by Tad Lindley
Did you ever notice that Easter never falls on the same day? For instance, Independence Day always falls on July fourth. In fact, many people have quit calling it “Independence Day”, instead opting for the new name, “The Fourth of July”. Catholic Christmas is always on December 25 and Orthodox Slaviq always begins January 7. The Catholic holiday, All Saints Day, always falls on November 1, and its partner holiday, Halloween, October 31. Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday of November.
So what’s up with Easter?
The celebration dates for both Catholic and Orthodox Easter are different from year to year. Some years it is in March, others, April or even May. Why does it move around so much? First we need to understand that Easter is not a Biblical holiday*. Like Christmas it is a man made holiday that is based on events in the Bible. Easter commemorates the Sunday about 1,990 years ago when it was discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are closely tied to the Jewish feast of Passover (which is a Biblical holiday, see Exodus 12, Deuteronomy 16).
Passover is a Jewish feast that hearkens back to the time when they were slaves in Egypt. Perhaps you remember when Moses pronounced the plagues on Egypt in order that the Pharaoh would let the Jewish people go. The tenth and worst plague was the plague of the firstborn. In every household the firstborn died on the Jewish night of Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar. The only houses that did not wake up to a dead body were those that had slain a lamb that evening and painted its blood on the doorposts of their house. Moses, having been instructed by God made sure that the Israelites killed lambs and were ready. As a result the plague of death passed over their homes. Until this very day, Jewish people all over the world celebrate the feast of Passover in memory of this event. In fact, when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, it was to celebrate the Passover. (Only this time he was to be the lamb that was slain, John 1:29).
The Jewish calendar
The Jewish calendar is based on the moon. The modern calendar we are used to is based on the 365.25 days it takes the earth to orbit the sun. The moon takes about 29.5 days to orbit the earth. This results in Jewish months of 29 or 30 days in length. Therefore the Jewish year is 11 days shorter than the solar year which we use today. Just like our calendar has a leap year in which we add February 29, the Jewish calendar has a leap month of 30 days that gets added about once every 3 years. This causes the date for the Feast of Passover to be forever changing, and since Easter is based on events that happened during that Passover in about 29 AD when Jesus was crucified, the date of Easter is different every year.
* While it commemorates events in the Bible, the holiday of Easter does not occur in the Bible. The apostles did not practice it, nor is it ever mentioned except in an erroneous translation in the King James Version of the Bible (see Acts 12:4) which in all other English translations is correctly translated as the word Passover. If we could bring Peter back from the dead and tell him that we were having an Easter service, he would have absolutely no idea what we were talking about. While the apostles knew of a pagan holiday that involved rabbits and eggs they knew nothing of a Christian holiday called Easter. By comparison, Communion quite clearly does occur in scripture. Jesus commanded it in I Corinthians 11:23-26, and the Apostolic church practiced it (I Corinthians 11:27-29).
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.