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February 28, 2015 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

This year the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and Israel’s Passover celebration almost exactly coincide.  The eight day Passover feast begins at sunset on April 3, which is Nisan 15 on the Jewish lunar calendar.  Resurrection Sunday occurs on April 5.

A brief review of the Passion Week may be helpful in understanding this relationship.  On Sunday, Nissan 10, Jesus rode into Jerusalem from Bethany where he had kept Shabbat, or Sabbath, with his friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  Christians refer to this event as Palm Sunday.  On Monday we have the record of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple courts and a day of teaching. On Wednesday we have no record of Jesus’ activities.  However, we do have a record of the treachery of Judas.  On Thursday, which was the day prior to Passover, preparations were made for the eating of the Passover meal which would be held in the evening following sunset.

During the late night and early morning of Passover Jesus was captured, brought before various officials and eventually crucified at nine o’clock in the morning.  In our reckoning this would be a Friday.  It was the first day of Passover.  The following day would be Shabbat, which would mean Jesus would be taken from the cross and buried prior to sunset when Sabbath would commence.

The three days of Jesus’ burial are calculated as part of Friday, all day Saturday, and a part of Sunday.

With this background it is understandable that the early Church celebrated the Resurrection at Passover season, and called the feast “Pesach,” which is Hebrew for Passover.

The Jewish calendar is lunar in its structure.  It comprises 12 lunar cycles of 29.53 days each, or 354.36 days.  This means that for the Christian Church Resurrection Day moved around through the week.  It was on a Sunday, or the first day of the week, in 30 A.D., but that was not assured.  In that same year Friday, of the sixth day of the week, was Passover, but that moved through the week as well.

At the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. the date for the celebration of the Resurrection was one of the eight major topics of discussion.  The Eastern Church favored the Jewish lunar calendar.  The Western Church was accustomed to the Julian calendar established by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C.  As a result a compromise was reached.  The resurrection would always be celebrated on a Sunday.  However, the Sunday would be determined by the occurrence of the full moon.  It would be set on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox.  The full moon would be the middle of the lunar month which always began with the new moon.  In the Jewish calendar the festivals usually fell on the full moon or the fifteenth of the month.  Passover begins on the fifteenth day of Nisan.

There were a few more tinkerings with the calendar by Pope Gregory in the mid-1500s.  However, the obvious observation is the close relationship of Passover and the Passion events in the life of Jesus.  This year they almost coincide.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.netEND – whs