Easter, the light at the end of the long Lenten tunnel, is fast approaching. This Christian festival, celebrated around the world, marks the end of Lent and the beginning of a season of celebration. We might all know that it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus – the good news the Christian faith is built around – but, when it comes to details, we're all liable to forget a few, particularly when we can't trust the feast day's date to stay the same.
With that in mine, here's a guide to Easter 2016:
When is Easter?
Easter Sunday this year will fall on March 27. This means that Good Friday will be March 25 and Easter Monday March 28.
What is it?
Easter is a festival of celebration commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and was resurrected three days later.
The resurrection of Jesus is foundational to the Christian faith. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, that believers are given new life. In dying on the cross, Jesus took upon himself the burden of sin, and in his rising from death, he conquered that sin.
Any person who follows Jesus receives "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3)
Wait, Easter isn't just one day?
Well, Easter Sunday is the great feast day, but it comes as the climax of the preceding Holy Week. This week in the Church calender commemorates the events that led up to Jesus' death and resurrection.
Alongside Easter Sunday there are three other significant days in the week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, March 20 this year, remembering Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Maundy Thursday, March 24, commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples. It was during this passover meal that Jesus washed his disciples' feet, predicted Judas' betrayal and his own death, and instituted the tradition of breaking bread and drinking wine in his memory – the Eucharist.
Good Friday, March 25, then marks the beginning of the three days of Easter, commemorating specifically the crucifixion of Jesus. It is a day of mourning in the Church – focussing on Christ's sacrifcial life and death.
How is the date for Easter chosen?
Jesus' death occurred just after passover – a Jewish feast celebrating the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt – and so the Easter date has always been set in relation to the Passover date.
Unlike Christmas, which can reliably be found on December 25, Easter is a moveable feast. Its date is set by the Paschal (Passover) Full Moon – Easter can always be found on the first Sunday after this moon. This will always leave Easter falling on a Sunday between March 21 and April 25.
This has been the case since the Council of Nicea – a key council of the early church – in 325 AD. However, recently the Archbishop of Canterbury has said he would enter into discussion with other church leaders as to whether Easter's date should in fact be fixed a particular Sunday every year.