Easter is one of the biggest holidays of the year for Christians. Most churches plan special celebrations and prepare to welcome new attendees or those who haven’t come around for awhile. Often, it is a time when hearts are softened to the gospel message. My husband and I took all of these issues into account when we made the difficult decision to stop celebrating the holiday two years ago.
We don’t make a big deal about it, but simply stay home. Inevitably, people notice and assume that we don’t celebrate because we are opposed to the various pagan traditions. I will admit that we did struggle with those things for years but eventually concluded that since every day belongs to God, it was probably acceptable to just refer to the holiday as Resurrection Sunday and focus our celebrations around the death and Resurrection of our Messiah rather than eggs and bunnies. After all, we surmised, Jesus died as our Passover lamb and we should celebrate His Resurrection at the correct time each year, even if some of the more popular traditions were co-opted from Paganism.
And, thus arose a new dilemma. Upon looking at a calendar in 2005, I noticed that Passover and Easter were a month apart. I was confused because in previous years, the dates had been very close. Wondering what had changed, I looked into it and found that the date for Easter was set each year on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. But why? This question remained unanswered for 9 years, but stayed in the back of our minds while we did our best to celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice and avoid the pagan trappings. We never taught our children about the Easter Bunny, yet really waffled when it came to dying and hiding eggs. For us, it was just a fun tradition that always included a lot of eggs with crosses or phrases such as, “He is Risen.” It didn’t really diminish what the purpose of the holiday was in our minds or those of our children, so it was hard to give up. Some years we dyed eggs and other years we baked or watched movies about the Resurrection. It’s very challenging to change what you’ve known since you were born, especially when no one in your extended family feels the same way and both Christian and secular culture expect you to just go along to get along.
Finally, in 2014 we watched Chuck Missler’s message, “The Easter Story,” and found the answer we had been looking for. Among the details of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Chuck talked about how the date for Easter came to be. To make a long story short, one of the disagreements at the time of the Council of Nicaea was between Christians who celebrated the Resurrection in conjunction with Passover (as it happened) and others who, because of a growing antisemitism, didn’t want their Christian holiday to have anything to do with the Jewish Passover. Consider the following from an issue of Missler’s Koinonia House eNews, paying close attention to the quotes displayed in blue (emphasis mine) from Constantine, who presided over part of the Council’s meetings.
It may come as a shock to learn that the early church deliberately committed to separating itself from the explicit record of Scripture. The practice of those Christians insisting on celebrating Passover on the fourteenth day of Nisan from the Old Testament calendar was known as Quartodecimanism (“fourteenism,” as derived from Latin). (Passover was defined in Leviticus 23:5 to be a perpetual ordinance (cf. Exodus 12:14).)
It is nothing short of astonishing to discover that not only was this a major emotional controversy within the early church, but that the commitment to deviate from the Scriptures was driven by a deep anti-Semitism! (This is based on the writings of Irenaeus, the Roman church had celebrated Passover on a Sunday at least since the time of Bishop Xystus or Sixtus I, 115–125 a.d. (Eusebius H.E. 5.24.14). The aged Apostolic Father Polycarp visited Rome circa 154 a.d., at which time he discussed the difference in Paschal’s calculation with Bishop Anicetus and reached an amicable compromise. In addition, Polycrates of Ephesus and Irenaeus wrote in support of the Quartodecimans. (Eusebius H.E. 5.24.17).
The controversy surrounding this issue was a principal topic at the Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d. Emperor Constantine presided over this council—note his own words:
“It was, in the first place, declared improper to follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival, because their hands having been stained with crime, the minds of these wretched men are necessarily blinded … Let us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries … avoiding all contact with that evil way … who, after having compassed the death of the Lord, being out of their minds, are guided not by sound reason, but by an unrestrained passion, wherever their innate madness carries them … a people so utterly depraved … Therefore, this irregularity must be corrected, in order that we may no more have any thing in common with those parricides and the murderers of our Lord … no single point in common with the perjury of the Jews.”
The early church father, Eusebius, also records Emperor Constantine as writing:
“… it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul … Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Savior a different way.” (ref. Eusebius, Life of Constantine, Book 3, Chapter 18.)
The council unanimously ruled the Easter festival should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox; and if the full moon should occur on a Sunday, and coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the following Sunday. As a result of the Council of Nicaea, and amended by numerous subsequent meetings, the formal church deliberately attempted to design a formula for “Easter” which would avoid any possibility of it falling on the Jewish Passover, even accidentally!
These abhorrent attitudes toward God’s chosen people hit us like a ton of bricks. Although we knew that there had been antisemitism throughout church history, the revelation that this important Christian holiday had it’s basis in such hatred toward the Jews was troubling. We had always believed that, as followers of Christ, our love for and defense of the Jewish people were essential. As God told Abraham of the nation that would come from his family, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3, NKJV) Scripture makes it clear that blessing Israel is not optional if we want to enjoy the blessings of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that cursing Israel brings with it a curse or ensnarement. After learning of the events surrounding the establishment of Easter, we became convicted that celebrating the holiday would be cursing Israel and felt that we should no longer participate.
So, instead, we celebrate Passover as close to the correct date as we are able. (We are not legalistic about it, since sometimes work schedules and other activities make it impossible to celebrate on the exact day.) Did you know that God commanded Israel to celebrate the Passover forever? (In fact, the same can be said for all of the feasts.) In Exodus 12, Moses records the instructions given to the Jewish people concerning the observation of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Verse 14 adds the eternal nature of God’s command.
So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance. (Exodus 12:14)
As followers of the Jewish Messiah, we have been grafted into Israel and thus, should consider that this commandment applies to us as well – not in the sense that our salvation depends on the keeping of any law, but rather that we can find Jesus in all of the Biblical feasts. Jesus even told us that Moses wrote about Him in the Torah!
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. “I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:39-47)
Mike Shreve explains how the feasts point to our Messiah, in his article, “Should Christians Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord?”
It is extremely enlightening to see that every important event that ushered in the New Covenant coincided perfectly with the celebration of a major feast. Surely, the genius and sovereignty of God caused this amazing correlation to take place:
- The Crucifixion took place during the Feast of Passover.
- The Resurrection took place during the Feast of Firstfruits.
- The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place during the Feast of Pentecost.
Following this pattern, it is very logical to believe that the Messiah was probably born around the beginning of Fall, when shepherds were still in the fields and when the Feast of Tabernacles was being celebrated (a feast that symbolized how God had “tabernacled” among the Israelites during their wilderness journey). How fitting it would have been for the Messiah to “tabernacle” among us in the form of a baby, during the very feast that prophetically foretold this grand event!
The Old Testament abounds with revelations of Jesus and Passover is one of the most significant. The Bible teaches us often about the importance of a strong foundation and it is crucial to fully understand and embrace the Jewish foundations of our faith in order to draw nearer to God all of our days. We will continue to seek Him in every area of our lives and I pray that all who read this will do the same.