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God Squad: Easter and Passover prayers for renewal

The first night of Passover is Monday and the first day is Tuesday. Easter is on Sunday, April 4, for both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.

Easter is the only Christian holiday whose date is fixed by the lunar calendar (like all Jewish holidays and Muslim holidays); therefore, it always falls near Passover (in fact, the name for Easter in Greek, paska, literally means Passover).

Therefore, I've long held to the custom of using this week's column to wish my Christian readers "Happy Easter" and my Jewish readers, "Happy Passover." I used to offer this blessing along with Tommy (Msgr. Thomas J. Hartman to you). He joins me this year not in words but in his loving heart, which still beats truly. He specifically told me to thank all of you who are praying for him as he endures the predations of Parkinson's disease.

Tommy's voice is softer now and his memory not always so sharp, but his smile has never been brighter. So join me in my first prayer: "Dear God, please grant Father Tom a full healing. Amen."

My second prayer is about spring. Since the Council of Nicea in AD 325, Easter has been calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, which, of course, is the official start of spring. The Passover ritual of dipping greens into saltwater is also about springtime. Easter lilies and even the non-religious-but-still-beloved Easter Bunny, as well as the liturgical connection of the Last Supper to the Passover seder, are also about Easter's connection to springtime.

We sometimes forget that our religious holidays are not only meant to connect us to events in history - like the Exodus from Egypt in Passover and the Crucifixion and Christ's Resurrection in Easter - but also to connect us to events in nature. Both Judaism and Christianity rejected nature worship; however, we are creatures of nature.

I know my sensitivity to the gift of spring is heightened this year because of the brutal winter in the Northeast, where I live while awaiting my turn to move to Boca Raton. There's something miraculous about the rebirth of nature in spring. I think it mostly comes to me through the birds and flowers, nature's proof that life will be renewed.

So before we move on to the important remembering of God's salvation in history, let us give thanks for God's salvation of us in nature. Spring is God's proof that the sun will shine again and warm our faces, which are connected somehow to our souls. So please join me in my second prayer: "Thank you, God, for the springtime. Amen."

My final prayer is for us to give thanks for the sacrifices made on our behalf. The sacrifice of desert wanderings following the Exodus, and the sacrifice of God's only begotten son as an atonement for our sins are, of course, the major sacrifices of the Jewish and Christian faiths. We endure and are saved by these sacrifices.

Recounted in the biblical stories of Passover and the Resurrection, these monumental, world-changing sacrifices should also gently move us to a deeper gratitude for all the smaller sacrifices our families have made for us.

I'm often struck by how easy it is for people to say "Thank you" to strangers and how hard it is to say "Thank you" to family. Too often, we drift into a sad spiritual place where we forget how much our families went through to give us the opportunities and blessings we now enjoy. Perhaps we selfishly think such sacrifices are simply the job of parents, grandparents and caregivers, but a job well done deserves lifelong gratitude.

To me, the way we can best thank God for the sacrifices made 2,000 or 3,000 years ago is to thank the people who sacrificed something for us just this morning. So please join me in my third prayer: "Thank you, God, for the people whose sacrifices have given me my life. Amen." And after you tell God . . . tell them.

Happy Passover! Happy Easter! Tommy and Marc

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