Very soon after the life of Jesus, his resurrection had a significant impact on the way Christians organised their lives. All the first Christians were Jewish, so they had grown up observing the seventh day of the week as the day on which they worshipped God. But the resurrection of Jesus was so significant that they gathered to worship on the day on which it took place – Sunday, the first day of the week.
It took longer for Easter Sunday to emerge as an annual occasion for celebration of the resurrection. And different countries of the world marked it in a variety of ways and at different times. The dates they chose all related in some way to the Jewish Passover, which was taking place in the week during which Jesus died.
Churches used Easter Day not just to praise God for raising Jesus from the dead, but also to remember those who had been put to death rather than give up their faith that Jesus was God (martyrs). It was also the day on which converts to Christianity, after a period during which they learnt about the life and teaching of Jesus, were baptised dressed in white.
In AD 325 church leaders gathered in Nicaea (modern-day Turkey) and agreed that the date of Easter should be consistent worldwide. Consistent, but not simple! The date they chose was the Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring equinox (when there were equal hours of daylight and night). But the full moon they referred to was a mathematically calculated ‘Paschal full moon’ which sometimes does not match the day when we see it in the sky.
Years of argument preceded and followed this. By 1752 there was a degree of agreement. However, in that year the Western part of the Christian world (including the UK) changed the calendar they used to the more accurate Gregorian calendar. Many parts of the world, notably those in which Orthodox Christians are the largest group, did not change their calendar. All their dates differ from those in the UK, including the date on which Orthodox Christians mark Easter Sunday.
For over eighty years churches and governments have been working toward fixing the date on the second Sunday of April, but agreement is proving as difficult as ever.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
[Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
Where to find it:
About these words:
This is what Peter, one of Jesus’ companions, announced to a crowd in Jerusalem a matter of weeks after his tomb was found to be empty. His words were recorded some forty years later.
And they said…
Hippolytus, poet and theologian executed in Rome, 160-235:
Joy to all creatures,
honour, feasting, delight:
Dark death is destroyed
and life is restored everywhere,
the gates of Heaven are open.
The people of the world below
have risen from the dead,
bringing good news.
What was promised is fulfilled,
from the earth comes singing and dancing.
Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, 560-636:
The Lord’s Day is called this because on that day the joy of our Lord’s resurrection is celebrated.
Sedulius Scotus, Irish poet, about 800-860:
Last night did Christ the Sun rise from the dark,
the mystic harvest of the fields of God …
Inside the church let happy folk
the Alleluia chant a hundredfold.
O Father of thy folk, be thine by right
The Easter joy, the threshold of the light.