A study by Rev. Aaron Eime on the similarities and differences between the closely-related festivals of the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover.
The Feast of Passover
The 8 day Feast of Passover (Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread) has ended for 2016.
This has been a time of eating, drinking, singing and prayers. Even the non-religious Jewish people will have engaged in many of the prayers at Passover. In Jewish tradition the Exodus represents the greatest act of Redemption undertaken by the Lord for His people.
In this season we will have remembered that with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God redeemed a people for Himself. Once we were slaves and now we are free. Many families have formed their own traditions in connection to this special time. For my family, we have the tradition of watching The Prince of Egypt together at Passover.
Connecting Passover and Easter
The first day of Passover began with the Seder, the evening meal and the liturgical retelling of the Exodus as part of the action of remembering.
Following Passover is the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread. By the time of Jesus the two festivals (Passover and Unleavened Bread) and the traditions around them had merged into one long 8 day festival simply termed Passover. Eight days became the time frame of celebration for festivals, like Hanukkah and Tabernacles. Each day of the festival has portions of Scripture to read and study and prayers to pray. Interestingly, the Haftorah portion of Scripture (the reading from the Prophets) that is read on the last and eighth day to end the Passover is full of messianic hope of a future Redeemer. It is Isaiah 10:32-12:6 where Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of God resting on the Branch of Jesse (the Messiah).
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (19th Century Rabbi) once made the connection between the first and last days of Passover:
"The first night of Passover is our festival commemorating our redemption from Egypt by the Holy One, Blessed be He, this was the first redemption, carried out through Moses, our teacher, who was the first redeemer: it was the beginning. The last day of Passover is our festival commemorating the final redemption, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem us from the last exile though our righteous Messiah, who is the final redeemer. The first day of Passover is the Moses festival, the last day of Passover is the Messiah’s feast."
Obviously there is a connection with the Christian festival of Easter and Passover, with many in the Church both historically and presently calling Easter the ‘Christian Passover’, which is also an 8 day holy week, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Both festivals carry a historical hope for the community. Jesus was killed at Passover and Easter Sunday rejoices at His resurrection. While there is a historical connection, we find that this year Easter occurred 3 weeks prior to Passover. Thus we managed to celebrate a resurrection before a crucifixion. Strange, so how did that happen?
Solar and Lunar Calendars
The Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, while the Christian calendars (both Julian and Gregorian) adhere to a solar cycle. The date of Passover is set from the Biblical text to be the 14th of Aviv, now called Nisan. Jesus celebrates Passover in Jerusalem and then is crucified, becoming the Passover lamb. Because the Gospels indicate that He was resurrected early Sunday morning, redeeming the world, the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE decided that Easter needed to always fall on a Sunday. Thus cementing in motion the divergent calendars we have today, however it was not always so.
Early Believers Had No Problem With Jewishness
The early believers in Messiah were all Jewish and Gentile God-fearers.
They read and studied the Hebrew Bible and followed the Torah and Jewish Festivals just as Jesus had done. This included the celebration of Passover on the 14th of Nisan. The early believers had no problem continuing the Jewish liturgical / calendrical / scriptural practices of their forefathers. This continued well into the 4th Century, that is 300 years after Jesus.
Gentile Christians who followed the lunar calendar and celebrated Passover according to the Jewish Calendar were known as Quartodecimans (Latin for the fourteenth of Nisan).
Initially there was no hostility towards those who chose to continue to observe Passover and those who chose to observe the ‘Christian Passover, the Feast of the Resurrection’.
Tension grew over time and as the number of Jewish believers became significantly a minority. Western Christianity had the weakest linkage to the early Jewish church in Jerusalem. Culturally the West followed a solar calendar and with differences in language and thinking to the East, led to the build up of antagonism towards Jewish practise and Jewish people, culminating into ‘Replacement Theology’.
The Name "Easter"
The name Easter first appears in the 7th Century to describe the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection.
Easter is indeed a derivative of a pagan goddess associated with Spring festivals. While no one worships the goddess Ishtar at Easter it is for this reason the Orthodox Christian traditions in the East still call the festival of Easter by its Greek name, Pascha, which is the Greek translation of Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover.
Connecting the Dots
In losing the connection of Easter / Pascha to the Hebraic source we arrive at our current scenario where we celebrate a resurrection before the time of a crucifixion.
The Passover reminds us of the redemptive activity of God, both in the past through Moses and the Messiah, and in the future redemption of the world with the return of Jesus. In contrast, the Easter culture gives us bunnies, eggs and chocolates. Celebrating the Easter resurrection is very important. It would be remiss, not just ignorance, to neglect the connection to Passover and to supplant a memorial of redemption that God commanded to be observed for all time in Exodus 12:14.
"This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord, an ordinance forever."
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