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Yeshua Explored

Passover

todayApril 12, 2021 11

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Most of us celebrate the day of our birth. Some of us even have the day of our death celebrated, although we are not around to bask in all the attention! Although there are Biblical examples of folk returning after death, only one person has had his return from death still celebrated over 2,000 years afterwards. You’d think this unique, significant occasion would have its day sealed in stone, permanently inscribed in the records of human history. You’d be wrong.

The fact that the date of Jesus’ resurrection is contested and used divisively ironically demonstrates its importance, due to the propensity of Christians to royally mess the important things up!

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

The early Church acknowledged the historical setting for this event and celebrated it based on the day of the Passover meal, Nisan 14th in the Hebrew calendar, considered to be the day of the crucifixion, although the correct day would more probably have been Nisan 15th. So we already have confusion. The practice of celebrating these events on Nisan 14th even had a name, Quartodecimanism, just one of the many -isms churned out by the Greek-influenced Church and simply being the Latin phrase for “the fourteeners”.

Jewish Christians at this time had a dilemma. Should they celebrate Passover in the traditional sense with other Jews, or a ‘Passover-in-the-light-of-Jesus’ among themselves. In 175 AD, Melito of Sardis, (said to be fifth in line in terms of apostolic succession, starting with the apostle John), facilitated the latter by creating the first Passover Haggadah (Passover order of service), Peri Pascha, that took Jesus into account. It starts by recounting the Exodus story from Exodus 12, but splices in Jesus’ story, prompted by 1 Corinthians 5:7-8:

 For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

In the Peri Pascha, Melito compares Jesus’ victory over death with Moses’ victory over Pharaoh. He also identifies the broken Matzah (unleavened bread) with the broken body of Jesus and also develops the theme of the afikomen, the bread that is hidden away and brought back near the end of the service. He speaks of this in the context of Jesus’ return, even using a Greek term, aphikomenos, to refer to this. Surely this was a worthy exercise, cementing the Christian faith into the practices of the Jewish events that underpinned it? Worthy it may have been, but the new Church leaders thought otherwise.

At the end of the 2nd Century, Pope Victor I tried to excommunicate those who were using these dates, in order to maintain some kind of unity in the Church. He failed. The fact is that by this time many were favouring the closest Sunday to the date, in order to match up with the Gospel record, if not the actual date.

The growing anti-Jewish sentiment in the Church reached a new level when the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the State religion of the Roman Empire. On the issue of the dating of Resurrection Day he was adamant, but he certainly wasn’t Prince Charming (obscure 1980s pop music reference, look it up). He made his position clear in a letter written after the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Here is the letter in full, with pertinent content underlined:

“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 honourable 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 honourable 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.”

As a politician, he achieved his objectives under the pretence of “unity”, but as a Christian afflicted with the virus of anti-Semitism he couldn’t resist some very nasty digs towards the Jewish people. So Passover was no more in Christendom, replaced by Easter, named after an old English goddess called Eostre, who already happened to have a feast in her honour at that time of the year. In terms of the timing of Easter, the initial binding rules were its total independence from the Jewish calendar (and the actual date of the festival) and the need for universal acceptance in the name of Church unity. Nowadays in the West, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon after the March equinox.

This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/shalom-239-p.asp

How did Passover become Easter? 

Written by: Miriam Emenike

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