- Celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord
- Easter Season begins on Easter Day and lasts 50 days, ending on Pentecost. Thus in 2015 it begins on 5 April 2015 and ends on 24 May 2015 .
- In most churches, the decorations are white, gold, or white and gold. White represents the angels who announced the resurrection, while gold symbolizes triumph. You can read more about color in worship
- Scripture Readings:
- The Revised Common Lectionary appoints Scripture readings for use in worship during the Season of Easter.
- The East:
- Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar to calculate Easter Day and adjust the date so that it falls after the Jewish Passover. For them, Easter Season also lasts fifty days, ending on Pentecost.
- Special Days:
- Ascension Day, the fortieth day of Easter, thus always a Thursday (
14 May 2015 ).
Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter, thus always a Sunday ( 24 May 2015 ).
You can find the date of Easter Day in (almost) any year.
You can learn how to calculate the date of Easter Day.
You can learn about Pentecost.
You can learn more about the word Easter.
You can send an Easter card to a friend.
During Easter Season, the theme of worship is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Throughout this discussion, please note that Easter and Passover are the same thing. They fall on different dates, for reasons you will shortly learn, and they have different names only because this article is in English.
According to scripture, Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday following Passover. See Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-3, Luke 23:56-24:3, and John 20:1. For this reason, ancient Christians celebrated Easter (which they called Passover) on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover, which is 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. The only exceptions were in Syria and Mesopotamia, where ancient Christians celebrated Easter on 14 Nisan, no matter which day of the week it happened to be.
No one in ancient times denied that the Resurrection took place on a Sunday.
According to scripture, the month of Nisan—and therefore the date of Passover—is linked to the spring harvest in Palestine. (See Exodus 12:1-3, Leviticus 23:9-14, and Numbers 28:16.) However, the Romans banished all Jews from Palestine after the rebellion of Simon Bar Kochba in AD 135, making it difficult for the rabbis to determine the proper date for Passover. So sometime around AD 200, the rabbis reformed the Jewish calendar. Relative to the Julian calendar, which was the Roman civil calendar, the new Jewish calendar allowed Passover to precede the spring equinox and it allowed two Passovers in the same twelve-month period. Obviously, the spring harvest cannot precede the spring equinox! Shortly after AD 300, the rabbis revised the Jewish calendar again, but it was still possible to have two Passovers in one twelve-month period, as defined by the Julian calendar.
By this time, the vast majority of Christians had long since given up using the Jewish calendar to determine the date of Easter. Instead, they figured it independently. They reasoned that at the time of the Last Supper, Nisan began with the new moon after the spring equinox. The full moon occurs on the fourteenth day, which would have been the Jewish Passover. According to Scripture, Jesus rose from the grave on the Sunday that immediately followed. So they celebrated the Resurrection on the first Sunday after the first full moon that followed the spring equinox. However, since there was no standard way to calculate the spring equinox, it was still possible for different regions to celebrate Easter on different Sundays. This was a problem, because Christians who lived on the edges of these regions got into unseemly disputes, and intellectual pagans derided Christians for not being able to figure out their own holy days. In those days, of course, Christianity was a minority religion for which the public did not have much respect and disputes about Easter weren’t helping evangelism.
Meanwhile, the churches in Syria and Mesopotamia were still celebrating Easter on 14 Nisan as determined by the current Jewish calendar, regardless of the day of the week. They believed they had apostolic direction to celebrate Easter on the same day that the Jews celebrate Passover, even if the Jews calculated the date incorrectly.
In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened to deal with Arianism and to standardize the date of Easter. The Council of Nicaea, noting that Syria and Mesopotamia represented a small minority, required them to conform to the practice of the majority. The bishops from Syria and Mesopotamia readily agreed to this ruling and their churches complied with it. The Council of Nicaea also ruled that all churches must celebrate Easter on the same day. This clearly implies that they instituted a standard method for calculating the date of the full moon after the spring equinox, but the documentary evidence for it has not survived. Some ancient writers, notably Ambrose, felt that the Council of Nicaea prescribed the mathematical formula that we presently use to fix the date of Easter, but we can no longer prove it.
The Western Church applies the Nicene formula to the calendar as reformed by Pope Gregory in 1582. (This calendar reform resulted in the Gregorian calendar that we use today for secular purposes.) The Eastern Church applies the Nicene formula to the old Julian Calendar, which was instituted by Julius Caesar and served as the civil calendar of the Roman Empire before the birth of Christ. The Eastern Church also applies the formula in such a way that Easter always falls after the Jewish Passover.
There are at least two serious proposals to standardize the date of Easter. One is to institute a new method of calculating the lunar cycle, based on the moon as it appears over Jerusalem, so that eastern and western Easter would always fall on the same date. The other proposal is to fix Easter as the second Sunday in April.
The important holy days during Easter are as follows:
- Easter Day
See Easter as it Wasn’t and What Happened to the Body?
- Ascension Day, the fortieth day of Easter (Acts 1:11)
- Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter. For the eastern Church, Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday are the same day.
Roughly speaking, the western Church consists of Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans. The eastern Church consists of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches, and the eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
Pentecost is a Jewish festival that falls on the fiftieth day of Passover. In biblical times, Jews from all over the Roman Empire gathered in Jerusalem for the festivities of Pentecost. On the Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection—ten days after Jesus had ascended into heaven—the apostles and other believers were gathered together in one place, when they were suddenly empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel. They went out into the crowds and attracted attention by preaching in the native languages of all the people present. This created quite a stir. Peter seized the opportunity to address the crowd, preached Jesus’ death and resurrection, and won several thousand converts.
These events are recorded in Acts 2:1-41.
Accordingly, Pentecost is celebrated by Christians as the birthday of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the Jewish Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Passover, the Christian Pentecost is the fiftieth day of Easter.
Pentecost is not the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit made His first appearance in Genesis 1:2! Rather, Pentecost is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on human flesh to give birth to the Church.
How to determine the date of Easter Day
This method is valid for any year, but only for the Western Church.
Take the number of the year, add one, then divide by 19. Discard the answer and take the remainder. Look up the remainder in the following table. Easter is the first Sunday after the date in the table. For example, 1997 plus 1 is 1998. If you divide 1998 by 19, the answer is 105 with a remainder of 3. The date in the table for 3 is March 23. Therefore, Easter Day falls on the following Sunday, which is March 30, 1997.
|0||March 27||10||April 5|
|1||April 14||11||March 25|
|2||April 3||12||April 13|
|3||March 23||13||April 2|
|4||April 11||14||March 22|
|5||March 31||15||April 10|
|6||April 18||16||March 30|
|7||April 8||17||April 17|
|8||March 28||18||April 7|
There is a way to reduce this to a single mathematical formula, but I thought you’d prefer a method that even ordinary mortals can use. Once you know the date of Easter, you can determine the dates of holy days that occur at fixed intervals before or after Easter:
- Western Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before western Easter. That’s forty days, not counting the Sundays. Jesus withdrew into the wilderness for forty days of spiritual reflection before beginning His ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). By observing Lent to prepare for Easter, we imitate Jesus.
- Eastern Lent begins on Clean Monday, 55 days before eastern Easter. That’s forty days, not counting the Saturdays or the Sundays.
- Ascension Day is the fortieth day of Easter (Acts 1:3-11), and it always falls on Thursday.
- Pentecost Sunday is the fiftieth day of Easter; it is the birthday of the Church through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).
Here is a handy table for 2015 — 2019 :
|Year||Ash Wednesday||Easter Sunday||Ascension Day||Pentecost Sunday||Trinity Sunday|
|2015||February 18||April 5||May 14||May 24||May 31|
|2016||February 10||March 27||May 5||May 15||May 22|
|2017||March 1||April 16||May 25||June 4||June 11|
|2018||February 14||April 1||May 10||May 20||May 27|
|2019||March 6||April 21||May 30||June 9||June 16|
For other years, see Holy Days and the Calendar.
The English Word “Easter”
Easter is an English word derives from the name of a Germanic goddess, and you won’t get any argument from me if you think the word should be deprecated because of its association with pagan fertility rites. On the other hand, the Old Testament book of Esther is named after a Jewish heroine who bore the name of the goddess Ishtar! In the ancient Church, the celebration of the Resurrection was called Passover. Today, Orthodox Christians call this holiday the Pasch (as in paschal lamb ), which is the Greek word for Passover. In Anglican churches, the designation Sunday of the Resurrection is often preferred over Easter and in Lutheran liturgy, it is called The Resurrection of Our Lord.
The current ecumenical trend in English-speaking countries is to use Easter for the fifty-day season and Easter Day for the day of the Resurrection.
Aside from English and German, the words for Passover and Easter are the same in most languages.
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