The God Squad: Happy Easter and Happy Passover
Every year, Passover and Easter fall in close proximity because both are calculated on a modified lunar calendar (modified so that they always fall during the springtime). This year, they overlap. Good Friday, on April 15, is also the first night of Passover and the night of the seder meal. Easter Sunday is the second day of Passover. I believe that God would be pleased by this spiritual abutment of freedom stories. Passover is about freedom understood as liberation from physical slavery. Easter is about freedom understood as liberation from sin. Both capture an essential element of freedom. We must first be free in our lives to then be free in our souls.
Passover is a meal eaten for God while Easter is a meal eaten of God.
Passover celebrates a God who could not become visible, while Easter celebrates a God who had to become visible to save a sinful humanity.
Passover is about liberation for a nation of slaves. Easter is about liberation of individual believers from the enslavement of sin.
Passover and Easter are both songs of springtime. They are both celebrations of a new season of new growth and new births for the flocks that still feed us even if we only encounter them in plastic trays in the supermarket. The parsley on the seder plate and the Easter eggs in the basket of neon green plastic straw are both just symbols of springtime. We are sophisticated human beings now, but our spring holidays remind us that we are still at our core, animals waiting for seasonal rebirth.
The matzo of Passover and the wafer of the Eucharist (in the Catholic tradition) are both unleavened bread. Poor bread that makes us spiritually rich.
According to the synoptic gospels, the Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover seder meal (Mat 26:17; Mark 14:12; and Luke 22:7). John has it as occurring the day before Passover (John 13:1). This holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt for Jews was transformed by Christianity into a new kind of Exodus from a new type of bondage — the bondage of original sin.
To try to comparatively rate our two different spring songs or, worst of all, to try to force our songs upon each other is a betrayal of the way God has taught us to sing our songs into our broken world. I can love the song of Easter and I do love it without forcing its song into my soul’s voice. Christians can love Passover without believing that the song of the Last Supper was supposed to be the last Passover song ever sung by Jews. When we are at our best we are not God’s debaters, we are God’s choir.
Our lives sustain us but our lives also break us. We make bad choices and we are also the victims of bad luck that we have not chosen. Either way we are tempted to lose hope. Passover and Easter restore our hope.
The Exodus from Egypt was a historical event but it echoes our own personal emancipation from the Egypts that keep us enslaved to false gods and small needs. This is why the text of the Passover Haggadah citing Exodus 13:8 commands us to teach our children and each other that each of us is required to view ourselves as if we had also left Egypt. History reaches out beyond its rational limits and becomes a sacred history. If we were freed then, we can be freed now. If we were led through the sea then, we can be led through our own oceans of despair now.
In an identical way, Easter reaches beyond the limits of history to personally embrace and challenge each and every Christian with the joy and Good News that our sin is no longer an obstacle to God’s acceptance of our lives as they are right now and right here. Just as God reached into every Hebrew home during Passover then as now, so God reached out into every Christian heart during Easter then as now.
Taking the people out of the house of bondage and removing the bondage of sin are acts of liberation so awesome and exquisite, so transformative and so gracious, so loving and so powerful that we have no proper response except a complete gratitude that washes over us and waters the world with a redeeming stream that shall never cease and never slack.
This year, I ask you to pray with me for the victory of the Ukrainian people over their oppressors. May God’s strong hand and outstretched arm free them speedily. May this season of liberation be their time of liberation. Amen.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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