Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. Easter is the fulfilled prophecy of the Messiah who would be persecuted, die for our sins, and rise on the third day. (Isaiah 53). Remembering the resurrection of Jesus is a way to renew daily hope that we have victory over sin. According to the New Testament, Easter is three days after the death of Jesus on the cross.
Easter follows a period of fasting called Lent, in which many churches set aside time for repentance and remembrance. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. The 40 day period was established by Pope Gregory 1 using the 40-day pattern of Israel, Moses, Elijah and Jesus’ time in the wilderness.
The week leading up to Easter is called The Holy Week, or “Passion Week”, and includes Palm Sunday (the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was celebrated), Maundy Thursday (the “Last Supper” where Jesus met with his disciples to observe Passover), and Good Friday (when Jesus would be crucified on the cross).
Easter is a very significant date within Christianity and is the foundation of the Christian faith. Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled prophecy and through his death, has given the gift of eternal life in heaven to those who believe in his death and resurrection. Read the entire Biblical account of Resurrection Day in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24
When did Easter start?
The earliest Christians celebrated the resurrection on the fourteenth of Nisan (our March-April), the date of the Jewish Passover. Jewish days were reckoned from evening to evening, so Jesus had celebrated His Last Supper the evening of the Passover and was crucified the day of the Passover. Early Christians celebrating the Passover worshiped Jesus as the Paschal Lamb and Redeemer.
Some of the Gentile Christians began celebrating Easter in the nearest Sunday to the Passover since Jesus actually arose on a Sunday. This especially became the case in the western part of the Roman Empire. In Rome itself, different congregations celebrated Easter on different days!
Many felt that the date should continue to be based on the timing of the Resurrection during Passover. Once Jewish leaders determined the date of Passover each year, Christian leaders could set the date for Easter by figuring three days after Passover. Following this schedule would have meant that Easter would be a different day of the week each year, only falling on a Sunday once in a while.
Others believed since the Lord rose on a Sunday and this day had been set aside as the Lord’s Day, this was the only possible day to celebrate His resurrection. As Christianity drew away from Judaism, some were reluctant to base the Christian celebration on the Jewish calendar.
Constantine wanted Christianity to be totally separated from Judaism and did not want Easter to be celebrated on the Jewish Passover. The Council of Nicea accordingly required the feast of the resurrection to be celebrated on a Sunday and never on the Jewish Passover. Easter was to be the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Since the date of the vernal equinox changed from year to year, calculating the proper date can be difficult. This is still the method used to determine Easter today, which is why some years we have Easter earlier than other years.