Magazine article The Christian Century

Rare Alignment

Magazine article The Christian Century

Rare Alignment

Article excerpt

ONE OF MY desk drawers is filled with old calendars, which I've been saving as a prop for a faulty memory. I suspect it's a fruitless exercise. Appointments and to-do lists, however necessary, don't add up to a life, and the dates that really do matter return like faithful comets. Among the fairest of all these periodic messengers is March 25, the ancient and universal feast of the annunciation, or Lady Day, as it used to be called. It commemorates the first instant of the incarnation, when the angelic greeting met the maiden's consent. Everything changed in that instant, as the fifth-century pope Leo the Great observed in a letter to the bishop of Constantinople.

   Beyond our grasp, he chose
   to come within our grasp. Existing
   before time began, he began to exist at a moment in
   time. Lord of the universe, he hid his infinite glory and
   took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as
   God, he did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering.
   Immortal, he chose to be subject to the laws of death.

In that instant, the world began again. Therefore for many centuries--until as recently as 1752--England and the colonies kept New Year's day on March 25. Following the same tradition, J. R. R. Tolkien made March 25 the day on which the One Ring was destroyed, and had Gandalf tell Frodo, "The New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King."

This year, Good Friday falls on March 25, bringing the movable day of the Passion and the fixed day of the annunciation into a rare alignment--the sort of cosmic convergence that sends wizards running to check their astrolabes. According to various patristic and medieval accounts, March 25 was the original date not only of Christ's conception but also of Adam's creation, the fail and the crucifixion (and even, some say, of Abraham's sacrifice and the Exodus from Egypt). The rationale for this chronology is not pseudo-history, but Christ-centered typology. If we read the Bible the way our ancestors did, as a unified story of divine making and remaking, of human exile and return, then March 25 is its pivot. In Adam we are created and die, and in the second Adam we are re-created and live. From the first Eve we learn to say no to the divine plan, and from the second Eve we learn to say yes. Every great holy day recapitulates this story from its particular vantage point in the Christian year, yet perhaps never so impressively as when Good Friday falls on its "original" date, and the end of Christ's story rejoins its beginning. …

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