For millions of Christians across the world this weekend, Easter isn’t just about the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs. Traditionally, the Easter feast is a celebration commemorating the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in fact the most important feast in the Christian calendar dating back to the second and third centuries when Christians quietly and in hiding commemorated Christ’s death, mainly in house churches, away from the prying eyes of Roman authorities.
The appeal of this religion’s strength certainly came in abundance, with people across the Mediterranean, particular the Greek-speaking world, converting in droves. The belief that Jesus rose from the dead after being crucified, offered Christians motivation that if they believed and adhered to the teachings of Christ, they too would rise again after death and attain the promise of salvation and eternal life in heaven. This belief alone set them apart from Judaism, polytheists and other cults.
This central belief in ‘life after death’ or victory over death’ certainly heralded in a new era by the fourth century, when Constantine The Great adopted Christianity and pushed its cause into the centre of Roman consciousness. But the message of Easter, if we can get back to the point, was not attributed to Constantine but to the tireless work of early church fathers like St. Paul. However, the first mention of Easter in any record is attributed in a second century Paschal homily written by Melito, the bishop of Sardis (d.180 AD). He intended this homily to be read aloud on the morning of Paschal (Passover).
Interestingly, Easter was at first observed with Jewish Passover, but with the influence of Constantine and after the First Council of Nicaea in 325, Easter would be observed on Sunday. The date for observing the resurrection of Christ, was however changeable, but as long as it was always commemorated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Even so calculating the date of Easter does vary in East and West. As the Christian church split in the early centuries, Easter was calculated by using a Gregorian calendar for Western Christians and a Julian calendar Eastern Christians.
All this Easter controversy (the correct date) is forgivable, with the bigger picture being that all Christians at heart believe the same thing. That Christ died for their sins, he was buried and rose from the dead. His resurrection for most Christians is also forever linked to redemption and rebirth.
Photo credit: The header image of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection is a painting by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, c.1835.
*This article was originally published in April 2015. It has been updated here with a new introduction.