New Year’s Day is January 1st. Valentine’s Day is February 14th. Independence Day is July 4th. Halloween is October 31st. Christmas is December 25th. But Easter? Uh……
Easter is that rare holiday that is unpredictable in regards to when it falls on the calendar. At least it’s unpredictable to anyone who doesn’t keep up with the moon. For the record, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring (vernal) equinox. That setup goes all the way back to the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
The thought process the Council of Nicaea used to arrive at that annual date was centered around the yearly Jewish Passover. That first full moon of the spring (vernal) equinox is also known as the Paschal (Passover) moon because that moon was the date of the Passover in the Jewish Calendar. Well, the Bible tells us that Jesus ate the Passover meal with His chosen 12 disciples the night before His crucifixion. That was the famous “last supper” in which He instituted The Lord’s Supper as part of the meal. Okay, since the Bible also tells us that He was crucified the next day, the following Sunday must have been resurrection Sunday, the Sunday we now call Easter.
Getting back to the lunar side of things, the word “equinox” means “equal night” and is a reference to the fact that the spring (vernal) equinox is the yearly date when night and day are nearly the exact same length all over the world. This means that Easter can fall anytime between March 22nd and April 25th. The last time it fell on March 22 was 1818, and the last time it fell on April 25th was 1943.
Of course it doesn’t help that some parts of the world use the Gregorian calendar and other parts use the Julian calendar. Those calendars differ by thirteen days. This has created the concepts of a Western (Gregorian) Easter and an Eastern (Julian) Easter. Typically, Western Easter and Eastern Easter are one week apart, even though there are certain years where the holiday falls on the same Sunday.
The interesting thing about all this is that Easter basically becomes something of a surprise each year in that us common folks have to check the calendar to find out exactly when it falls. In this way, we are like the apostles and all the rest of Christ’s followers. That first Easter was certainly a surprise to them.
Despite the fact that Jesus had forewarned them that He was going to be put to death and then resurrect, they really didn’t believe any of it. Even when the part about Him being put to death occurred, they still didn’t believe that the other part would happen as well. Early on that glorious Sunday morning, however, the process of convincing them officially began. We might say that the empty tomb was Christ’s way of saying to all of them, “Surprise!”