I am acquainted with a family that many years ago moved to the United States from Canada. One of the children, now a middle aged adult, told me that when they were still young children growing up among Americans that the parents refused to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. They were, after all, Canadian and that was not their day. As far as that family was concerned it was an ordinary work day— even though all their friends and neighbors were feasting. Now I also know a lot of Canadians who are quite happy to enjoy another feast day even if it is not one they have back in Canada.
What kind of message does it send when we reject someone's special day? Suppose that a father has two sons. If he makes a big deal over his older son's birthday but ignores his younger son's birthday— what would we assume about their relationship? Does he have some hostility towards his younger son? Does this imaginary scenario give us any insight into Easter?
I have already discussed the Quartodeciman Controversy in another topic. The early church celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus according to the Jewish calendar— at the time of Passover on the 14th through the 16th days of the first lunar month of the year— but by the 2nd century there were parts of the church in the west that wanted to break away from the Jewish calendar and celebrate the resurrection on the following Sunday.
In this topic I will look at the motivating factors for the Christian separation of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the Jewish calendar. Since we have always known Easter to be on a Sunday it seems impossible to imagine that it could ever have been any other way. However, in the Jewish calendar the annual festivals are tied to days of the lunar month rather than the day of the week.
Constantine the Great advocated that Christians separate from the Jewish calendar in celebrating Easter to honor of the resurrection of Jesus. Eusebius, the earliest historian of Christianity, also wrote a three volume Life of Constantine. Constantine's views on Easter and his desire to part ways with the Jewish calendar are described in Book III, Chapter 18. I hesitate to quote it as it is quite harsh— I consider it hate speech. But I think it is important that we understand our history.
Chapter 18. He speaks of their Unanimity respecting the Feast of Easter, and against the Practice of the Jews.
At this meeting the question concerning the most holy day of Easter was discussed, and it was resolved by the united judgment of all present, that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day. For what can be more becoming or honorable to us than that this feast from which we date our hopes of immortality, should be observed unfailingly by all alike, according to one ascertained order and arrangement? And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages, by a truer order, which we have preserved from the very day of the passion until the present time. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. A course at once legitimate and honorable lies open to our most holy religion. Beloved brethren, let us with one consent adopt this course, and withdraw ourselves from all participation in their baseness. For their boast is absurd indeed, that it is not in our power without instruction from them to observe these things. For how should they be capable of forming a sound judgment, who, since their parricidal guilt in slaying their Lord, have been subject to the direction, not of reason, but of ungoverned passion, and are swayed by every impulse of the mad spirit that is in them? Hence it is that on this point as well as others they have no perception of the truth, so that, being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Easter twice in the same year. Why then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error? Surely we shall never consent to keep this feast a second time in the same year. But supposing these reasons were not of sufficient weight, still it would be incumbent on your Sagacities to strive and pray continually that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked men. We must consider, too, that a discordant judgment in a case of such importance, and respecting such religious festival, is wrong. For our Saviour has left us one feast in commemoration of the day of our deliverance, I mean the day of his most holy passion; and he has willed that his Catholic Church should be one, the members of which, however scattered in many and diverse places, are yet cherished by one pervading spirit, that is, by the will of God. And let your Holinesses' sagacity reflect how grievous and scandalous it is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again, that after the days of Easter some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fasts. It is, then, plainly the will of Divine Providence (as I suppose you all clearly see), that this usage should receive fitting correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule.
How are we to think of this information? How should we respond?
My hope for this forum is that we might promote reconciliation and harmony. There is no doubt that the 2nd century Christian abandonment of Passover and its replacement with Easter Sunday has its origin in hostility towards Judaism and the Jewish people. However, it would not promote reconciliation and harmony if we turned it around and applied the same hostile spirit back towards Easter Sunday. Many Christians are not aware of this dark side to Easter and would understandably assume that anything that disparages Easter is against Jesus.
If we have a spirit of reconciliation we will not be practicing hostility towards the special days of the people we want to be reconciled with. We will seek to remember the resurrection of Jesus and respect the time when others are celebrating it— even if the original motive for that time had hostile origins. And we will also seek to remember and respect the time according to the Biblical calendar when the Jewish people celebrate deliverance from Egypt— and also the death and resurrection of Jesus according to that ancient calendar. Above all— we should honor Jesus and never let these controversies detract from that.
If we can enter into these celebrations with goodwill towards our friends who are celebrating them then we will do well. If we have have a contentious or argumentative spirit about these days it might be best if we remained silent.
“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19 NRSV)