QUESTION: We have an alarming concern regarding the fact that Easter came before Passover this year. We know from the Bible that Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover meal, now known as the Last Supper, with his disciples Thursday evening (Matthew 26:17-28). Then He died the next day on Passover (Good Friday).
Why is Easter on March 27, 2016 and Passover on April 22, 2016 – practically a month after?
I’ve heard conflicting and inaccurate responses such as:
1) Passover is a “Jewish holiday” and does concern Christians;
2) This is due to the lunar calendar;
3) “That’s just the way it is.”
An Inquiring Family
Dear Inquiring Family,
These two spring holidays occur in the calendar at different times because of completely different reasons. Easter is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Passover, on the other hand, begins on the first full moon of Nissan, the first month of the Jewish lunar-based calendar.
Let us unravel that information a bit.
Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection, which is said to have occurred three days after Jesus celebrated the Passover Seder, as any Jewish person would have living in his time. Jesus’ Seder is known as the Last Supper. This is the connection to the Passover Seder. Since Jesus is said to have risen on a Sunday, that would make the day the meal took place in that year a Thursday. If you go back to the Matthew text you quoted, however, you will see there is no mention of the day of the week in that text.
The celebration of Pesach, or Passover, is determined by the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar is based on lunar months; each month begins with the new moon. Passover begins on the 14th day of the full moon of the month of Nissan. Nissan is also known as the first month of spring.
In the early days of Christianity, calendar keeping was done by the Jewish assembly known as the Sanhedrin. The method of calculation was a complicated and scientific time keeping based on a 19-year lunar cycle called the Metonic cycle. This method of calculation was known only to those scholars who were allowed into the secret committee that created them and their students.
Early Christians ran into another problem. Because Pesach was always on the 14th day of the month, using it to choose the date for Easter meant Easter would not always fall on a Sunday.
In 325, Emperor Constantine convened the Nicean Council in part to settle the dispute between those who thought the date for Easter should be calculated using the 14th day of the month method, and those who thought it should always be on a Sunday.
The council decreed Easter to be the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21) – unless that full moon is on a Sunday, then Easter is to be celebrated the following Sunday.
So, dear family, you see that the fact that things are different than your Matthew text have historical reasons and are the result of accommodation over time that had to be made between the solar and lunar calendars.
I hope this has given you a wider understanding of our calendar and how it has come to be as it is.
Of course, we did not even talk about the Orthodox and their date for Easter.
Dear Inquiring Family,
In answer to your question, I went looking on the Internet for the best and concise answer to your question. What I found written by Vicki Hyman is quoted below. But let me say that any search like this is confusing. There are those who use this information like a hammer to hit us over the head with the real meaning of Easter, and why we should not give in to the pagan rituals, like egg coloring. There are those who profess the secret knowledge of what the timing is all about. And fortunately there are those like this author who basically tell the facts and allow us to make some sensible judgments about the dates. The good news is that Easter has become our way to celebrate of the resurrection of Jesus and the eternal power of God.
“The start of Passover, which celebrates the Israelite exodus from Egypt, falls on the same day of the Jewish calendar every year – the eve of the 14th of Nissan – but because Jews use a lunar calendar, they must insert a so-called ‘leap month’ every two or three years to keep their holiday cycles in tune with the seasons. This year, there are two months of Adar, the month that precedes Nissan.
“Though Easter is closely associated with Passover, over the centuries church authorities in various corners of the Roman Empire have disagreed about when to celebrate it, says Rev. Lawrence Frizzell, the director of Seton Hall University’s Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies.
“In Asia Minor, and particularly Turkey, church officials stuck with the 14th of Nissan, but by the second century A.D., the celebration in Rome became fixed on a Sunday, Frizzell says.
“But which Sunday? The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. determined it should be the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, fixed at March 21. This year’s March 27 is certainly on the early side, but the earliest Easter can occur is March 22 – that last happened in 1818 and won’t happen again until 2285.
“That’s in the Roman Catholic Church. When Pope Gregory XIII corrected the Julian calendar in the 16th century to adjust for the discrepancy of calendar time versus calculated astronomical time, those in what is now known as the Orthodox Catholic Church (or Eastern Orthodox Church) refused to adopt the revised calendar until well into the 20th century, and even now, they still celebrate Easter according to the old (Julian) calendar, not the Gregorian calendar.
“That means their Easter usually falls on a different and later Sunday – May 1 this year, five weeks after the Roman Catholic Easter.”
Pastor Steve Marshall
QUESTION: I have to say I’m a so-so Christian. I believe in the teachings but I don’t go to church very often and I try to be the best person I know how to be. My problem is a friend who does go to church regularly and [the way] he feels about a friend of his who wronged him.
Granted, what the person did was wrong-wrong-wrong, but isn’t God the one who judges about punishment? My friend thinks this person should go to hell, literally. I’m thinking it’s not good for him to think and feel this way. When he rages about the wrong-doing, I just listen and don’t give him an opinion.
Is there something I could say that might help him look at this differently?
Dear Puzzled Friend,
First of all, thank you for being a true friend who wants to help. The Christian missionary Paul wrote to the Christians in the church in the ancient city of Ephesus that they should speak “the truth in love” to each other (Ephesians 4:15). This is the consistent teaching of Christian writings. The church is not intended to merely be a group who meet for worship on a Sunday, but a community that is actively helping each other to be like Jesus. One of the outstanding teachings of Jesus is his clear call for us to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 18:21-35, Luke 6:27-36). Jesus forgave the people who had him crucified (Luke 23:34) – He didn’t just teach it, He lived it! Perhaps you could sit down with your friend and go over these Scriptures with him with an attitude of love and respect. You might also make an appeal to him that his unwillingness to forgive is only hurting himself.
When you are bitter towards people, then you are allowing them to control your quality of life. They rob us of the complete joy and peace that Jesus wants us to have. I once heard someone say that to be unforgiving is to drink deadly poison but expect the other person to get sick.
Encourage him to be an overcomer and not a victim.
I will pray for your talk to go well and please contact me if I can help you in any other way.
Dear Puzzled Friend,
I could go right to quoting Scripture like John 8:7, “They continued to question him, so He stood up and replied, ‘Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.’” And that can be helpful for some who are open to hearing it. But often times the first thing that we are angry about or the person we are angry with isn’t always the actual thing we’re angry about. More and more I’m experiencing the deep-seated woundedness that we human beings walk around the world with. One wrong move by another close to us can trigger something buried so deep that we are not conscious of the origin of it; we are just so very aware of how hurt or angry we are in the moment.
The nature of human beings in relationships guarantees we will be hurt but we will also be responsible for hurting others. We can’t help it; we’re human and make mistakes. I don’t subscribe to a theology of a God who judges us nor do I believe in hell. I do believe we create our own living hell by turning our anger into resentments and unforgiveness. God simply loves us through our process of learning to let go and forgive.
You could encourage your friend to explore what might be at the bottom of his hurt, which is why he is so angry, if he is willing to go there. You could respond with affirming his pain and talking him through what it would be like if he began to explore ways to let go of the hurt. More often than not, however, as the supportive friend, the only thing I have control over is my reaction, my thought patterns, my attitude towards the angry friend. Then all I know how to do is pray for them. I pray that they may be released from their anger and pain, healed in such a way that they may experience a softening of their heart. I don’t know if it does anything for the other person, but for me I know that my heart softens and that is always a good thing.