Before the invention of printed calendars, dependable clocks, and instant messaging, folks depended on the civil and religious authorities to announce how many days, weeks, and months would pass before a holiday or religious event would be celebrated. The Jewish community did it that way, waiting each year for the Jerusalem authorities to send runners to announce when Passover or Booths was to be marked, and the first Christians followed suit … especially when it came to their spring holidays of Easter.
I don’t want to lose you here, but this was especially a concern for Jewish people because their religious calendar was lunar (that is, based on the length of time it takes for the moon to pass through all its phases—new, half, full, and back again, which happened every 29 days, twelve hours, and some change). So while it takes the earth 365-and-a-quarter days to circle the sun, in the Jewish worship calendar some years have twelve lunar months; others have thirteen.
As a sister faith, Christianity always kept her eyes on what the Synagogue did. In fact, the scheduling of some Christian feasts were intimately connected to Jewish life. So it would be at this time of year when, with the end of the Christmas season, the leaders in the Church sent runners in every direction to announce the date for the celebration of the next great feast on the calendar … not Super Bowl Sunday but the saving work of Jesus in with Easter. Counting backwards from that, bishops would announce when the start of the Paschal or Easter fast would be (what we know of as the start of Lent).
I go into all of this, because lots of people ask me why it is that Jesus’ birth is celebrated on a fixed date (December 25) while the yearly marking of His Death and Resurrection “floats” around the spring calendar. In the Gospels or Mark, Matthew, and Luke Jesus’ Last Supper was on the eve of Passover, and even in those unfortunate times when the Church had little positive regard for the Jewish People, it has always kept the historical link between the meaning of Passover (each year set according to the movement of the moon) rather than settling for a set date in the more familiar solar calendar.
So, what all that means is that this year, since the Israelite “Great Escape” from Egypt came in the spring, on a night of the full moon (all the better to help them travel at night), Passover this year begins on Friday night, March 30. As Christ’s “Great Escape” from Death was discovered on the Sunday after Passover, Easter in 2018 will be April 1.
Count back “approximately” forty days from the start of Easter, and we have our date for Ash Wednesday which in 2018 will be on (drum roll, please) February 14. That’s right, Valentine’s Day … which makes me snicker a bit. If that sounds early, it’s because last year Passover (and Easter and Ash Wednesday) were a couple weeks later. It’s probably more than you wanted to know. That’s what you get when you ask me a question.