What is Easter?
Easter is the oldest and most important festival of the Western Christian year, celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection (rising from the grave) following his crucifixion on Good Friday. Easter Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week (but not part of it), and the first day of Eastertide. Easter marks the end of the 40 days of Lent. Easter Sunday (or simply Easter Day) is the first day of the Easter Week which ends on Easter Saturday.
Christ’s resurrection forms the basis of Christian faith as it demonstrates Jesus to be the Son of God, and symbolizes his conquest of death.
The Easter Story
According to the Gospels it was at sunrise on the first Easter Day – the 3rd day following Jesus’ death – that the women who followed Jesus found the great stone blocking his tomb had been rolled away, and the tomb empty. The Gospel of John (20.14-16) relates how Mary Magdalene meets Jesus by the tomb, but does not at first recognise him, taking him to be a gardener. Finally realising that he has indeed risen from the dead, as he had promised he would, she runs to tell the disciples the good news.
These events fulfil the prophecy that ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinful men, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’ (Luke 24.7).
Easter is related to the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover).
How is the date of Easter calculated?
Easter is a ‘moveable feast’, which means that its date is not fixed in the calendar, but is instead calculated according to the lunar calendar, formalised in Ecclesiastical date tables. It is based on the date of the vernal equinox. In AD 325 the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. The date of Easter Sunday can thus fall between March 22 and April 25. The date of Orthodox Easter (also known as Pascha) as celebrated in Eastern Christianity is the same as Easter in some years, but differs in other years.