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Here is why Easter dates vary

Bishop Francis Aquirinus Kibira leads other Bishops in the procession for Mass. (PML Daily PHOTO)

KAMPALA – Christians world over are celebrating Easter. Although the day always falls on Sunday, the dates of this festival keep varying from year to year.

Easter, Latin Pascha, Greek Pascha, principal festival of the Christian church, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion.

The earliest recorded observance of an Easter celebration comes from the 2nd century, although the commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection probably occurred earlier.

The holiday, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, this year will fall on April 21, the latest it has taken since the turn of the century.

To anyone unfamiliar with the movement of the moon, the vagaries of the Julian and the Gregorian calendars and the March equinox, the date can seem somewhat random. But in fact, it is governed by strict rules.

Rev Father Dr. Kevin Musisi says the resurrection of Christ, a central doctrine of Christianity, is based on the belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion and that through his conquering of death all believers will subsequently share in his victory over “sin, death, and the devil.”

Dr. Musisi adds that the celebration of Easter is the major feast day of the church and the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are found in the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and that various theological expressions of the early church’s universal conviction and consensus that Christ rose from the dead are found throughout the rest of the New Testament, especially in the letters of the Apostle Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15).

He adds that although every year as the month of March approaches, the question on many minds is where the four-day Easter holiday will fall.

He explained that it is not an idle question but that the dates on which Easter falls vary by more than a month. Why? Who sets the dates anyway?

According to wiki.answers.com, the date is determined by a combination of events centred on the lunar cycle, the solar cycle, the division of each year into 365 days and a 1,700-year-old Church ruling.

He said the explanation starts with the fact that early Christians elected to link the date of Easter to the Hebrew calendar.

Faithful in Mukono District carrying the cross from the on Good Friday (PHOTO/ELIZABETH NAMAJJA)

The resurrection

The Bible in the New Testament states that the resurrection of Jesus took place on the first day of the week following Passover.

According to timeanddate.com, in 325AD, the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.

“And from that point forward, the Easter date depended on the approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox,” said Pastor Martin Nangoli, of Wake up ministries.

He explained that Easter is usually delayed by one week if the full moon is sighted on a Sunday, which decreases the chances of the holiday falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover.

Pastor Nangoli revealed that the council’s ruling, however, was contrary to the Quartodecimans, a group of Christians who celebrated Easter on the day of the full moon, 14 days into the month, says the website.

It is clear from theologians that Sunday is the first day of a Jewish week; the Passover falls on the day of the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which can fall on either March 20 or 21.

Pastor Gabriel Wamboga, a student of theology at Pentecostal Theology School in Mbale says that even then Easter is not celebrated universally on that date.

He added that according to Catholicism while Western Christians use the Gregorian calendar (the calendar that is used throughout the West today, in both the secular and religious worlds) to calculate the date of Easter, the Eastern Orthodox continue to use the older Julian calendar.

He explained that currently, March 21 on the Julian calendar falls on April 3 in the Gregorian calendar and that therefore, for the Orthodox, the Sunday following the 14th day of the full moon sighting has to fall after April 3, hence the discrepancy in the date of Easter.

Confusion

The confusion over the dates Easter falls has seen a group of Christians, under the umbrella of the World Council of Churches, leading the clamour to have a day fixed and there seems to be broad support for the idea.

In fact, Pope John XXIII is on record stating that there is nothing wrong with fixing the date of Easter, and his sentiments have been echoed by many in the World Council of Churches, the website notes.

The website; quoting Encyclopaedia Botanica says the second Sunday in April is the most favoured date.

“Fixing the date of Easter to a particular Sunday would still mean that Easter and the feasts related to it would be moveable but the movement would be restricted to a  span of seven dates [for example, the second Sunday in April must fall between 8 and 14,” says smart.net.

Many theologians have suggested that Easter should fall on the second Sunday of April each year and The world council of Churches in 1997 suggested replacing the current equation-based system with direct astronomical observation but this is yet to bear fruit.

Why is the date of Easter not fixed?

The short answer is that early Christians wanted to observe Easter around the time of the Jewish festival of Passover as that is when the Last Supper is thought to have taken place.

As the Hebrew calendar is based on both solar and lunar cycles, Passover changes each year and that, in turn, makes Easter change, too.

Added to that is another layer of complexity: Western Christians, including Protestants and Roman Catholics, and their Eastern Orthodox counterparts often celebrate on different dates thanks to differences in their calendars.

In 2014, Easter Sunday fell on the same day for both but this year; it is 21 April in the west and a week later on 28 April in the east.

However Many a Christian believe that Easter marks the season when the son of God, Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross at Mt Calvary in Jerusalem and the crucifixion was to atone for the sins of Christians, and theologians urge believers to dedicate the Easter season to repenting of their sins hence tagline.

“Jesus is the reason for the Easter season and if there is anyone in the world who has reason to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is a born again Christian,” said Bishop Andrew Mutengu of Word of Faith ministries.

He said although we actually commemorate the Resurrection as we worship as a local church body every Sunday, I appreciate a day—and a week preceding—to give this crowning truth of the Christian life.

He urged Christians this Easter season to meditate on Christ’s sufferings, witness to others by participating in the church’s soul winning and outreach efforts for Easter, to rejoice in the Resurrection by considering the daily implications of the Resurrection to your life as a Christian? As this will how Christianity is real (1 Corinthians 15:13–14), how Jesus is more powerful than sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:26–27), how you have been liberated to not serve sin (Romans 6:9–11) and how you have a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

“And above all, I urge Christians to pray for an opportunity to personally lead someone to Christ because there is no better way to celebrate the Resurrection than to see someone turn from darkness to light, from the hopeless bondage of sin to the joyful freedom of salvation,” said Bishop Mutengu.

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