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About the Flexible Dating of Easter

April 26, 2011

Have you ever wondered why Easter moves on the calendar every year? I also wondered that for a long time until I investigated it this morning. I knew it had something to do with a non-Gregorian calendar, and always assumed it was based on the lunar calendar. That is true, but what I didn’t realize was that the dating of Easter is based on the Jewish lunar calendar and the dating of the Jewish Passover feast. Here’s why:

I’ll admit that I’m wasn’t entirely sure about the dating of Easter – but it was set by the Council of Nicaea around 300 years after Jesus died (long after the fact, as one of my friends pointed out) as the first Sunday after the northern spring full moon (Paschal Full Moon).

But since Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples during the Jewish Passover: “[The Last Supper] Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”…And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:7,8,15). And the Jewish Passover usually occurs in March or April of the Gregorian calendar (it is the 15th day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar – the 14th day of Nisan actually occurs on the first night of the spring full moon). So, the flexible dating of Easter actually makes historic sense.

The Jewish Passover begins at the beginning of the spring full moon. Jesus historically ate the Last Supper with his disciples during this time, then was killed. So, since he was resurrected on the first day of the week, (“When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)), Easter’s presence on the first day of the week immediately following the spring full moon and in the middle of the Jewish Passover week actually makes sense. This year the Jewish Passover was April 18-26, 2011, so it makes sense that Easter would be on April 24, 2011.

It is interesting to me how much of Christianity has its origins in Judaism – even the dating of some of its significant holidays. But what is equally interesting is how the founders of Christianity were Jews who completely diverted from Jewish tradition in order to build the Christian church, which is based entirely on Jesus Christ (hence the name (Christ)ian). What would cause them to do that? In fact, they blatantly broke two of the ten commandments in spreading Christianity. Commandment ONE says “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) but was broken when they preached about Jesus “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). And Commandment FOUR is about keeping the Sabbath day holy.

My friend pointed out that the Christian Sabbath dated long before Christ, which is true technically, since they were all Jews before they became Christians. So, they all kept the fourth commandment as the Jews did, remembering the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10).

But the Bible records Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week: “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons.” (Mark 16:9), and the first Christian church met on the first day of the week as well: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” (Acts 20:7). By the time John wrote Revelation, they had come to call the first day of the week, the Lord’s day: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,” (Revelation 1:10).

So, I just think it is interesting that these Jews, many of whom were incredibly religious (“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14)), suddenly dropped centuries of Sabbath tradition to begin meeting on the first day of the week as Christians. In fact, within a very short time after Jesus’ death and burial, these Jews completely diverted from Judaism and began preaching a new religion about faith in Jesus Christ – who everyone believed was dead.

Acts records the historic birth of the Christian church, and Acts chapter 2 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts+2&version=NIV1984), which is too long to reproduce in full here, records the first Christian sermon preached, and the first converts to Christianity – 3000 Jews – in Jerusalem – the same town in which Jesus was crucified and the very heart of Judaism itself – converted in a single day. Now that’s pretty crazy.

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Here’s some great food for thought from my friend and pastor Bill Vorhees:

Hi Aaron, good discussion. I’d like to weigh in on a bit of theology here. The OT Sabbath was more than a day of the week, for example, we have the sabbath year in which all debts were canceled, and land was given rest, it was a year of celebration. And then we also have the year of Jubilee which was the same concept but within the 50th year. The summation of which was “The Year of the Lord’s favor.” Compare/contrast the Jubilee with Luke 4:18, 19. The Sabbath actually predates the Mosaic Law since it is associated with God’s order of creation and the completion of it. Therefore, we can conclude that Sabbath is not so much a day as it was “Rest.” It is not rest as in cessation of labor, but rest in the person of God. That Saturday was delegated as the “Sabbath Day” was to be a weekly experiential picture of the reality of God in the midst of His people. Consider Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus employs this spiritual sabbath language. This also seems to be the way the First Century Jewish Christian understood the Sabbath Hebrews 4:1-11. There Jesus is the “rest” let none of you be “found to have fallen short of it.”

BTW, there are no recorded events of the Jews celebrating the Sabbath year or the Jubilee.

And also:

Good thoughts, Aaron. The only thing I would add is that the Sabbath predates the Law. It goes back to Genesis 1-2. Abraham (the father of the Hebrew people) also predates the Jews. The Mosaic law commanded the observance of the Sabbath “because God rested from all His work (creation).”

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