. Would the cross and the resurrection be worth celebrating then?
What a wonderful Savior he is!