What could be more cute than little girls and boys, dressed in their new spring clothes, gleefully hunting colored eggs? What could be more fun than those same girls and boys giggling joyfully at the site of an Easter Basket stuffed full of goodies on Easter morning? What could be more innocent than a day full of hope and warm feelings – and perhaps a special church service? Believe it or not, the day is far more controversial than you might imagine.
While the Resurrection of Jesus has apparently been celebrated since the very early days of Christianity, the form of celebration has taken some surprising turns along the way. Initially, the celebration was folded into the Jewish Passover. This seemed appropriate since Jesus had celebrated His last Passover supper with his disciples and had Himself fulfilled the promise of the Passover Lamb.
Just a few generations from Jesus, however, the controversy was already stirring. The Church in Jerusalem and Asia Minor continued to celebrate the Resurrection beginning on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, and continued through the festival of Unleavened Bread regardless of the day of the week on which it landed. The church in Rome was insistent that the celebration had to end on The Lords Day (Sunday) since that was the day of the week on which the Resurrection had occurred.
The controversy stirred for years. The first confrontation, between a direct disciple of the Apostle John named Polycarp and Roman Bishop Anicetus, ended in a stalemate. Although neither of the ministers could persuade the other from their position, they did not perceive it a sufficient enough disagreement to dissolve their fellowship. Asia Minor would continue celebrating with the Jewish people while Rome would celebrate on Sunday.
As the church at Rome became more powerful, more and more pressure was added to set a universal date for the celebration. Initial threats of excommunication which were later rescinded, eventually devolved into the removal of pastors from their pulpits when they refused to comply with the official dates. Finally, Emperor Constantine stepped into the conversation with his own views. With power to impose his opinions, he called the First Council of Nicea in AD 325.
Among other, arguably more important decisions, it was decided that Jesus’ Resurrection would be celebrated by all churches each year on the Sunday following the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. Sounds a little like politics to me. Just Sayin’…
Next time we will take a quick look at the modern traditions of Easter and where they came from.