Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thinking About Easter - Part 2 - Calculating Easter's Date

Have you ever noticed that some years we have snow on Easter and other years it is almost May before Easter rolls around? No, it has nothing to do with global warning. It is a calendar thing and an early Easter won't occur again on March 23 until 2228 AD. I don't plan on being here.

A more important question, even a frustration to me, is why Easter is out of sync with Passover? Passover is the whole point of Easter. Jesus died on Passover that year. It was, as always, celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. It seems like it would be a simple thing to keep Easter aligned with the Jewish Passover, but alas, it is not. Easter can fall anywhere from March 22 to April 25. This year, Easter and Passover are a occurring at the same time, and that is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Why? You ask. I am glad you asked. I am going to tell you.

The Jewish Calendar
It all has to do with calendars and the sun and moon. The Jewish calendar was, and is, based on the moon and has only 354 days. Don't ask - it's just the way it is. Since that cycle does not come out even the calendar tends to fall behind, so Jewish Rabbis add an extra month, a leap month every seven years. That becomes the month of Adar II. You guessed it. There is a month of Adar I, which occurs just before Nisan, the month that has Passover. So now you know the reason that Passover moves around from year to year.

Council of Nicea
Now bring in the Christian Church, which wanted to celebrate Easter on Sunday, not on Passover which can be any day of the week. So, in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicea the subject came up for debate. They set out another formula for calculating Easter (not Passover) based on the sun, not the moon. (Way to go guys!) They mandated Easter to be the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox, or March 21 (sometimes it's March 20).

The Julian Calendar
At that time (325 A.D.), they used the Roman Julian calendar, which was established by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. and wasn't very accurate either. The Julian calendar had fallen out of alignment in measuring solar years (keeping months aligned with seasons).

By 1582 everyone was frustrated about Easter and calendars in general. The Julian calendar had fallen ten days in arrears, so that, for instance, the day of the vernal equinox, which should have been March 21, was really March 11. Easter kept getting earlier and earlier each year. No one wanted Easter at Christmas. To remedy the Julian calendar errors it was necessary to omit ten full days in order to bring things back to the proper point.

The Gregorian Calendar
In the year 1572, Pope Gregory XIII realized there was a calendar crisis - one of Christianity's most important dates was falling behind with respect to the seasons. As a result, Pope Gregory XIII ordained that ten days in October, 1582, should not be counted, the fourth of that month being immediately followed by the fifteenth.

Pope Gregory determined that the year should begin with 1 January, and he ruled that three leap years should be omitted every fourth century. He made a couple of other changes to try to resolve the calendar problem like adding a leap day on February 29 every four years, and the rules for the positioning of Easter were changed.

To complicate matters even more, much of the world was not Catholic so they did not recognize Pope Gregory's (Gregorian) calendar so they continued with the Julian calendar. Great Britain did not come to recognize the Gregorian calendar until 1752, the year George Washington was born. In the Julian calendar his birthdate is Feb 11, 1731 and in the Gregorian Calendar it is Feb 22, 1732. Thus in the colonies 10 days had to be omitted that year, so some people were not born - just kidding - some people lost their birth date that year since 10 days went missing.

Gregory's omission of ten days - instead of the twelve that had been lost under the Julian calendar - restored the vernal equinox to the 21st of March, the date set by the Nicene Council. However, under this system the equinox varies between the 19th and the 22nd.

Back To Passover and Easter
So, Easter and Passover are no longer linked by an ecclesiastical mandate that forever sends them drifting in different directions. That is why in 2008 Easter and Passover are separated by nearly a month. And this year, 2012 Passover is the Saturday before Easter

It really is a shame that this has happened in that many people make no connection between Passover and Easter. Month after month during the year we have Communion without ever thinking the Jesus instituted that the Communion service as a memorial to what he did - that is, it is a memorial to the Passover Lamb who was slain for our sins and who three days later rose from the dead triumphant forever over death and hell through the power of the cross. I urge the church and pastor everywhere to restore Passover to the church traditions "in remembrance of Him."

That can be done by yearly inviting a Messianic Jewish pastor or layperson to lead the church in celebrating the Haggadah or Passover Seder. The Haggadah is the order of service for the Seder that includes all the historical traditions and emblems that speak of the Messiah in Passover. You can also do it without a Jewish guest by downloading a simple Haggadah with instructions on foods and preparations, and specific instruction for the leader, and reading and songs to be used in the memorial service. I just downloaded my Haggadah from a wonderful web site that let's you fine tune your own Seder service. There is a do-it-yourself Haggadah available as an App on iTunes (it's free) or you can go to at and build your own Seder. How about this weekend (anytime Thursday to Saturday) you invite some family and friends over for a mini-Haggada Seder in your home? It will start a new, but very old tradition that Jesus used when he celebrated the Last Supper in the upper room.

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Passover in 2012 will start on Saturday, the 7th of April
and will continue for 7 days until Friday, the 13th of April.

Note that in the Jewish calander, a holiday begins on the sunset of the previous day,
so observing Jews will celebrate Passover on the sunset of Friday, the 6th of April.

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