Easter is this weekend, and it will be one we’ll always remember. Instead of overflowing crowds at churches, churches will be empty and people will worship from their homes. Instead of families gathering around the table for a meal, they will be gathering around computer screens for video calls. Candy won’t be distributed at Easter egg hunts, and pretty dresses and pastels probably will not be worn. As I reflected on Easter occurring during this strange time we are in, I wanted to address two questions surrounding it: first, why does it fall on this weekend this year, and second, why we should think about Easter and celebrate it on other weekends, too?
Why This Weekend Is Easter – Determining the Date of Easter
Many national holidays are observed on the same day each year. For example, Labor Day is the first Monday in September, Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November. The Christian holiday (holy day) of Christmas is December 25 every year. Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday, but it seems that no one can simply look at a calendar to determine which date it will be observed because it changes every year — sometimes in significant ways. The reason for this is because its date is tied to the lunar calendar: Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring after the March equinox (the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere, usually March 20). Therefore, Easter will always be observed sometime between March 22 and April 25, but the date will change from year to year.
Why is Easter connected to the lunar calendar and shifts each year? This is because Jesus’s death occurred at the Jewish Passover, which similarly varies each year because it is tied to the lunar calendar (first full moon after the equinox). If the first full moon is on a Sunday, then Easter is delayed a week, so it does not always coincide with the Jewish Passover (which does not have to start on a certain day of the week). However, while the date varies year to year, the day of the week never changes (the opposite of Christmas-always the 25th, but different days) — Easter is always on a Sunday because Jesus rose on a Sunday.
That is confusing, but we can thank the Council of Nicaea for at least helping clarify some of the confusion as it set this pattern for the celebration of Easter so that there would be more uniformity. During that time, churches were using different calculations (and different calendars), so Easter may have been celebrated in different places at different times which is even more confusing. (We see the potential confusion regarding days to celebrate particular holidays even during the Holy Week itself. Jesus celebrates the Passover on Thursday with his disciples as seen in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, while John 18 tells us that the religious leaders did not want to enter Pilate’s residence on Good Friday lest they become unclean and not be able to eat the Passover that night. Therefore, there is a chance they were celebrating the Passover at different times, though others have pointed to other possible explanations of what some have viewed as a contradiction. For another possible explanation of this detail, see this article).
I should also note that the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition uses a slightly different calculation than Western (Protestant and Catholic) churches (using a different calendar), so they sometimes observe Easter on a different date (for example, this year it is April 19). There have been Christians through the ages that have not used this same system, as the Bible does not give explicit directions on when to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. However, celebrating Jesus’s resurrection is a central part of all Christian traditions.
Why Next Weekend is Also Easter in a Sense
While we typically focus on the truth of the resurrection on Easter, there is nothing in the Bible or in history that teaches us that this celebration should only occur on on one particular Sunday. In fact, this should be a truth remembered and celebrated every Sunday, as it is the very reason that we worship on Sunday each week.
One of the key differences between the Christian church and the Jewish faith from which it emerged is that Christian worship is generally held on Sundays (most services on Sunday morning, but also services on Saturday or Sunday evenings), while Jewish synagogue worship is focused on Saturday. The Jewish Sabbath day is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday to commemorate that God rested on the seventh day of the week (Saturday) when He created the world (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-10). During Jesus’s time, observing the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship was one the “essentials” for the Jewish people and differentiated them from others; it was a key component of their faith and part of their identity.
Therefore, it is quite remarkable that early Christians – many of whom were Jewish – started to meet on the first day of the week as we see even in the New Testament. In Acts 20:7 we read that Christians gathered together to break bread (have communion) and hear the Apostle Paul speak and teach about Jesus — that sounds a lot like a church service to me! The church in Corinth also gathered on the first day of the week and had a collection or offering for the poor (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). The disciples of Jesus gathered together on a Sunday when the Holy Spirit came upon them in Acts 2, showing a practice of gathering on the first day of the week. This first day of the week became known as the “Lord’s Day,” with it being a day in which God reveals Himself to people in a special way (Revelation 1:10). By the end of the first century, Christians were meeting on Sundays, as discussed by the early Christian leader Ignatius of Antioch; the Bible verses above show the reason for this early practice. This has since become a mark of most Christians.
What caused this great shift from the seventh day being prioritized to the first day? It was the resurrection of Jesus, which happened on the first day of the week. Therefore, every Sunday is Easter Sunday, or more appropriately — Resurrection Sunday. We will worship God in our homes this year and remember the resurrection this weekend, but we should do the same every other weekend as well.
Easter Isn’t Cancelled or Postponed This Year – .it is this Sunday, and the next, and next…
If the heart of Easter is not about bunnies laying eggs (I won’t get into the craziness of that idea!), family gatherings, or pastels and springtime colors but rather the resurrection of Jesus, then Easter cannot be cancelled or postponed due to gathering restrictions this year. In fact, because we will not observe some of our traditions (some that can even distract us from the real reason we celebrate), we may be able to focus on the incredible truth so many of us take for granted – Jesus lived, died, and then rose from the dead! That is amazing and life-changing!
Of course there is nothing wrong with having a special Sunday each year to focus on the resurrection, but each Sunday should also have this focus. The reason we gather to worship God (whether Sunday morning, evening, or Saturday evening) is because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. May the joy and wonder of the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ be something we see each Sunday. This will shape our lives in all seasons – especially this one – knowing that there is hope in all situations, that God is victorious, and that death and disease is not the final word. In fact, may our Easter worship in our homes this year remind us that the hope of the resurrection is not confined to the church building or one day a year, but to every day and every place of our lives.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
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