One cannot understand Judaism at all without understanding Passover, and one cannot understand Christianity at all without understanding Easter. I am in awe of Passover and Easter — one as a participant and one as an observer. In the springtime, I discover more spiritual reasons to love Passover and Easter, and that is my invitation to each of you. Try to find some new reason to love the springtime holiday of your faith this year. You know the old reasons — and they are all real and powerful and true for you — but the true genius of Passover and Easter is that their meaning is a living and growing and evolving thing. Their meanings and their power are inexhaustible in your life. Here are just some of the spiritual reasons I love Passover and Easter:
I love the fact that both Passover and Easter are calculated from the cycles of the moon.
The calculation of time based on the cycle of the sun was codified in the first century BCE by Julius Caesar (and his Egyptian tutor Cleopatra). Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Julian calendar in 1582, and so it has remained in our world and in our smartphones ever since. The solar calendar is scientifically true. The lunar calendar is spiritually true. The lunar year is roughly 11 days shorter than the solar year and if the lunar calendar is not adjusted periodically to bring it into conformity with the solar calendar, a springtime month would become a winter month in roughly 15 years. Muslims have courageously embraced the lunar calendar without emendations and one of their most beautiful greetings is, “May you celebrate Ramadan in every season of the year.”
The reason I love the lunar calendar is that it connects us to the rhythms of nature. Major religions are not just a way to connect to events in sacred history like the Exodus from Egypt and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Real religions also connect us to the movement of the seasons, and only a lunar calendar can do that. We cannot know when a solar month begins or ends without a calendar, but we can know when a lunar month begins and ends just by looking into the sky and connecting to time the way God gave us to see it. Both Passover and Easter are calculated based on the cycles of the moon, and that connects faith to nature through the cycles of time.
I love the fact that both Passover and Easter are based on a meal rather than a prayer.
The Passover meal, called the Seder meal, and the Easter ritual meal that is the Eucharist teach us to connect what we believe to what we eat. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, in his book about Moses, perfectly caught the distinction between the Seder and the Eucharist: “The Seder is a meal eaten for God. The Eucharist is a meal eaten of God.” Beliefs are gossamer things. They are hard to pin down and they are not actions. Beliefs are thoughts, they are abstract and evanescent, but eating a meal is an action. When a belief becomes instantiated in food it becomes more palpable and far more powerful. We can see this most clearly in the way bread is transformed in the Passover Seder meal and in the Eucharist.
The Passover matzah is not like the bread our ancestors ate during the Exodus. It is the bread they ate. We re-enact their journey to freedom eating bread that did not have time to rise by eating our own unleavened bread. Without the matzah, we would still believe in freedom, but that belief would not nourish us as deeply.
The Eucharist takes the bodily sacrifice of Jesus’ body and gives it shape and sustenance. In the mystery of the Eucharist, Christianity goes further than any faith in transforming food into faith. The bread is actually transubstantiated into the body of Christ, and the wine into his blood. By consuming it, Christians don’t merely affirm a belief in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to wipe away sin, they take in that belief into the fiber of both their bodies and their souls. The Eucharist meal and the Passover meal are two of the great religious mysteries of the world.
Both Passover and Easter bring sacred history into our personal histories.
The Passover was an event in history and the crucifixion of Jesus was an event in history, but that is not even the beginning of their importance. Jews actually enter that old event every single time it is re-enacted in the Seder meal. Christians enter the passion of Christ every time they take in his body and blood. History melts away and the power of God shines through.
God bless us one and all.