Holidays, dangerous ideas and the calendar

Good Friday is the only Christian holiday that causes me to stop and think — about such disparate matters as dangerous ideas and the calendar. Sometime on this day between noon and 3:00pm, I try to remember that these are the hours during which Jesus may have hung on a cross and died.

Most of what I know of Christian theology comes from studying the history of western art which requires familiarity with the Bible as an iconographic source. Therefore, Tintoretto’s Christ before Pilate provides an image for me of Jesus’ trial although his judges may also have included Herod Antipas, the Roman authority in Galilee and a brother of the Herod of the Passover story, and possibly a Jewish Sanhedrin. Certainly both the Romans and the Jews had reasons to be concerned about the following this young Jew was attracting to his ideas that challenged existing beliefs.

Christ before Pilate, Tintoretto, Scuola de San Rocco, Venice, 1565-67

Christ before Pilate, Tintoretto, Scuola de San Rocco, Venice, 1565-67

And that’s the idea that I consider annually on Good Friday: we kill people for what they profess, even when or perhaps especially when, they challenge the status quo.

The religion that grew out of Jesus’ death is no exception. Galileo, for one, was declared a heretic by the Inquisition in the 1560s for his statement that the earth circulated the sun. Talk about a dangerous idea! While Galileo didn’t loose his life, he lost his intellectual and physical freedom, and was forced to recant his views. What do retributions like these for one’s ideas say about humankind?

Unsure how to answer that, I segue-way to another knotty issue: the unorthodox way in which the date for Easter is calculated. Passover and Easter were tied as holidays even before the gospels narrating the Easter story were written. They all (I think) say that the crucifixion takes place in the early days of Passover. But when is that? Jews use the lunisolar Hebrew calendar to determine the dates for Passover. Western Christians, who normally use a solar calendar and therefore follow fixed dates for holidays, make an exception for Easter that mimics a lunisolar calendar. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the paschal full moon, an ecclesiastical event, that occurs on or after the vernal equinox, an astronomical event.

Three of the four gospels — John of course being the exception —  describe a darkened sky while Jesus hung on the cross (see Veronese’s Calvary below) . This is highly likely to have been a dramatization of the mood by the evangelists — or maybe a rain storm as we had today, but certainly not a solar eclipse has some have argued. A solar eclipse is not possible when the moon is full. No matter what the date, Easter and Passover happen at the time of a full moon.

Calvary, Paolo Veronese, Louvre, 1580-88

Calvary, Paolo Veronese, Louvre, 1580-88

The events as told in the gospels that follow the crucifixion are the ones that give this holiday its meaning. But I’m finished with my observations after 3:00 pm on Good Friday. If I’m lucky, the sky will be bright with a post equinox sun in the coming days. I’ll put on my garden clothes and hunt for signs of plant regeneration, safe from most dangerous ideas.

Crucifixion, Dublin, National Museum, 8th century AD, bronze

Crucifixion, Dublin, National Museum, 8th century AD, bronze





  1. coforeman said:

    Hi Susan, I am so glad you are conflicted a bit about Good Friday. I could never figure out this day. And when I ask Catholics, they know nothing about why it is called “Good Friday.” Why is it “Good” that Jesus was crucified for his beliefs. I guess because, as you say, his beliefs became transcribed in written history and religion. I know nothing about the astrological events so thanks for that.

    Tonight, my son-in-law and I watched a net flick film on Confucius, another heretic. That was timely, wasn’t it?

    I am so glad you are out and about looking for signs of spring. It is about time you had a turn. Our cherry trees are already losing their blossoms. But our Spring has been beautiful. This is certainly a season for births and deaths. My brother’s son’s partner is just about to give birth to their first child and my brother’s first grandchild, so we are all very excited about this.

    And I have been fussing over end of life issues. But have decided to take the Hospice way, so my life will go on for an indeterminate amount of time and will not be so much in my control which I did want. But it will be somewhat painless or completely so, they tell me. I am feeling weaker and more tired, but today I felt better and took a nice walk with old hiking friends. My voice has almost given up on me. I can jabber along, but most people can not understand except people who have had some listening time, or my family. And talking makes me tired. But all in all, I am still enjoying my life, my grandchildren and family. I am certainly getting lots of attention. I even have a nice woman who comes in to cook and care for me 5 hours/day. She also helps Karin. She is a well trained Filipino nanny who can do about anything. Next week she will help me plant some new plants in my garden.

    I am now living with my daughter, but go back to my condo for a respite especially when the kids are out of school almost every day between Spring Break and now Easter. Those private schools really love their holidays.

    Take care, Susan. I take it that your second operation went smoothly. You and Judy must have had fun in NYC. Good for you. Lot of Love, Cynthia

    PS I think of our swimming days at Wash Pond with your cute family. I doubt I will be back this summer. It wouldn’t be the same!!! Say hello to the bees!!! And cardinals in your yard!!

  2. Judy Keller said:

    I enjoyed this intellectual exercise. Judy

  3. David Parish said:

    Not so sure about safe. Regeneration may be the most dangerous idea of all.

  4. Marilyn Aronow said:

    I’m with you, gardening clothes and away from dangerous ideas.

  5. Interesting, this connection between the timing of Easter and Passover holiday. Was just thinking it was Thanksgivikuh not too long ago. Saw some very busy bumble bee looking creatures today and thought of you. There were 2 of them pollinating potted daffodils and other spring flowers in central Berlin…

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