Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Moon, sun, and stars
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the April 17, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
With weather permitting, there it was this past week – April 15, to be exact: a springtime full moon shining brightly in the night sky. But this particular full moon was more than just a celestial delight. This ball of night-time brilliance had special significance for both the Jewish and the Christian world, because it sets the date for our most important feasts.
If you had not noticed before, the feast of Passover and the subsequent Christian feast of the Savior’s Resurrection are celebrated annually, but on the basis of a floating date. Shouldn’t it strike us as odd that we speak of Easter being “early” or “late”? Early or late, relative to what? As a kid, I used to think that the calendar boxes devoted to Holy Week and Easter Sunday were the result of an at-random, hierarchical decision somewhere – based on what, I did not know. Pray, pay and obey!
There are no fixed calendar dates for these feasts like there are for, say, Christmas – Dec. 25 every year. If I had just paid more attention, I am sure that some faithful catechist or seminary prof had explained that Passover is celebrated on the day of the first full moon after the spring equinox. In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after that.
At some point in time, the rich significance of this calendar protocol hit home. Determining a date in this fashion for these most significant religious celebrations has long since fascinated me. It’s a confirmation that the salvation promised to the Jews and (as we Christians believe) its fulfillment in the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, is truly the handiwork of God.
There’s something cosmic and awe-inspiring about watching a full moon slowly move overhead on a chilly spring night. The silent manner in which it so peacefully and majestically dominates the night sky is a reminder of the quiet, almost unassuming way in which God’s presence manifests itself in human history. There is an assuredness in the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars. It’s almost like reminding us that no matter what we earthlings have to say or do, God’s unfolding plan moves on. No great fireworks and fanfare, but ever so sure and firm, ever so peace-filled and life-giving.
This ancient marking of the place of the moon in the heavens is a good reminder that we Christians cannot understand our identity as a faith community without linking ourselves with the living testimony of the Jewish faith community. The Jews were – and remain – God’s Chosen People. This does not mean that they are any better, any holier, than the rest of us. (….or we, more so than they.) But they indeed have been the unique focus of God’s unfolding plan of salvation. To them was promised not only liberation from the bonds of slavery in Egypt, but also the ultimate gift of the Messiah, who would usher in the final day of God’s salvation.
Commemorating the first Passover in Egypt, when the Angel of Death left untouched the first born in the blood-marked homes of the ancient Hebrews, anchors the Jewish people in the firmness and faithfulness of God’s promise. We Christians, of course, testify to the fact that God has fulfilled an ever-so-surely unfolding plan of salvation in the person of Jesus, born of Mary. What has happened in his life and who is for us Messiah and Savior is not totally disconnected from the Passover celebrations of the Jewish faith community. The original Passover was a significant point in a historical path of salvation. It was a grace-filled moment with a promise. Even more surely as the configuration of sun, moon and earth produce a phenomenon called “full moon,” God is faithful to a promise made.
We Christians have experienced in Jesus an even more splendid phenomenon: namely, the Word, or Plan, of God made flesh. No prophet or simply morally good man, he, but the very incarnation of God’s forgiving and saving love. What we human beings have not been able to accomplish by our own efforts in religious effort and ritual has been made possible in him. We are made one with God and are freed from the power of selfishness, sin and even death itself. A new world immensely more fascinating than blue moons has been created for us.
As St. Paul observes in his New Testament letters, what God has done in Jesus Christ has shaken the entire universe. God’s saving love in Jesus has cosmic reverberations which bound through the centuries even to our own age. What was promised to the Jews as God’s chosen people has been made available to the rest of us as a pure, unmerited gift. Or, as St. Paul says, God’s “hidden plan” has been revealed to us in Christ Jesus. Salvation is now offered to those who are near (the Jews) as well as those who are far off (us Gentiles). Staring at a full moon in a star-strewn springtime sky creates its special sense of wonder. It can also create its sense of loneliness. Are we human beings mere specks of cosmic dust floating through an unimaginably immense universe of other specks? Is our purpose and destiny merely to stir about until some configuration of stars and planets creates a dazzling but impersonal spectacle for some beings somewhere to observe and admire?
The annual juxtaposition of the arrival of spring and first full moon may provide us with the date for an important religious celebration, but there is no worship of the moon itself in our celebration. We believers take advantage of its position only to mark the wonder of God, whose work among us is creative, constant and faithful. That work is not impersonal and coldly fixed. Rather, it is a promise which has been fulfilled in human history. Easter – the new Passover – is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad! Alleluia!
(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa, and serves the diocese as Moderator of the Curia.)
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