Springtime on the Christian liturgical calendar is punctuated by a series of holy days, culminating in Easter—the celebration of the resurrection of Yeshua. Though many of the lesser-known annual events are not universally kept by Christians, the observance of Easter is easily the climax of the calendar. Recognized on a given Sunday every late March or April, this anniversary of the Messiah’s conquering of death represents the pinnacle of worship in the Church… but it wasn’t always this way.
After Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God instituted a calendar of holy days for His people. Having reoriented the beginning of the year to Springtime (Ex. 12:2), God designated special days to be set apart every year for Israel to remember both their history with God, and His wondrous and generous character toward them (Lev. 23, Deut. 16). These feasts, fasts and appointed times tactilely illustrated to Israel how God had provided for them in the past, and promised to care for them in the future.
Over the next one and a half millennia, Israel would struggle to consistently remember and keep this covenantal calendar. Nevertheless, it would survive until the time when the Word of God became flesh, and lived and walked among His Jewish people.
On the evening before His execution, Yeshua celebrated the first of the biblical calendar’s annually appointed feasts (Mat. 26:17ff, Mark 14:12ff, Luke 22:7ff). Previewing His own sacrificial death, the Messiah used His last Passover feast to show His disciples how He would give His own body and blood in exchange for their eternal lives. Then, during the adjacent Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Master was crucified, buried and raised from the dead, echoing God’s pattern for that appointed time. For just as that Feast memorialized Israel’s deliverance from slavery, now they might also remember their deliverance from sin—through the atoning blood of the Messiah.
It would take nearly a decade before the Good News of Yeshua would spread beyond the thousands of Jewish followers of Yeshua (Acts 21:20) throughout the Gentile world. Non-Jewish believers were eventually taught specifically about Passover and Unleavened Bread, which both Yeshua and Paul had associated with Yeshua’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7-8). For several more decades, Jews and Gentiles would come together in previously unprecedented and unheard-of ways—physically, materially and spiritually united in the household of God through Yeshua (Eph. 2:14-19). Sadly, that unity would not last.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people, the influence of Jewish leadership in the Body of Messiah quickly waned. In the wake of a swiftly expanding non-Jewish Church, and in the shadow of an already growing anti-Jewish sentiment (see Rom. 11, especially), new, non-Jewish leadership arose. Soon, even apologists such as Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) were teaching the replacement of Israel as God’s people, claiming that Christians were “the true Israelitic race.”
While Jewish believers went on following the biblical calendar, there were also some in the growing Christian church who continued to commemorate the Passover as a remembrance of Yeshua’s sacrifice. They relied upon the Jewish community to inform them of the current dates on the Jewish calendar, which dictated the appropriate time to observe their celebration of Yeshua’s death and resurrection. During this time, Christians experienced intense persecution at the hands of Rome, but that chapter ended when Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian. He then convened the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, which, despite its positive achievements, would long sever Christianity’s connection to its Jewish origins.
Finding dependence upon and continued association with Jews detestable, the leaders of the Church made anti-Semitic pronouncements against them, as Constantine decreed that the Church’s connection with Passover would be exchanged for the institution of Easter. With that, the Church’s liturgical calendar was conceived. Christianity’s disconnection from Israel’s holy days was more than just symbolic—it represented her zealous disconnection from the Jewish people.
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When followers of Yeshua reconnect with the biblical calendar, it restores an ancient unity that has been largely lost for nearly two thousand years. It reassociates believers not just with the holy days observed by our Messiah, but with the Jewish people who continue to keep them today. By separating from Jews and the biblical calendar, the early Church not only defied the explicit Scriptural admonition regarding unity between Jews and Gentiles in the Body (Gal. 3:28), but created a thoroughly separate religion, alienated from both the citizenship of Israel (Eph. 2:12) and the rich spiritual heritage embedded in Israel’s appointed times.
As exhorted by Paul, Christians—along with believing Jews—can still find and see themselves in the biblical calendar, identifying with its inherent teachings about how God cares for His children, and expects them to trust and grow in Him. A treasure of truth awaits those who seek to restore their connection with the calendar and the people of Israel. Indeed, the fullness of our “unleavened” reality is waiting to be revealed, “for our Pesach—Messiah—was also sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7, mjlt).
Constantine did not become a Christian. He allowed Christianity to take part in the culture of polytheism. To say that Easter was chosen as a holiday for Christians is very problematic. Easter, or Oestra was a goddess of fertility. That’s where all the bunnies and chicks come in. Scripture says “do not invoke the names of other gods or even let them be heard crossing your lips” Exodus 23:13. Oestra, from which comes estrus, is not a christian reason to celebrate. What Constantine did do was separate the Jews and Gentiles.
I agree with you, Aggie. Making Easter a Christian holiday was problematic—especially as it pertained to the separation between Jews and Gentiles, as you pointed out. I am not attempting to make any statement affirming that decision of the early Church. I’m just saying that it happened.
As for Constantine not being a Christian, your point is taken. My research indicated that he was, but I see I should have been more nuanced in my statement. Thank you!