The current judicial exercise in ensuring a hard separation between religion and the federal or state governments has a fairly short history. It really dates to the last century when Justice Hugo Black resurrected a comment that Thomas Jefferson had made in reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association. The Connecticut group had written to congratulate him upon his election to the Presidency in 1804. His use of the phrase â€œa wall of separationâ€ is its first occurrence in text in this land, and in its context it was used as part of his explanation as to why he had chosen not to call for a national day of fasting and thanksgiving as his two predecessors had done upon election. Justice Blackâ€™s appropriation of the remark was much more insidious.
Perhaps some of the readers noticed that Easter came fairly early this year. Many of us have been used to Easter falling either at the end of March or at the beginning or middle of April. But what you may not have noticed this year is that the Passover is four full week AFTER the celebration of Easter. Does anyone find this surprising? Does anyone find this troubling?
The last time I read my Bible it declared that Jesus was crucified and resurrected during the Passover weekend (John 13:1; 18:28,39; 19:14). So how can it be that Easter was celebrated a month before the Passover feast when we know Jesus was crucified during the Passover? Have the modern Jews miscalculated when the Passover feast ought to be kept? No, their Passover calculations are right. So what has gone wrong?
It seems that early on in the Catholic church there was disagreement on the date of Easter. This was the primary disagreement between the Celtic (Culdee) Church and Rome for many years, with the Celtic Church keeping the holiday on the fourteenth day after the paschal moon (according to the rule of the Council of Arles in 314 CE, and in spite of St. Augustine and the “Synod of the Oak”) and the Roman observing it between the fifteenth and twenty-first. This was pretty much settled at the famous Council of Whitby in 664 CE, with Aldhelm, the Bishop of Sherborne, persuading the Celtic Christians in Cornwall to conform to the Roman usage in the early part of the eighth century CE.
Rather than settle on observing Easter on the first Sunday after the Passover (making the most logical sense to me personally), it was decided to observe Easter on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. But there is a problem. The “full moon” in the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical “vernal equinox” is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25. The dating of Easter is based upon the movements of celestial bodies rather than from a calculation of the Passover.
But this is not the least of the problems with Easter. Easter is named after the pagan goddess Eostre, the goddess of fertility. The earthly symbol of this goddess was in the form of a bunny. The egg is also a pagan symbol for rebirth and fertility. Rather than teach the people to renounce their pagan ways, it seems the Catholic church incorporated already well known festivals into Christianity. It seems the simple name change from Eostre to Easter made these things tolerable.
I am not suggesting that there is an inherit sin in having our children hunt eggs and take pictures with Easter bunnies. My children enjoyed hunting eggs themselves this year. What is sad is to see so many people think that Easter is the day Jesus raised from dead. This year it was particularly obvious when Easter was observed a full month before the Passover feast. It is troubling to see the masses attach a great religious significance and religious leaders demand religious observance to something that does not have biblical origin, but pagan origin.
Perhaps this is why the first century disciples observed our Lord’s death on the first day of every week, in accordance with His commands (Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10). Maybe He knew we would turn the date into a secular circus.