Christmas and Easter
For many, Christmas and Easter are the two most important days of the year for Christianity. Christmas is always on December 25th (although that has not always been so; which is another story). Because Christmas is always on that date Christmas does not always fall on a Sunday, however the Sunday just prior to Christmas (or sometimes just following) is often called the “Christmas Sunday.” Easter is always on a Sunday, and it is always the first day of the week following the beginning of the Jewish Passover. According to Leviticus 23:5 the Passover was to begin in the evening of “the fourteenth day of the first month.” Barley was the first grain to ripen in the spring in the land of old Israel, and the “firstfruits” of the first harvest was to be offered to the LORD in association with the Passover (Leviticus 23:6-12). The Jewish months began at the time of the “new moon,” and so in ancient days the old priest and rabbis would set the beginning of their first month at the time of the “new moon” which would enable the first of the barley to be harvested before the Passover. We have a "shortcut” method to set the day for Easter today; it is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox (The “spring equinox” is the day spring begins). This is why Easter can occur as early as March 21st, or as late at April 20th, but it will always be on a Sunday.
There is nothing in the New Testament about Christmas, and there is no definite way to determine the season in which Jesus was born. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is not based on anything the Bible teaches, but on human tradition. The Bible DOES teach us that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week following the Passover (Matthew 28:1), and the New Testament tells us that Christians gathered together on “the first day of the week” to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:17 and 1 Corinthians 16:2), but there is nothing in the scriptures about making Easter Sunday a special Sunday above any other Sunday. The word “Easter” occurs in the King James Version in Acts 12:4, but the Greek word translated “Easter” is the word for the “Passover.” Perhaps the translators thought the English readers would more readily relate to the season of Easter than to the season of the Passover, but even so, there is nothing in the passage about celebrating Easter or designating Easter as a special Sunday.
The closest we come to an “Easter Sunday” in the New Testament is in Acts 20:6 where the text says, “We sailed from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread.” The “days of unleavened bread” are the days of the Passover week, so we know that Paul and his traveling companions were in Philippi that “Easter Sunday,” but there is nothing indicating that there was any special recognition of that first day above any other first day. Two weeks later Paul was gathered with the saints in Troas to “break bread” on “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). The proximity of that “first day of the week” to what we now call “Easter Sunday,” without any special mention of “Easter Sunday,” makes it evident that while the church always honored “the first day of the week,” they did not make a special occasion out of the annual Sunday following the Passover.
Because of human traditions, many people in our culture are thinking about the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and about his resurrection on Easter. Because of this, it is common to hear sermons about the birth of Jesus near Christmas and about the resurrection on Easter. It is never wrong to preach on the birth of Jesus or on his resurrection on any day, and simply preaching on these topics is not a “special celebration” of those events. However, there is nothing in the New Testament requiring special emphasis on these topics on these days, and it is common for these days to go unnoticed, as far as any religious significance associated with them is concerned, in the churches of Christ. Culturally, however, many Christians will celebrate these days with their families, and often we will have visitors, with either family or community connections, in our worship, that do not commonly attend on other Sundays. Every visitor is always welcome, and though we do not follow human tradition in elevating any first day of the week above another, I hope every visitor will always leave with the appreciation that we always want to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).