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God Squad: Passover, Easter are holidays of hope

Passover will be celebrated this year beginning on Monday evening with the first seder -- the Passover meal. Easter Sunday this year falls on April 20 for all Christian denominations, and although this single Christian date for Easter will not come again until 2017, it's clear that Passover and Easter are meant to be closely connected in our calendars of sacred time.

This is because all the synoptic gospel accounts state that the Last Supper was either a Passover seder meal (Matthew 26:17 -- and also in Mark and Luke) or a meal the night before Passover (John 18:28). Since Passover, like all Jewish holy days, is calculated on a lunar calendar, that makes Easter float with the springtime and with the Jewish calendar forever.

I love this calendric connection because it's also true to the connected and similar meaning of the two holidays. Passover and Easter are quintessentially holidays of hope, just as springtime is a season of hope. New growth and new life in nature forms the backdrop to both. The hope of freedom in Passover and the hope of salvation in Easter are the distillation of our highest human aspirations.

We affirm with our prayers and our stories, our foods and our families that slavery and sin are not our ultimate fate. Nature and sacred history bring the same message to us like two strong outstretched arms.

I also love the unique spiritual maturity of the hope brought to us by both Passover and Easter. Both holidays are hopeful, but not blindly, foolishly or naively so. We recognize and celebrate through our holiday rituals both the bitter and the sweet elements of our formative emancipations; both the bitterness of slavery and the sweet hopefulness of freedom; both the bitterness of the crucifixion and the sweet promise of salvation from sin in the Resurrection.

The sweetness of Easter Sunday is preceded by the sacrifices of Lent and the somber reflections of Holy Week. The sweetness of wine at the Passover seder is mixed with the bitterness of the horseradish and the saltwater symbolizing the tears of slavery.

I deeply admire this spiritual admixture of the bitter and the sweet in daily life, and not just during our sumptuous holidays. I like the idea that our faiths want us to be happy but not stupidly happy -- not happy in a way that blinds us to the suffering of our ancestors and so many inhabitants of our world today.

Everything that is good about life has a tinge of sadness, and conversely, every sad thing has a note of sweet hope amid our dirges. At a Jewish wedding, there is the broken glass. At the unveiling of a tombstone, there is the custom of eating honey cake.

I've heard of an Eastern Christian wedding custom of having the bride and groom drink from a glass of sweet wine and a glass of bitter wine. The large point is that we must learn how to celebrate without losing mindfulness of those who still sleep in the dust.

Easter and Passover, though spiritually linked, are, of course, deeply different. As I have taught in years past, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber in his book on Moses taught that the Eucharist is a meal eaten of God, while the seder is a meal eaten for God.

In very different ways, our sacred meals express our desire not just to be close to each other but also to be close to God. Eucharist and seder perfectly express the two dimensions of our search for the sacred. We need to bring God into our lives, and we need to bring God into the world.

So I invite you to join with me this Passover/Easter season in finding ways to take God into your life.

Can you let go of some small part of your spiritually undeveloped self and let God into that broken place in your soul? Try to find a way to do something more for God in the world. Can you find a place and a task where your liberation becomes the direct cause of the liberation of some other person struggling to find hope and health? I believe each of us can do one thing more for God and our fellow human beings, who are made in the image of God. I believe that we have the power to make Passover and Easter more than days on the calendar. We can make them what they were always intended to be -- moments in what may yet become an eternal season of hope.


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