To write about religion, especially in modern America, is dangerous business. People either listen or dismiss. They are done before you begin, so you wonder why start? That said, a stretch of silence before and after is enriched by conversation – between. What better question than “what does it mean?” And what better time to ask than now – the eternal return of spring, life reflowering, hope renewed, doubts eschewed, and eyes wider after a long winter?
Historically, two calendars define the world. We forget since we live mostly by one, the other an ecclesiastical addendum. Both are important. The Julian calendar, launched by Caesar in 46 B.C., aligned human activity with the sun. It lasted about 1,600 years, through the birth and crucifixion of Christ. In much of the world, it continues to govern.
In 1582, the Julian calendar got modified by Pope Gregory XIII, who sliced a fraction of a hundredth of a day (.0575) from the year, stopping the old calendar’s drift against the solar year. The Gregorian calendar became dominant in the West. Sparing details, what that means is – while both have “leap years” – the Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian.
According to the Western, or Gregorian calendar, Easter fell on April 4, while by the Eastern tradition or Julian calendar, Easter (or Pascha) has long fallen on the first Sunday after the first full moon which follows the vernal equinox, this year May 2. That is why nearly half the world – old-calendar Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Poland, Ukraine, parts of Greece, Africa, and North America – celebrate Easter slightly later. This also means Lazarus Saturday – the start of Holy Week – falls differently.
And now, we leap from history to religion. What was by the Gregorian calendar, and what is on the Julian – Lazarus Saturday? It is one of those days – however you count – that brings unexpected peace, packs a punch, inspires wonder, foreshadows hope, reaffirms faith, and vanquishes winter’s lingering blues if you pause. It is a day that all churches celebrate, when Christ miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead, after four days in the grave.
Faith of course is a personal matter, and should be, which is why the First Amendment allows us to choose, but with 230 million self-described Christians in America, two billion globally, including 100 million in “catacomb” or “house” churches hunkered down and under fire in China – such moments of hope bear remembering. They reinforce us, remind us of things bigger.
On Lazarus Saturday, as on Easter itself, there is a kind of hope that stills our madly turning world, quietly elevating two-thirds of the nation and half the world – reminding troubled minds, hearts, and souls the future is not without hope, and what we see is not all there is. That hope salves wounds inflicted by senseless cuts, modern absurdities, politics, media, cynicism, and prioritization of secular nonsense over timeless truths, enduring values, and knowledge.
Such days cause us – or should – to think beyond the now, consider the wider meaning of what we do, what we know to be true, what we do not know that may be so, what lies beyond, inspiring us to recommit to worthy missions, help others, think long, ask “what does it mean?”
Yes, I know, talking about religion – ascribing power to faith – is a prickly, precarious business in our modern moment, subject to second-guessing, popular condemnation, judgment, and dismissal. And that is fine because a grounded faith has always been the object of derision. The point is to think harder, feel deeper, reach upward again, especially on meaningful dates – like Lazarus Saturday and Easter, whatever your calendar states. This is America, we can do that.
When we speak of faith, people listen or dismiss, tune in or tune out, and that is why, so often, we say nothing. Perhaps that is the right approach, but in certain seasons – not least this one – we are given reasons … to fill that space between two silences with conversation, celebrate in words life’s reflowering, hope’s renewal, coming of the power of Spring. Where you live, no matter what roots you, or holds you down, may this season bring blooms, and each flower a crown.
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