With Easter just behind us, I’ve been looking at next year’s calendar, anticipating some aspects of Lent and Holy Week in 2011. I noticed that next year, Easter isn’t until April 24. My curiosity grew as I considered the curious dating process for Easter Sunday, which varies from year to year by up to 35 days. That’s because Easter is related to Passover, and the date of Passover is a function of a lunar calendar used in Jerusalem for about 3,200 years. Sounds complicated? We’re only getting started!
In the Fourth Century, in an attempt to actually reduce the confusion and establish a uniform date for this most important of the church’s celebrations, Easter was officially set as the first Sunday after the Ecclesiastical full moon that falls on or after the vernal equinox, which is the first day of Spring. “Ecclesiastical full moon” is a highly technical term that would take a couple of pages to explain, so I’ll let you look that one up yourself. Using this formula, the earliest Easter can be is March 22, and the latest is April 25.
In 2008, Easter was on March 23. Easter can be one day earlier, on March 22, but that happens so rarely that nobody now alive has ever seen or ever will see it on that date. The last time Easter was March 22 was 190 years ago, in 1818; and the next time will be in 277 years, or 2285. Additionally, only the oldest Christians among us have ever celebrated Easter as early as it was in 2008.
Easter will be April 24 next year. The last time it was April 24 was in 1859; the next time will be 2095. Thus, we who will have celebrated Easter on March 22 (two years ago) and on April 24 (next year) constitute a fairly small sample of the church through the ages.
As curiously interesting as all this information may be (to geeks like me, anyway), the real point of Easter is not so much when we celebrate it as why. And that is a point that many people seem to miss.
When Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, the disciples that comprised the infant church were almost all Jewish. All their lives they had worshiped God on the Sabbath, which begins at sun-down on Friday and ends at sun-down on Saturday. However, within months after His resurrection, Jesus’ followers switched the day of worship to Sunday, the first day of the week, the day He rose from the grave.
Because they understood that every gathering of Christians for worship is a celebration of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul put it this way: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). His perfect life fulfilled God’s law and is reckoned to believers as our righteousness. His sacrificial death atoned for our sins. But it was His resurrection from the dead that verified His authority to act on the Father’s behalf as our substitute.
No matter when it happens, the center of the Easter celebration was and is all about Jesus: His life, His death and His resurrection. Do you know it? Do you believe it?