Monthly Archives: April 2015

The True Date of Jesus’ Death: Part V: Full Date of Jesus’ Death

INTRODUCTION

As discussed in the previous blog posts on this topic, I decided to write an article on when Jesus died so I can shorten my other blog posts on Christian traditions by simply referring back to the article every time the topic comes up. However, there was so much information to go over that I was forced to divide it into several blog posts.

When considering the time of day, day of the week, year, and month and day of Jesus’ death, we find that these interplay deeply with each other and affect how we determine each. Previous blog posts addressed:

  • Part I: Facts from the Bible
  • Part II: Time of Jesus’ Death
  • Part III: Day of the Week of Jesus’ Death
  • Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 1: Year of Jesus’ Birth
  • Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 2: Year of Jesus’ Ministry

To determine the exact date of Jesus’ death (see Footnote 1), we have to consider all of it: the time of His death, the day of the week of His death, the year of His birth, the year of His ministry, and His approximate death year.

 

 V. MONTH, DAY, AND YEAR OF JESUS’ DEATH

Although we know Jesus died on 15 Nisan, the Jewish calendar is vastly different from the Roman calendar, so it requires some backwards extrapolation to determine the date He died on the Roman calendar.

In the Western Church (that near Rome) in 200 A.D., Tertullian of Carthage wrote that he had calculated the Roman calendrical day on which 15 Nisan fell in the year Jesus died to be 25 March. Because of his extrapolation, Christians began to celebrate Easter on 25 March every year. When Julius Sextus Africanus in 221 A.D. suggested that Jesus entered the world and left the world on the same day—that is, that he was conceived on the same day he died—Christians began to commemorate Jesus’ date of conception as 25 March as well. Because that was the alleged date of His conception, they began celebrating the date of His birth as 25 December sometime around 250-300 B.C.

Coincidentally, the Eastern Church (that near Jerusalem) had calculated a different date based on the same basic rules. The Eastern Church knew that Nisan is the first spring month on the Hebrew calendar (in fact, it’s engineered to occur when spring begins), and that Jesus died on the 14th day of the month, so they set His death as having occurred on the 14th day of the first spring month according to their local Greek calendar, which translated to 6 April on the Roman calendar. They also liked Julius Sextus Africanus’ idea and commemorated His conception on the same day as His death and, like the Western Church, added nine months to that date to obtain 6 January as the date of His birth. In fact, much of the Eastern Church to this day celebrates Christmas on 6 January.

So who was right and who was wrong? Or if neither was right, which was “less wrong”? Finally, does it matter?

  1. Date of Jesus’ Death

As discussed in Part II, Jesus died in the afternoon at about 3 pm on the Passover. Thanks to this information, we were better able to determine the day of the week of His death, which, as discussed in Part III, was Wednesday. That is, Passover occurred on a Wednesday in the year that Jesus died (specifically, it started Tuesday evening, but is considered to have occurred on Wednesday because approximately 18 of the 24 hours of the event occurred on Wednesday and only approximately 6 of the 24 hours occurred on Tuesday). As discussed in Part IV, Chapter 1, Jesus was most likely born 3 B.C. Using that data and information about Jesus’ ministry, we were able to estimate the year of His death as 29 or 30 A.D. in Part IV, Chapter 2.

So basically, we need to find a year on which the Passover occurred on a Wednesday.

Using the Hebrew calendar converter, I converted the dates for Nisan 14, the day Jesus died, into the date on the Gregorian calendar in the 10 years surrounding His approximate death. Here are the dates on which Passover occurred for the years surrounding Jesus’ death:

  • 25 A.D.: March 31, Monday
  • 26 A.D.: March 20, Friday
  • 27 A.D.: April 7, Wednesday
  • 28 A.D.: March 27, Monday
  • 29 A.D.: April 14, Saturday
  • 30 A.D.: April 3, Wednesday
  • 31 A.D.: March 24, Monday
  • 32 A.D.: April 12, Monday
  • 33 A.D.: April 1, Friday
  • 34 A.D.: March 20, Monday
  • 35 A.D.: April 9, Monday

I marked the dates on which Passover fell on a Wednesday in the 10 years surrounding Jesus’ possible death in red. As you can see, the closest possibilities are 27 A.D. and 30 A.D. Since our estimates for the year of His death were 29 A.D. and 30 A.D., 30 A.D. is the most likely year. In that case, He most likely died Wednesday, April 3, 30 A.D. at 3 pm. According to the same Hebrew calendar linked above, this date on the Gregorian calendar corresponds to April 5 on the Julian calendar. If true (we must always accept room for error), that means the Eastern Church was only off by one day (late), whereas the Western Church was off by about eleven days (early).

Do I really think we can know for certain the exact date Jesus died? Personally, no, I don’t think we can. Many Hebrew calendar sources specifically state that we don’t know for certain how the Hebrew calendar was figured in the first century. Furthermore, there are many issues to take into account, as described in sources like this and this. Interestingly, though, even when we have confusion as to the exact date, or even the exact year, there is no change to the day of the week–that is, the evidence that Jesus died on a Wednesday remains, even though the exact date (14 Nisan, 15 Nisan, etc.) may change.

  1. Does it Matter?

In my personal opinion, it kind of does and kind of doesn’t.

From a theological standpoint, it matters in that it holds up to the theory of Scriptural infallibility. For example, if Luke said that Jesus was born during an empire-wide census while Quirinius was governor, and Quirinius was never governor during any empire-wide census, that makes the rest of Luke’s narrative unreliable and demonstrates that the Bible is fallible. (See Part IV: Chapter 1 for details about how the correct translation is that Quirinius was administrating his duties, not that he was the provincial governor.) As another example, if Jesus said He would be buried for three days and three nights, but He was buried for 1.5 days (one day and two nights), that makes Him a false prophet and therefore not God, which undermines the entire Christian faith. (See Part III for information on how Jesus truly was buried three days and three nights.)

In my research, I’ve seen lots of posts from people about encountering remarkably well-informed skeptics who questioned various aspects of His dates of birth and death, which makes it quite reasonable that we might encounter such skeptics in the future. I keep thinking of Josh McDowell, who was a very dedicated atheist in college and was constantly questioning his Christian friends. Finally, one of these friends, weary from these constant attacks, challenged him to prove Christianity wrong. Josh eagerly set out on the mission to do so, but quickly discovered that he needed to do more research than he had originally bargained for, and ended up traveling to Europe and the Middle East in his quest to prove his Christian friends wrong. In the end, unable to prove them wrong and able only to find more and more evidence in support of Christianity, he converted and wrote many books on the topic. The research he conducted in college and abroad which convinced him of the truth of Christianity is compiled into two volumes called Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and one of my favorite short pieces of his, which is elegant in its simple logic, is called More Than a Carpenter. He was one of the foremost Christian apologists in the 1990s.

So to some degree… Yes, it does matter when He died. When He was born and when He died determines whether the Bible is true, whether Jesus was a false prophet, and whether our faith is founded on a rock or on sand.

On the other hand, from a theological standpoint, I don’t think it matters in relation to how we commemorate His birth, death, and resurrection. For one thing, He never commanded us to commemorate His birth. He did seem to command His disciples to fast when He was “taken from them” (Matthew 9:15), and early Christians took this as a command to commemorate His death annually with fasting, though it could possibly have meant that His disciples were to fast on the day He died (which they may have done coincidentally anyway because it was a Sabbath and they had spent the day watching to see what would happen to Jesus rather than preparing for the Sabbath). He also commanded them to observe the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist) in remembrance of Him, but did not specify how frequently this was to be done. Consequently, some churches commemorate it every week while others commemorate it once per year.

I don’t think we can know with perfect accuracy the exact date Jesus died due to numerous changes to the Hebrew and other calendars over the millennia (see Footnote 2). And if we did know the exact date, we’d either be using a mostly manmade Hebrew calendar or a mostly manmade Roman calendar, and any calendar is fallible, so are we really commemorating His death on the exact day of the year on which it would have occurred? I think that’s unlikely. For this, I refer back to what Paul had to say about Abraham. In Romans 4:1-22, Paul reminds us that the Scriptures say Abraham’s faith in God was credited to him as righteousness (a reference to Genesis 15:6). He goes on to explain that we are not justified by works, and that righteousness comes from faith. In another book, Paul explains further that like Abraham, those who rely on faith are equally blessed, implying (as he wrote explicitly in Romans 4) that our faith is imputed to us as righteousness (Galatians 3:6-9).

In other words, I don’t think it’s important that we commemorate Jesus’ death on the exact day of His death and I believe there’s sound Scriptural reason, as outlined above, to believe that God counts it as righteousness when we act in faith.

 

CONCLUSION

The facts we know regarding the time, day of the week, year, and exact date of Jesus’ death, along with facts from history, help us to estimate the date and time of death for Jesus as Wednesday, April 3, 30 A.D. at 3 pm. This fits with all the dateable facts of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death and with dateable facts from history. Knowing how the date of His death upholds the entire Scriptural account can help us to respond to skeptics the way Peter instructed us: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). However, knowing the exact, or even the approximate, date and time of Jesus’ death is not necessary in my opinion to please God. As Paul wrote, when we act in faith, God will count it toward us for righteousness (Romans 4:1-22; Galatians 3:6-9). What matters most is that we act in faith.

 

じゃあまたね!

 

 

FOOTNOTES

Footnote 1: Exact Date of Jesus’ Death. In case I wasn’t clear enough in the rest of this series, I hesitate to say “exact date” of Jesus’ death. Even if we use all the available data possible and it shows only one possibility–as I think it does in this case–it’s always possible we overlooked something or that we will discover more data at a later date, such as records we didn’t know existed or an error in our calendars. So if you were planning to make a big deal about this blog post series, please don’t. If you were planning to adjust your entire doctrine based on the information in this blog post series, please think carefully before doing so. If you were thinking it’s sinful for Christians to celebrate Easter on any day other than that I provided here, please think again. I can’t emphasize enough that, as much as I enjoyed researching and writing this series, it is very important not to make a huge deal out of the information it provides. Yes, rest assured that the Bible is correct where it references dates surrounding Jesus’ life. But please don’t use this post series to radically change anything or accuse anyone of sin or even ignorance.

Footnote 2: Changes to ancient calendars. I briefly mentioned that we can’t know the exact date for certain due to changes in ancient calendars. The Hebrew calendar changed at some unknown point from an observation-based calendar to a rule-based calendar. This change occurred sometime before 358 AD, the first date on which it is recorded in ancient writings (specifically, by Patriarch Hillel II). When using a calendar that calculates any exact date on the Hebrew calendar, it does so by extrapolating the current formula back in time and therefore provides only an estimate of what the dates were and, according to one scholar, may be off by as much as a month (Eldridge, 1997). Therefore, even if we take the difference between the current Gregorian calendar and the ancient Julian calendar into account, we cannot extrapolate backward and convert to the date on the Hebrew calendar to figure out the actual dates on the Julian calendar (or the Gregorian, extrapolated backward) on which the Passover fell during years around or before 358 AD without allowing for some (possibly very significant) error.

Another possibility is taking information we have from the Old Testament regarding days of the week on which certain dates from the Hebrew calendar fell. For example, we can know with certainty that in the year of the first Passover, 10 Nisan and 17 Nisan both fell on a Saturday, and 14 Nisan (the Passover) fell on a Wednesday (Reinhold, 2010). However, it is impossible to extrapolate forward from that for one incredible reason. According to all extant ancient records, ancient peoples had a 360-day calendar composed of 12 months of 30 days each. Furthermore, ancient astronomers also wrote of exactly 15 day waxing and 15 day waning in the lunar cycle, thus having a lunar cycle of exactly 30 days. Then, sometime around approximately 725 BC to 675 BC, over a period of about 50 years, the entire world’s calendars (including 30 cultures from the Incas and Mayas of the Americas, to the Persians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Egyptians of the Near East, to the Indians and Chinese of the Far East) were essentially rewritten and ancient peoples added 5 or 5.25 days to the calendar to come to a total of 365.25 days in the solar cycle (we now know each year is 365.2425 days, so those changes were pretty darn accurate) and a lunar cycle of 29.5 days. Why the change? And why all over the entire world at the same time, even between cultures that had no contact with each other whatsoever? One theory is that the earth had a near-collision with a planet-sized object, which tilted the earth’s axis just enough to throw off the previous calendar. One Biblical scholar points out that the event in which God made the sundial reverse 10 degrees for King Hezekiah (II Kings 20:8-11) occurred approximately 713 BC, right before the worldwide calendrical flux, and suggests that God accomplished this by moving the orbits of the earth and moon (Reinhold, 2010). At any rate, the point is that we can’t really approach the first century AD with data from the Hebrew calendar in 1446 BC (the year of the Exodus) due to the worldwide flux in calendars that occurred approximately 725-675 BC.

 

APPENDIX: REFERENCES FOR THE SERIES

Following is my list of references for the entire series of blog posts on when Jesus died.

Akin, J. (10 April 2013a). “7 clues tell us *precisely* when Jesus died (the year, month, day, and hour revealed).” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/when-precisely-did-jesus-die-the-year-month-day-and-hour-revealed/&gt;.

Akin, J. (13 April 2013b). “The 100-year old *mistake* about the Birth of Jesus.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/the-100-year-old-mistake-about-the-birth-of-jesus/&gt;.

Akin, J. (17 April 2013c). “Jesus’ birth and when Herod the Great *really* died.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/jesus-birth-and-when-herod-the-great-really-died&gt;.

Akin, J. (21 April 2013d). “What year was Jesus born? The answer may surprise you.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/what-year-was-jesus-born-the-answer-may-surprise-you/&gt;.

Bucher, R.P. (N.d.). “Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, and the Census.” Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Retrieved from <http://www.orlutheran.com/html/census.html#Anchor4&gt;.

Conte, R.L. (2003). “The Chronology of Herod the Great’s Reign.” BibleChronology.com. Retrieved from: <http://www.biblicalchronology.com/herod.htm&gt;.

Eldridge, L. (1997). “What Day of the Week Was Christ Crucified?” Retrieved from <http://www.loriswebs.com/lorispoetry/crucifix.html&gt;.

Reinhold, R.A. (2010). “What Day of the Week Did the Original Passover Occur?” Retrieved from <http://ad2004.com/prophecytruths/Articles/OriginalPassover.pdf&gt;.

Wellman, J. (2014). “Was Jesus a Jew? Did Jesus Follow Jewish Rituals?” Christian Crier. Retrieved from <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/06/13/was-jesus-a-jew-did-jesus-follow-jewish-rituals/&gt;.

United Church of God (N.d.). “When Was Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected?” In Jesus Christ: The Real Story. Retrieved from <http://www.ucg.org/booklet/jesus-christ-real-story/did-jesus-really-die-and-live-again/when-was-jesus-christ-crucified-/&gt;.

The True Date of Jesus’ Death: Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 2: Year of Jesus’ Ministry

INTRODUCTION

As discussed in the previous blog posts on this topic, I decided to write an article on when Jesus died so I can shorten my other blog posts on Christian traditions by simply referring back to the article every time the topic comes up. However, there was so much information to go over that I was forced to divide it into several blog posts.

When considering the time of day, day of the week, year, and month and day of Jesus’ death, we find that these interplay deeply with each other and affect how we determine each. Previous blog posts addressed:

  • Part I: Facts from the Bible
  • Part II: Time of Jesus’ Death
  • Part III: Day of the Week of Jesus’ Death
  • Part IV: Year of Jesus’ Death: Chapter 1: Year of Jesus’ Birth

To determine the year of Jesus’ death, we have to consider the interplay of the various possible dates for the years of His birth, His ministry’s beginning, other important events, and His death. The determination of the year in which Jesus died is too complicated to cover one blog post, so it will be divided into two “chapters.” The second chapter, offered in this post, will address the year of Jesus’ ministry.

 IV. YEAR OF JESUS’ DEATH

To determine the year of Jesus’ death, we have to consider the interplay of the various possible dates for the years of His birth, His ministry’s beginning, other important events, and His death.

It should be noted that His birth was traditionally dated at 1 A.D. by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century (there is no 0 A.D. or 0 B.C.), but that he set the date incorrectly. Specifically, he dated Jesus’ birth after the death of Herod the Great, as described above. Even the latest dates given for Herod’s death do not come in A.D., so Jesus had to have been born in B.C. In other words, if you thought Jesus was born in 1 A.D. and you’re basing your calculations of His birth and death on that concept, you should abandon that idea now.

Chapter 2. Year of Jesus’ Ministry.

In Fact 3, we learned that John the Baptist’s ministry started in Tiberius Caesar’s 15th year of reign; and in Fact 4, we learned that Jesus’ ministry started after John the Baptist’s ministry began. As mentioned above, John the Baptist’s ministry started in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Caiaphas was High Priest (the other facts about the various other personages don’t really help us much). In those days, it was common for successors to co-reign with the previous monarch for at least a few years before the previous monarch’s death. This was the case with Tiberius, who began co-regency with Caesar Augustus in 11 A.D. and began his full reign on Augustus’s death in 14 A.D. Therefore, 15 years into Tiberius’s reign could be approximately 26 A.D. or 29 A.D. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D. and Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 A.D. to 36 A.D., so either date for the 15th year of Tiberius’s reign fits the other data and is therefore equally possible.

As also discussed in Fact 3, the Bible doesn’t say how long John the Baptist was preaching before Jesus came to him to get baptized, shortly after which Jesus Himself began His own ministry. However, it’s reasonable to believe that John had been preaching for a year, give or take some months, to gain the level of notoriety implied in the stories from Matthew and Luke about his arrest and eventual execution. If John began preaching in 26 A.D., using this estimate would give us 27 A.D. for the year Jesus’ ministry started. If he began preaching in 29 A.D., that would give us 30 A.D. for the year Jesus’ ministry started. As discussed in Fact 5, Jesus’ ministry started when He was about 30 years old; and as discussed in Chapter 1, Jesus was most likely born in 3 B.C. Remembering that there is no 0 B.C. or 0 A.D., adding 30 years to His birth in 3 B.C. gives us 27 A.D. for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

As discussed in Fact 8, Jesus made a prophecy at the beginning of His ministry, to which the Jews responded that the Temple had been under construction for 46 years (John 2:19-20). Herod the Great started the construction in the eighteenth year of his reign. According to Josephus, Herod was anointed king by the Romans 37 years before his death, but he began to reign over Jerusalem 34 years before his death. Josephus also identifies the year in which Herod began to reign over Jerusalem as 37 B.C. in one of his writings and as 36 B.C. in another. For many reasons, the 37 B.C. date is the most likely (Akin, 2013b; Akin, 2013c). Eighteen years after the start of his kingship began would be 19 B.C., and 18 years after the star of his reign over Jerusalem would be 16 B.C. From other sources, we know the Temple was completed in 64 A.D. Adding 46 years to the possible dates that construction began gives us approximately 27 A.D. or 30 A.D. for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As discussed above and in Chapter 1, Jesus was most likely born in 3 B.C. and He was about 30 years old at the time of the start of His ministry. Again, we will add 30 years to His birth in 3 B.C. and get 27 A.D. for the start of His ministry.

As discussed in Fact 6, Jesus’ ministry spanned approximately three Passovers. So His ministry had to span at least a day longer than 2 years from the day before the Passover on one year to the day of the Passover two years later (recalling that He died on the day of the Passover). Of course, using only this data point, it could just as easily have lasted over three years. Nevertheless, this gives us a general understanding that we can add 2 or 3 years to the date His ministry started. As discussed above, the most likely date for the start of His ministry is 27 A.D., so 2 or 3 years later would give us an approximate year of death as 29 or 30 A.D.

 

SUMMARY

Based on the previously discussed information regarding Jesus’ birth year, and based on facts regarding John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus’ ministry, the age of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the length of Jesus’ ministry, we can estimate that Jesus’ ministry started in 27 A.D. and ended approximately 29 or 30 A.D. As we will learn in Part V, it’s actually possible to know the exact date of Jesus’ death based on other facts.

The last post will address:

  • Part V: Full Date of Jesus’ Death

 

じゃあまたね!

 

REFERENCES

Akin, J. (13 April 2013b). “The 100-year old *mistake* about the Birth of Jesus.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/the-100-year-old-mistake-about-the-birth-of-jesus/&gt;.

Akin, J. (17 April 2013c). “Jesus’ birth and when Herod the Great *really* died.” National Catholic Register. Retrieved from <http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jimmy-akin/jesus-birth-and-when-herod-the-great-really-died&gt;.

 

EDITS

I will edit this post to add the link to the final post in this series when it is published.

Christian Traditions 025: Easter Triduum

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria talks about Good Friday and Holy Saturday in “HOLY WEEK” under “PASSIONTIDE” and about Easter Sunday under “PASCHALTIDE” in her book. She goes into quite a bit of detail about each day in the Easter Triduum. Naturally, Easter Sunday gets what is possibly the longest discussion of any day in her book, which is not surprising considering that Easter Sunday commemorates the most important and most foundational event in Christianity.

INTRODUCTION

The Easter Triduum encompasses Good Friday (beginning the evening prior, i.e., Holy Thursday evening), Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday (until sunset). As such, it commemorates Christ’s passion, death, burial, and resurrection.

Black-color-vector-backgroundCOLOR

The Easter Triduum used to be considered its own liturgical season but no longer is, so there is no one color for the entire Triduum. In the evening service on Holy Thursday, the color may be the white of Easter, the scarlet of Passiontide, or white and gold, depending on the denomination. On Good Friday, the liturgical color may be none, red, black, or black followed by violet. On Holy Saturday, there is technically no liturgical color because there is traditionally no service, though the Easter Night service held on the night of Holy Saturday may encompass black and/or violet. On Easter Sunday, the liturgical color is white, often with gold. The white liturgical color then continues throughout Eastertide.

Anastasis_Pio_Christiano_Inv31525SYMBOL

There are many symbols for the Easter Triduum. The symbol for Good Friday is the cross or crucifix because this is the day on which Christians commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. If there is a symbol for Holy Saturday, the only symbol I could find is the tomb, because Holy Saturday commemorates the day Jesus spent in the tomb. However, there are many symbols for Easter Sunday: Easter lilies are shaped like trumpets, and so are symbols of immortality (1 Corinthians 15:52); the butterfly’s life cycle is a symbol of eternal life, with the cocoon stage symbolizing burial and its emergence into a new and beautiful form symbolizing resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53-54); eggs are symbols of fertility and immortality, and also the tomb from which Christ arose, with red eggs specifically symbolizing the resurrection (see Footnote 1); lights, candles, and bonfires symbolize the light of Christ; the cross, of course, symbolizes Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; and the lamb symbolizes Jesus, who was the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb to pay the price for our sins (1 Corinthians 5:7). Other symbols of Easter include the lion (Jesus is “the Lion of Judah” [Revelation 5:5]), the whale (Jesus said He would be buried for three days and three nights the same as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights [Matthew 12:40; Jonah 1:17, 2:10]), and the sand dollar. According to the American Bible Society, “The markings on this shell [the sand dollar] symbolize components of Christ’s birth and death. The five-point outline on the front of the sand dollar represents the star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1,2). The five holes in the sand dollar represent the pierced hands, feet, and side of Christ (Psalm 22:16; John 20:26,27). When the sand dollar is opened, it reveals five tiny objects that look similar to flying doves. Doves symbolize the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21,22).”

2 April to 5 April 2015WHEN IS IT?

Because the Easter Triduum includes Good Friday (beginning the evening prior, i.e., Holy Thursday), Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, the Easter Triduum starts on the Thursday evening prior to Easter Sunday, or, three days before Easter Sunday. Therefore, the Easter Triduum may begin as early as 19 March (when Easter Sunday falls 22 March) or as late as 22 April (when Easter Sunday falls 25 April). This year, Easter Sunday falls 5 April, so the Easter Triduum begins at sunset on 2 April (Holy Thursday) and ends at sunset on 5 April (Easter Sunday).

WHAT IS IT?

The Easter Triduum, known since at least the second century as Pascha (Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning “Passover”), was once a tiny liturgical season sandwiched between the liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter and which consisted of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. It’s still a term appropriately applied to those three days, but it’s no longer considered a separate liturgical season. Previously, I wrote about how the church bells must be silent from Holy Thursday until the Easter service. The tradition is that the same is true in the home. For example, any bell rung to bring people to dinner is silenced and alternatives are found for calling people to eat.

Much in relation to Easter is referred to as “Paschal.” I read one online forum about Easter wherein an apparently poorly-informed atheist claimed Easter obviously wasn’t originally a Christian holiday but rather a co-opted pagan holiday because of the name “Pascha.” I wonder what he thought the word means to have given him such a conclusion. As it happens, “pascha” comes from the Greek “pascha,” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word “pesach,” which means “Passover.” Recall that Jesus died on the Passover. See my previous post on co-opted pagan holidays for more information.

last supper4/2: Holy Thursday

Because we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, and because His arrest occurred—and therefore the process of His trials and crucifixion began—the night before, the evening of Holy Thursday begins the Easter Triduum. In reality, Jesus’ Last Supper and arrest would have occurred on Tuesday (see my previous blog post for more information). (Also, see Footnote 2 for the brief explanation.) Otherwise, I discussed Holy Thursday in detail in my previous blog post on Holy Week, so refer back to that post for more information on Holy Thursday.

On the evening of Holy Thursday, it’s traditional for Christians to celebrate the Passover Seder. (Coincidentally, this year, the true Passover—14 Nisan on the Hebrew calendar—falls on Good Friday!) It was tradition in Christ’s day, when a good friend or family member was to depart the following morning, for those remaining behind to toast the soon-to-be-departed with wine and unleavened bread, with the breaking of the bread symbolizing their love for the departing one. This tradition, which started among Christians with Jesus’ own great farewell in the Passover Seder He celebrated with His disciples the night before He died, was adopted by early Christians, who called it an “agape” or “love [feast].”

 

good_friday4/3: Good Friday

Good Friday is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, and Black Friday. It is also sometimes known as Easter Friday, but this term technically refers to the Friday in Easter Week.

Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial. In reality, this would have occurred on Wednesday and Jesus would have been in the tomb already on Friday (see my previous blog post for more information).

The Good Friday service sees the altar, bare since the Holy Thursday service, redressed (in black) and the sanctuary decorations, removed on Holy Thursday, return. This is considered fitting since it was on the cross that Jesus remade creation. The congregation, shoeless, walks down the church aisle, prostrating three times along the way, to the crucifix, where they kiss the feet of the crucified. When all the congregation has finished, the crucifix is placed on the altar and the congregation takes the Lord’s Supper. At the end of the service, the altar is again stripped.

Traditionally, the people fast on this day, though the fasting observed appears to vary by locale. In reality, the disciples may very well have fasted on the day Jesus died due to the approaching Sabbath and the probable lack of preparation for it while watching to see what would happen to their Rabbi. Talking is restricted to the bare minimum and is hushed, as it would be if a dearly beloved were dying or already dead in the home. From noon to 3 pm, the hours Christ spent on the cross (which in reality was 9 am to 3 pm; see my previous post on that topic), all activity in the house ceases and these hours are given to prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading with the occasional hymn sung. Furthermore, at about 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’ death, the vigil lamp (or “vigil light”) kept on the family altar is put out in honor of the death of the Light of the World.

titian-the-entombment-15594/4: Holy Saturday or Black Saturday

Holy Saturday commemorates the day Jesus spent in the tomb. In reality, He would have spent three days and three nights in the tomb (see my previous blog post on that topic).

On the morning of Holy Saturday, the paschal eggs (or, Easter eggs) are dyed and decorated. Maria Von Trapp tells that in her family, the children would take their dyed eggs to their rooms to decorate in secret, and many prepare a special Easter egg for someone else. The eggs are preserved until Easter Sunday morning, when they are eaten for breakfast. Most of the activity of Holy Saturday is merely preparation for Easter Sunday. Around 150 AD, a Christian writer identified that some Christians fasted for only one day, others for more, even up to forty days, and this may be the origin of the 40-day Lenten fast. As early as the 200s AD, the strict Easter Vigil fast ended after sundown on Holy Saturday, though by 313 AD, this fast was officially observed specifically by catechumens (new converts) about to be baptized (as they frequently were baptized during the Easter Vigil), and in the 400s AD, it was officially extended into a church-wide 40-day partial fast now known as Lent. Some today observe a partial version of this original Easter Vigil fast on Good Friday and not at all on Holy Saturday.

easter-candle_1427309951Recall that the church altar is stripped at the end of the Good Friday service. Normally, there is no morning service for Holy Saturday; hence, there is no liturgical color for this day. On Holy Saturday night, however, the Easter Night service begins. (The tradition of an Easter Night service was removed at some point and then later reinstated.) The “Feast of Light” occurs outside the church, where a bonfire is lit. The priest takes the Paschal candle and uses a knife to carve into it a cross, alpha, omega, and the current year. During the carving, he says, “Christ yesterday and today / the Beginning and the End / Alpha and Omega / His are the times and ages / To Him be glory and dominion / Through all ages of eternity / Amen.” Then the priest fixes five grains of incense in the cross on the candle, saying, “By His holy and glorious wounds / may he guard and preserve us / Christ the Lord. / Amen.” (Recall that Jesus was pierced with nails through His wrists and feet and by a spear through His side; hence, five piercings/wounds.) Finally, a separate candle is lit from the bonfire, and from this the priest lights the Paschal candle, saying, “May the light of Christ / In glory rising again, / Dispel the darkness of / Heart and mind.” The people then enter the church. At the threshold of the church, the priest/pastor and all the congregation lights their candles from the Paschal candle. Afterward, the service starts with singing. The priest/pastor, first dressed in Lenten violet, change into Easter white. After the service is over, each family lights a lantern from the Easter light (the bonfire) and takes it home to relight the family vigil lamp. Traditionally, families also take home blackened logs from the Easter fire and keep them at the fireplace to ward off danger from storms and lightning.

4/5: Easter Sunday

As discussed before, Easter Sunday will be presented in its own separate blog post.

Side Note: Technically, the Easter Night service, which begins at about 11 pm on Holy Saturday in some churches, crosses over midnight into Easter Sunday!

calendarLOOKING AHEAD

Easter Sunday marks the beginning of Eastertide or Easter Season, a 50-day liturgical season. Holy Saturday, therefore, is the last day of Lent and Passiontide.

STANDARD ACTIVITIES

There are many traditional activities for this mini-season.

  • Readings: The readings for this event are:
    • Thursday: see my previous post for this
    • Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
    • Saturday: Job 14:1-14; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; I Peter 4:1-8; Matthew 27:57-66
    • Sunday: see my next post for this
  • Passover Seder. Traditionally, Christians celebrate it on Thursday evening, the day Jesus was traditionally considered to have celebrated it with His disciples. In reality, He would have celebrated it on Tuesday evening. Furthermore, the real date for the Passover this year (2015) is Good Friday. Consider celebrating the Passover Seder this year.
  • Good Friday. There are several activities for this day.
    • Décor: Good Friday’s color is usually black but may also be red or none.
    • Fasting: Normally, the Lenten diet ends on Holy Thursday, but Christians traditionally fasted again on Good Friday, perhaps in memory of Jesus’ implicit command to His disciples to fast when the Bridegroom (Himself) was taken from them (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20).
    • Vigil: During the hours Jesus was on the cross (9 am to 3 pm, though traditionally 12 noon to 3 pm is used instead), activity ceases, people speak only if necessary and then only in hushed voices (as they would if a loved one was actively dying in the house), and the time is given to prayer, meditation, and singing of hymns.
    • Vigil Light: The candle on the family altar or in the chapel that represents Jesus is allowed to burn all day until 3 pm, the hour of Jesus’ death, at which time it is put out.
    • Good Friday Service: Consider attending a Good Friday church service.
  • Holy Saturday. There are several activities for this day.
    • Décor: Technically, Holy Saturday has no liturgical color, but they may use black in the Easter Night service.
    • Paschal Eggs: The eggs to be eaten on Easter Sunday are cooked and decorated today.
    • Fasting: The Easter Vigil fast which begins on Friday ends on Saturday evening.
    • Holy Saturday Service: Consider attending an Easter Night church service.

KNIT AND CROCHET ACTIVITIES

The Easter Triduum commemorates Jesus’ trials, passion, crucifixion, death, and burial. Consider working something very simple on this day: a cross.

  • Knitting Patterns: “Cross of Unity” by Melanie Schaab (here). (NOTE: Make just the cross, not the hoops.)
  • Crochet Patterns: “Christian Cross” by Suzanne Alise” (here). Note: I found information on the size of the cross, which measures 4” x 6.25” when finished, so much larger than I intended since all ornaments should be approximately 3” at the largest measurement (length/width/diameter), so you may have to adjust the number of stitches to get the appropriate size.

 

じゃあまたね!

 

FOOTNOTES

Footnote 1: Easter eggs and other symbols. Because Easter will be in another blog post of its own, I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I wanted to briefly address the concern that certain Easter symbols are pagan in origin. Briefly, it’s true that some are and were probably intentionally co-opted, while others are pagan symbols but the connection to Easter is probably coincidental because both happen to occur in the spring, and still others are probably purely Christian. I’ll try to go into detail on each symbol in that post.

Footnote 2: The brief explanation. The brief explanation is that we know Jesus died on a Sabbath, and that the weekly Sabbath occurs on Saturday (beginning at sunset the evening prior, i.e., Friday); therefore, the church has traditionally held that Jesus must have died on a Friday a few hours before the Sabbath started at sunset. However, there are several additional Sabbaths throughout the year tied to a specific date rather than to a day of the week, and these Sabbaths, called “high Sabbaths,” most often fall during the week. One such Sabbath is the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which starts at sunset on the day after the Passover, and we know Jesus celebrated the Passover the evening before He died, so we know the following sunset (a few hours after His death) would have been a high Sabbath. In other words, because the Passover began at sunset the evening before Jesus died, we know that He died before a Sabbath (specifically, a “high Sabbath”) no matter what day of the week He died. Other evidence from Scripture—such as His prophecy that He would be in the tomb three days and three nights; facts regarding when He traveled to Bethany, and from Bethany to Jerusalem; and the use of the plural “Sabbaths” in the original Greek in the Gospel of Luke telling that Mary came to the tomb after the “Sabbaths”—demonstrate that there were two Sabbaths during Jesus’ entombment, one of which was the high Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the other of which was the weekly Sabbath on Saturday. Again, see my previous blog post for more details.