The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



God gives us 50 days for celebration

The fun I had explaining the length of Lent inspired these worship whys: “Why does the date of Easter change?” and “Why does Eastertide last so long?”

Two reasons account for the changing date of Easter each year: the timing of the Jewish feast of Passover and the church’s decision in 325 to always celebrate Easter on a Sunday.

All four Gospels place Christ’s passion, death and resurrection in the context of Passover, the spring festival that celebrates God’s liberating Israel from slavery in Egypt. In all of the Gospels, Jesus rises from the dead on the Sunday after Passover. The Jewish calendar is determined by the phases of the moon, whereas the calendar most of the world uses today is based on the earth’s rotation around the sun. Passover begins on the night of the first full moon after the spring equinox. So it’s on a different day each year, roughly between March 22 and April 25 on our solar calendar.

Calculating backward to the time of Christ with our current solar calendar, most scholars agree that Jesus died on Friday, April 7, and rose from the dead on Sunday, April 9. So why not keep Easter every year on April 9, just as we keep Christmas every year on Dec. 25? Because it’s always been significant to the church that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. Just as God rested on the sabbath (Saturday) after creating the world, Jesus “rested” in death on our Holy Saturday after completing his work of re-creating the world by dying on the cross.

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