“Why does the date for Easter change?” As a pastor, I am asked that question
from time to time. I found that many Christians do not know the reason why. So I thought I would share with you the reason behind its “moveable date”.
This year, we will celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 21. Easter, also called
“Pascha” (Greek/Latin) or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday celebrat-ing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
The date for Easter shifts every year within the Christian calendar, because it
follows the phases of the moon. Since Easter – unlike Christmas – was tied to a
Jewish festival – the Passover – a since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar –
the festival moves according to the calendars in general or civil use.
Indeed, the Gregorian calendar (used by most Western Christian churches) is the standard international calendar for civil use. However, that was not always the case. At the First Council of Nicaea, convened by the Roman Emperor Constan-tine in 325 CE, the Roman world used the Julian calendar (put in place by Julius Caesar). Because it was not quite accurate – no leap day, etc – over the years, Easter came later and later in the year – almost into summer. A new – and more accurate - calendar was needed!
This new calendar is referred to as the Gregorian calendar. (Interesting: because the Julian calendar was 10 days off by this time, in 1582, Oct 4th was followed by Oct. 15). One major difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars is the "leap year rule", which allowed the calendar to better reflect an accurate passing of time. Universal adoption of this Gregorian calendar occurred slowly. By the 1700's, though, most of Western Europe had adopted the Gregorian Calendar.
The Eastern Christian churches (Orthodox churches) – to this day - still deter-
mine their Easter dates using the older Julian calendar method.
So basically Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs next after the vernal equinox (March 21). Easter can never occur before March 22 or later thanApril 25.