I have heard a few comments that Easter is early this year, which leads to the obvious questions why is it early and why do the dates fluctuate so much?
Well you can blame the council of Nicea, held in 325 AD, for this. During that meeting the early church leaders laid down the calculation used to determine the date for Easter.
At the time, there were two camps with differing opinions as to when Easter should be celebrated.
There were those who felt it should be held at the same time as the Jewish Passover when the Romans crucified Christ. Since the Bible describes Jesus as the Paschal lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), this seemed the logical choice.
However there was a second group wanting to separate it from the Jewish Passover, since the Jews had rejected Jesus as their Passover lamb. This was only partially true as thousands of Jews did accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
It was this latter group that won the day at Nicea. Easter would be separate from the Passover.
However, another factor also came in to play. Since Christ was resurrected on a Sunday, they wanted that to stay the same.
So they came up with a convoluted formula for working out the date for Easter.
It would take place on the first Sunday after the first full moon (also called the Paschal moon) that occurs after the Spring equinox that typically falls on March 21st.
The Spring equinox marks the day when the sun crosses the equator into the Northern Hemisphere. At the equinox, day and night are equal in length. After the sun passes into the North due to the earth’s rotation, the days are longer than the night and will continue that way till the fall equinox in September. The Spring equinox has the opposite effect in the Southern Hemisphere where their days become shorter than night.
However, even this calculation for Easter was not written in stone. There is some fluidity, because the Spring equinox can fall on March 20 and as well because of time zones, the Paschal moon can occur on different days in various parts of the world, so Easter is adjusted accordingly.
Based on these calculation and exceptions, Easter can fall between March 22 and April 25th.
So according to our calendar on what day was Jesus actually crucified.
The Apostle John said the Romans crucified Jesus on the Passover (John 19:14), and according to the Old Testament that is set on the 14th of the month of Nisan (Leviticus 23:5).
At first glance, this seems simple. However, the Jewish calendar is based on a lunar calendar made up of 12 months consisting of 28 days. Because of this, it has a yearly shortfall in days so every two or three years, they throw in a 13th month called Adar II to balance things out.
Since it is inserted before Nisan, it results in wildly fluctuating dates for Passover, then add to the equation we aren’t exactly sure what year Jesus was crucified, it is not easy determining the actual day it happened.
But those living closer to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion were pretty certain they knew the day. One early Christian apologist and writer Quintus Tertullian (155 AD to 240 AD) based on his understanding of the Jewish calendar and events believed Jesus was crucified on March 25th.
This means today is the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion.
However, there was not 100% agreement on this date in Tertullian’s day. Another group thought it was April 6th, but Tertullian eventually won the day and we know this because of its odd connection to Christmas day.
Now many people believe the ancient church chose December 25th as Christ’s birthday to over rule a feast day for a Roman god, however there is evidence this was not the case.
During the centuries following Christ’s death, a widely held belief gained steam that a person was particularly blessed if you died on the same day as your conception. Of course, with Jesus being the most Blessed man on earth, it was then generally accepted that Mary conceived Jesus on the same day He died — March 25.
In fact the Catholic Feast of Annunciation — when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary she had conceived by the Holy Ghost — is held March 25. Of course, if Christ was conceived on March 25, His actual birthday would be nine months later — December 25.
- How is the date of Easter calculated? About.com
- Why is Easter Sunday 2016 so early this year? Christian Post
- Holidays and Festivals: Passover
- How December 25th became Christmas: Bible Archaeology