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Hallo again to all.

As we approach Ash Wednesday, Lent, and the Octave of Easter, we have been hearing comments that 'Easter is very early this year.' Indeed so: Easter this year falls on 27 March in the Gregorian calendar; the earliest that it can be is 22 March. The 'date of Easter' is the Gregorian calendar name of the day we celebrate Easter Sunday.

It delights us that there is such a disconnect between the lunisolar calendar used to determine the arrival of Easter and the rigidly mathematical secular calendar (first proposed as a refinement of the Julian calendar by advisors to Pope Gregory and decreed by the Pope himself in 1582). The Gregorian calendar so widely used and accepted is not, though, an intrinsic piece of the universe. Many cultures have their own system for counting years and for deciding when a new year begins, but almost everyone seems to be in agreement as to the length of a second and the number of them that are in a day.

Most westerners have heard of the 'Chinese calendar', known in China as the 'rural calendar', a very sophisticated lunisolar calendar whose sophistication prevents us from trying to say much about it here. But there is a 'date of Easter' reckoned in the Chinese rural calendar, too.

Much of the Islamic world uses the Hijri calendar, which is a lunar calendar of 355 days per year. A lunar calendar is not very suitable for agriculture—it can't easily tell you when to plant crops—so farmers used the Egyptian calendar or the Ottoman calendar or the Iranian calendar for that purpose. Modern farmers usually use the Gregorian calendar to determine when to plant. Knowing the current date, or even the number of the current year, does not seem to be a priority in cultures that recognize more than one calendar. So the notion of 'the date of' something is often irrelevant or unknown once you have your sorghum planted.

The date of Easter is of course very mathematical, but the maths are performed on observations of the sun and moon and not observations of a caesium-beam atomic clock in some government laboratory. It is based on a different set of fundamental understandings; the two cross only when someone who lives by the Gregorian calendar wants to know the 'date of Easter', which of course means the Gregorian-calendar name for the day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection. If we aren't even sure of the length of a year, then it isn't even particularly meaningful to say 'the anniversary of Jesus' resurrection' because we can't be certain what the 'annus' in 'anniversary' means.

But Easter is Easter. Lent is a period of time before Easter on which there is universal agreement as to when it begins and approximate agreement on when it ends. So Lent is Lent. And neither Easter nor Ash Wednesday nor any of the named days in between adjusts itself to the secular calendar of microseconds and leap years and atomic clocks. They just are, and we need to adjust our lives to them. Which is great. Despite the twisted historical process by which Easter and Lent got out of sync with the secular calendar, we are delighted to have it be so. Adjust our lives to match Jesus' life.

Hence our great dismay to read that there are ecumenical proposals to fix the date of Easter, to bully the date of celebration into line with bank holidays and monarch's birthdays and National Tree Week. If that happens, we will need to work even harder to keep holy the celebration of Lent and Easter. The ever-growing web of global communication impresses the Gregorian calendar on things and on people with a precision that might scare you if you stop to think about it. The process by which your mobile phone knows the time is remarkably complex and remarkably global. We must all therefore work harder not to care exactly what time or date it is, but to be in agreement on when we stop to celebrate the events of the next fifty days.

See you next week. By which time it will be Lent in every calendar save Orthodox.

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7 February 2016

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