This year, Passover and Easter coincide. That is what you would expect when you read the Gospels, since the implication seems to be that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal. However, Passover and Easter do not always coincide. Indeed, every so often, Passover and Easter are celebrated nearly a month apart. Why does this happen?
Well, it all has to do with how time is measured. We probably all know that our calendar is based on the time that it takes the earth to revolve around the sun. That is not exactly 365 days, but it is close enough that adding a day—February 29—every four years seems largely to correct things. However the Hebrew calendar, used to determine the date for Passover, is different. It is based on the time it takes the moon to revolve around the earth, which ends up with a year that is only 354 days. In order to keep the Hebrew calendar in synch with the seasons, an extra month is added seven years out of every nineteen years, which again seems largely to correct any problems.
However, back in the 3rd Century, as the Hebrew calendar was being systematized by Jewish leaders, the Church was developing a way to calculate a date for Easter that would allow folks to figure out on their own when the holiday would be and not depend on a yearly proclamation from the Bishop of Rome establishing the date. That calculation, roughly, is that Easter would be on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21, the spring equinox in many places. The problem was that the two groups doing this work did not speak with each other, and so the Church’s Easter calculation never took into account the systemization of adding an extra month in the Hebrew calendar. And that lack of communication is why sometimes Easter and Passover are celebrated about a month apart.
Of course, these days, Jewish and Christian leaders have finally learned the value of speaking with each other, working alongside each other towards shared ends, respecting each other’s differences. It is a lesson that has been learned in the spilled blood of Jews and Christians and a whole lot of people who are of neither of those faith traditions, through pogroms and war, genocide and the Holocaust. It is a lesson that, tragically, needs to be relearned in these times of increasing polarization and strident nationalism that has resulted in displays of cold cruelty and stunning violence. We can treat others with respect no matter our differences. We can work together to make life better for everyone, but only if we are willing to learn how to speak, how to listen.
–Pastor Don Steele