Last weekend was Palm Sunday, the first day of the Christian Holy Week, a seven-day span that culminates today.
This weekend is Easter and Passover which have a number of similarities but are very different holidays. This year the two holidays overlap but that only happens in some years and they can occur a month apart.
I remember as a young boy learning via The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci depicted Jesus having a Seder dinner. I think I asked a teacher why we Christians didn’t have a seder too and was told it was because it was associated with Judaism.
I was older when I learned that in early Church history (the first two centuries) the followers of Jesus commemorated the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the same day as Passover. In fact, Easter was known then as Pascha – the Greek for Passover.
Last night was “Good Friday” when the Last Supper occurred. The term “Good Friday” also confused me as a kid. What was so good about Jesus being betrayed and arrested? The “good” part comes from the obsolete sense of “pious or holy.” Since we already had a whole week of holy days, why didn’t we just call it Holy Friday?
The term “Last Supper” does not even appear in the New Testament. It is traditionally how most Christians refer to the day while Protestants usually use the term “Lord’s Supper.” The Eastern Orthodox use the term “Mystical Supper” and the Russian Orthodox use the term “Secret Supper.”
The Jewish feast of Passover was instituted 3,400 years ago and Easter and Christianity and its holidays emerged in the centuries after Jesus’ death. Easter as a holiday commemorates Jesus’ triumphant arrival in the city of Jerusalem for Passover, where he was greeted by a crowd of people laying palm branches at his feet as a sign of respect.
The Passover meal, according to biblical law, had to be eaten in a state of purity. The pilgrims, including Jesus, entered the city to undergo a week-long ritual of purification.
At that meal, Jesus established the sacrament of Communion using elements of the Passover seder. In the New Testament, Jesus is called the Passover lamb.
Passover was a time to remember the exodus of the ancient Hebrew people from Egypt. It is still celebrated by having a meal where families and friends of the family read scripture while drinking four glasses of wine and eating foods that represent the exodus from slavery.
Much of Easter has been commercialized and has little to do with the religious meaning of the day. Even non-Christians are aware of Easter eggs, baskets of candy, and a silly Easter Bunny. Still, both holidays use eggs as symbols of rebirth and resurrection. Both celebrations include sweet foods.
Differences? Jewish people gather to remember hard times and celebrate freedom while Christians gather to celebrate a miracle.
Both are moveable feasts of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere). Passover takes place during the Hebrew calendar month of Nissan, as prescribed in Exodus 12:18 which commands that Passover be celebrated, “from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.”
Easter is traditionally celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) that lands on or just after the spring equinox and it changes on the solar calendar.
Moses is the primary person remembered on Passover while Easter celebrates Jesus.
The word “holiday” comes from the Old English word hāligdæg (hālig “holy” + dæg “day”) and originally it only referred to special religious days. In modern usage, it has been used broadly to mean any dedicated day or period of celebration in North America) and in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, “holiday” is often used instead of the word vacation.
Passover is 7 – 8 nights. Though Easter is one holy day, it has 7 holy days preceding it. (Unfortunately, the commercial holiday part of it starts at least a month before.)
More about Easter and Passover including Eostre, rabbits, and why we color eggs.