by Donald A.G. Burling
Easter is the one Christian festival for which we have the right date – more or less. One could also count Pentecost, which follows seven weeks later.
The ancients counted time by looking at the phases of the moon, one cycle of which they called a month. The problem was that twelve of these fell short of the solar year by about eleven days. The Moslem calendar ignores that problem, so that the month of Ramadan occurs earlier each year. The Jewish calendar gets over it by adding an extra month every second or third year
When God told Moses to celebrate the first Passover meal, just before the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, He directed that it should be held on the fourteenth day of the first month. (The Jews have also a secular New Year which they celebrate in the autumn.) Fourteen days from new moon means roughly full moon. Our calculation of Easter as the Sunday after the full moon which follows the Spring Equinox means that Easter and the Jewish Passover usually fall in the same week.
The crucifixion of Christ during the Passover festival was no coincidence. The slaughter of a lamb, its blood smeared on the doorposts and its flesh roasted and eaten, was chosen by God as the means by which the Israelites could escape the plague which was about to fall on the Egyptians. When John the Baptist hailed Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, he was probably thinking of the Passover lamb. The Jews who were plotting to get Jesus arrested had agreed not to do it during the feast, for fear of a riot when the city was full of people. But Judas’s offer to betray Him away from the crowd seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Jesus clearly knew where and when his death was to take place. Though distressed about it, He faced up to the necessity of the scripture being fulfilled. We might ask what scripture, for apart from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 there is not much in the Old Testament that obviously springs to mind. But when after His resurrection He spoke to the pair going to Emmaus, we are told He explained from all the scriptures, beginning with Moses, the things concerning Himself. We can be pretty sure that one of the things He mentioned would have been the symbolism of the Passover Lamb.
It is not only at Easter, but every time we take Communion, that we re-enact part of the Passover meal. It is as well to be reminded occasionally of the Jewish roots of our religion. And if we know any Jews let us treat them with respect, for they are still God’s chosen people.