How Christianity Replaced Passover
with Weekly Communion and Easter
By James Scott Trimm
In speaking of the so-called “Lord’s Supper” Paul writes “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show our Adon’s death till he come” (1Cor. 11:26)
For many modern Gentile Christians this means “communion” and “…as often as you eat.. and drink…” has left serious question in Christian circles over how often to observe communion (or “sacrament” or “Eucharist” or “the Lord’s Supper” or whatever else it is called by a given denomination).
Christians inherited communion from the Catholic Church which began having “Eucharist” as the central point of weekly “Mass” (offering).
In fact to the Jewish reader the phrase “as often as you eat” points undeniably to the annual Passover meal (see Exodus 12).
How did Passover and the Sader become replaced in Christianity by Easter and the Weekly Communion?
When the day of worship was moved to Sun-Day fundamental changes had to be made.
First of all, the central element of the Synagogue Sabbath service is the bringing out and reading of the Torah. This could hardly remain the center of the Sunday morning church service, since the main thrust of Christianity is that the Torah is bondage from which “Jesus” gives it freedom.
Instead a form of pagan Sun god worship was retained by gentile Christians. The pagan Sun worship practice of the “bloodless sacrifice” of round wafers and wine replaced the Torah as the central element of the new Sunday worship.
Traditional annual Passover continued to be practiced by the Christians in Asia for some time. However the rest of the world replaced Passover with Sunday communion crowned with Easter Sunday. The custom in the rest of the word was described by Ireaneus as a duty of “celebrating the mystery of the resurrection of our Lord, only on the day of the Lord. [i.e. Sunday].” (Eusebius,Eccl. Hist. 5:24).
Around 153, near the end of his life, Polycarp visited the Roman Bishop Anicetus to discuss the differences that existed between Asia and Rome “with regard to certain things” especially the observance of Passover. They “disputed much with each other” over Passover. Ireaneus says:
“Neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe it,
because he had always observed it with Yochanan the disciple
of our Lord, and the rest of the Apostles, with whom he associated;
and neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe,…”
(Ireaneus; quoted by Eusebius; Eccl. Hist. 5:24)
Then in 194 C.E. this conflict between Rome and Asia arose again when the Asian representative Polycrates of Ephesus wrote a letter to the Roman Bishop Victor. Eusebius describes the event this way:
A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Saviour’s Passover…But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world…But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him.
(Eusebius,Eccl. Hist. 5:24).
Polycrates wrote as follows:
We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the Passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man’…I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus
(Eusebius. Eccl. Hist. 5:24).
Bishop Victor attempted to cut off from the common unity Polycrates and others because they were observing Passover, but later reversed his decision after Irenaeus and others interceded.
At the Nicene Council the Roman Catholic Church decreed concerning “Easter”:
“It was decreed by common consent to be expedient, that this festival should be celebrated on the same day in every place… it seemed to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches! Having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds. It is fit, therefore, that rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order, which we have kept from the first day of our Lord’s passion even to the present times. Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews. We have received another method from our Savior….”
Book 3 Chapter 25 Bede recounts that this controversy arose again in Scotland in the 7th Century C.E. between those who observed Passover on the 14th day after the New Moon and those who instead “deliver the sacraments of the New Testament, to be celebrated by the church, in memory of his passion.” (i.e. weekly Communion) and “Easter”.