The only annual feast that the apostles’ churches kept, as far as I can tell, is Passover. Over time, that has become Easter.
I won’t concern myself with how it got to be Easter, whether there were pagan origins, etc. More importantly, I am concerned with what Easter means to Christians today.
Easter today means coloring eggs, hiding eggs, finding eggs, and eating chocolate bunnies.
For Christians it means an over-attended church service, usually too warm because of all the people crammed into a usually half-filled auditorium. It means a salvation sermon because the pastor knows that many of the people in the pews are Christians in name only who attend church once to three times per year.
For committed Christians, it means a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus because we have forgotten Easter’s real origins.
Easter was originally the early churches’ Passover. It was the one time of year that the churches celebrated the death of Jesus. The resurrection was celebrated every Sunday. One of the main reasons that Christians held a corporate meeting on Sunday was to celebrate the resurrection. In fact, it was a tradition that they did not kneel on Sunday because that was a day of celebration.
Passover, however, was a day to celebrate the Jesus’ sacrifice and all it accomplished. It was the day to recognize him as the Passover Lamb, the one slain from the foundation of the world to bring in the new creation, the kingdom of which we are a part. It celebrated our release from Egypt and from our bondage to sin.
If we want to return to the practice of the apostles, let’s not reject “Easter” and call this yearly feast day “Resurrection Sunday.” Let us recognize that every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, and let’s reject “Easter” and call this yearly feast day “Passover,” which is what it was originally.
His death was not ignored on Sundays. As many of you know, communion/eucharist was celebrated at least every Sunday by the early churches, and the eucharist is, of course, a reminder that his body was broken and his blood spilled for us, for our sins, for our salvation, and for the establishing of the New Covenant. Nonetheless, the earliest Christians give consistent testimony that Sunday was celebrated weekly as the day upon which he rose.
Free Bonus: The Sabbath and the Council of Nicea
Passover is the reason that so many people wrongly claim that the Council of Nicea changed the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday.
That never happened. Instead, from the earliest days of the church, there was a difference between the celebration of Passover in the western churches and in the eastern churches. While Anicetus was bishop of Rome (155-166) he tried to force the eastern churches to celebrate Passover on the Sunday nearest Nisan 14 (the day for Passover prescribed in the Law) rather than on Nisan 14 itself.
The eastern churches objected, and Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, wrote a very strong letter back to Anicetus informing him that Ephesus would be continuing in the tradition received from the apostle John.
Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna, went to Rome when Anicetus tried to excommunicate the eastern churches for not complying, and he brought Anicetus to his senses. Irenaeus (a disciple of Polycarp) relates the story in such a way that it seems Anicetus was quite a gracious host and brother when Polycarp came, and they settled their differences quickly.
Only a couple decades later, Eleutherius, another bishop of Rome, also tried to force the eastern churches to switch to a Sunday passover. This time it was Irenaeus, originally of Smyrna and a hearer of Polycarp, who corrected Eleutherius. Irenaeus was now in the west, in what is now Trier, Germany, as a missionary and overseer of several churches. Being in the west, he had interaction with the Roman church because it was the closest apostolic church to his field of ministry. (Consultation with apostolic churches like Rome, Corinth, Philippi, etc. was important at that time.)
This is known as the Quartodeciman Controversy. Quartodeciman means fourteen or fourteenth and refers to Nisan 14, the date of Passover. In the Hebrew Scriptures it is Abib 14. Somehow Abib became Nisan later. Either way, it was the first month of the Jewish calendar.
As an interesting aside, the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, so the Passover always falls on a full moon. Lunar eclipses can only happen during the full moon as well, so this year’s “blood moon” on the day of Passover is not really a remarkable occurrence.
Things settled down, but the differences remained until the Council of Nicea.
Since the council was meant to unite the empire as much as the church, they decided to unify the practice of the churches. By then, very few churches were still celebrating Passover on Nisan 14 each year. Most were already rejecting Jewish practice and celebrating on the nearest Sunday.
There was never a controversy about the weekly Sabbath. Christians are part of a spiritual nation that can keep perpetual Sabbath. The churches held Sunday meetings to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, which also left the Sabbath day free for Jewish Christians to attend synagogue or rest. (Acts is clear that while Jewish believers are not under the Law any more than the Gentiles are, most, including the apostles, chose to continue keeping the Law except where it hindered fellowship with the Gentiles.)