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February 13, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

Last year Easter fell on April 5 which was the second day of Passover which began in the evening of April 3.  The Hebrew date was, as always, Nisan 15, which is a full moon.  This year Easter falls on March 27 and Passover on April 23.  What happened?

First, let us look at how the date of the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection was set by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover which in 30 AD fell on a Friday.  He was resurrected on Sunday morning.   At the Council of Nicea the Western Church wanted the celebration of the resurrection to fall on a Sunday.  The Eastern Church, however, wanted the celebration to coincide with Passover.  A compromise was reached with the following formula:  Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.  This would guarantee that Easter would fall in the spring.  It would also fall close to Passover which always occurs on the full moon.  And, it would be celebrated on the first day of the week.  This year the equinox in on March 20.  The full moon is on March 23.  Therefor the resurrection will be celebrated on Sunday, March 27.

The insistence on a Sunday celebration comes from the fact that the Hebrew lunar calendar has a 354 day year with months alternating between 29 and 30 days.  This means that, first; the dates of the month will fall on different days. And second, the year would creep back from the solar seasons.  To remedy this problem an additional month is added to the calendar seven times every nineteen years.  This keeps the lunar calendar concurrent with the solar year.  This year happens to be one of those years so that a second twelfth month is added which is called Adar II.  With two months of January/February we find the first month of Nisan is put off for approximately 29 days.  This means that instead of Passover falling in the common calendar month of March, it falls in the month of April.  Passover still falls on the full moon of the Hebrew month of Nisan, but a month later than last year.

The resurrection of Jesus is the one event in Jesus’ life that we can date with unquestionable accuracy.  It took place on Nisan 17 in the year 30 AD.

The festivals of Israel were an important part of Jesus’ life from the time of his childhood.  Luke tells us that the family traveled to Jerusalem every year for the celebration of Passover.  One of the structural elements of the Gospel of John is the occurrence of Passover.  The first is prior to the ministry of Jesus and is alluded to in the first chapter of John.  That would be in the year 26 AD.  The second chapter jumps to the next Passover and the year 27 AD.  Chapter five introduces us to the Passover of 28 AD.  In chapter six Jesus remains in Galilee for the Passover of 29 AD.  The Feeding of the Five Thousand in this year marks the end of his Galilean ministry and his departure for the southern region of Judea and Jerusalem.  Jesus is crucified at Passover of 30 AD.

The historical connection of Jesus with the celebration of Passover was important to the Gospel writers and was important to the early Church.  As the Church moved more into the Gentile world and the culture of the West this connection slipped into forgetfulness.  As we approach the season of Lent and the celebration of the Resurrection it is good to be reminded of it.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs