Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lent Quiz: When is Easter? Thoughts on being a distinctive Christian minority

The folks over at umc.org have been doing a Lent Quiz series of questions related to the symbols and traditions of Lent and Easter.  Today, we at UM & Global have the ultimate Lent Quiz question:

Lent Quiz: When is Easter?
A. April 5
B. April 12
C. It depends on who you're asking.
D. Whenever it is, it can't come soon enough.

How many of you looked at a calendar and answered A?  The correct answer is actually C.  Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Church of the East) have different methods for calculating Easter (for complicated historical and astronomical reasons I won't go into).  Easter is April 5 in the West, but it's April 12 in the East.

I was reminded of this fact recently when a friend mentioned his plans to go to an upcoming festival after Easter services as a celebration.  He invited me to join him, and I said I'd consider it.  I checked when the festival was, and it was on April 12.  I'd been expecting it to be on the 5th.  My friend is Eastern Orthodox.  It was Easter Sunday for him, but not for me.

In the United States, this difference sets the Eastern Orthodox and other Eastern Christian traditions apart from the majority, but for the most part, it doesn't cause much more in problems than occasional confusion over scheduling social events with non-Orthodox friends.

In Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, it's the Methodists that stand out for their celebration of Easter, not the Orthodox.  David Field wrote an excellent piece about Methodist distinctiveness in Europe earlier this week.  Ritual observation was not part of the distinctiveness he talked about, but in parts of Europe, that is part of what makes Methodism stand out.

Yet people don't choose to go to a church because of when it celebrates Easter.  This is not an attractional distinctive, and at times it may even make Methodism seem unusual in a bad way.

The challenge for Methodism in Eastern Europe (and in other areas of the world) is how to be distinctive in a positive way, a way that adds to the proclamation of the gospel in that context.  That's not an easy task, in Eastern Europe, in the US, or elsewhere, but it is a task we are called to take up.

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