I recently answered a question about how we landed on December 25th as the date to celebrate Christmas in the Western Church. Unlike Christmas, Easter is not on a set date. So how do we figure out when Easter will be celebrated? This one’s easy…we only have to look at a calendar and check to see which day says “Easter” on it. But since I’m guessing that A) that’s not a satisfactory answer and B) those who read that as a joke found it to be flatter than a pancake, let’s move on…
Here’s what Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church had to say on the subject.
“For several generations a debate raged concerning the date of Christ’s resurrection. Known as the Quartodeciman (fourteen-day) Controversy, the debate was whether the Jewish dating of Passover on the fourteenth day of the lunar month of Nisan [usually falls between March and April in our calendar] should be used as the date of Easter. Because, according to this method, this date could fall on any day of the week, Easter could be celebrated on a Wednesday. In the fourth century, a decision was finally made: “Never on any day other than the Lord’s Day should the mystery of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead be celebrated…on that day alone we should observe the end of the Paschal fast.” (Eusebius, History of the Church). For Western Christians, Easter was finally established as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox. Thus Easter serves as a fulcrum for the liturgical calendar for almost half the year.”
Many argued for a fixed date, including Luther who had frustrations with “wobbling festivals” which were celebrated depending on the date of Easter. For a good chunk of the year, we have to know when Easter is celebrated in order to count forward or back around it. Christmas is always on December 25, and Advent starts 4 weeks before. We then have Epiphany which begins 12 days after Christmas (January 6th). So we have to know when Easter Falls in order to know when Epiphany ends and Lent begins since Lent begins 40 days before Easter.
I know the question, “Why do Eastern churches celebrate on a different day?” is floating around in some minds as they read this, and there is a lot of history that goes into that explanation which we will save for another post in the future.
In the meantime, if you have a question or want to discuss any of the topics covered in this post further, send me an email so we can chat.