Every year in the winter I deliver Hanukkah and Christmas blessings to you, and every springtime I offer Passover and Easter greetings. It is springtime. Last week I thought about Passover and this week I am thinking about Easter.
I always think first of the power of the cross. No religious symbol is more powerful. Either as a crucifix or as a naked cross, it perfectly symbolizes the Christian belief that sin has been overcome.
I am always moved by the two different Christian foundational beliefs symbolized by the two crosses we see.
The crucifix, so often chosen by Catholics, is of course, the cross with the body of Jesus on it. It bears the agonizing Christian truth that the mission of Jesus on Earth was a mission of excruciating suffering. Without that suffering on the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been as immense. The crucifix is the symbolic reminder that a spiritual journey to salvation is first and foremost an acceptance of suffering. Judaism has the wandering for 40 years in the desert. Buddhism has the truth suffering (dukkah) as its first truth. Islam has the Haj. All religions understand that suffering is not a refutation of God but a path to God.
The naked cross, so often seen in Protestant churches, is the perfect symbol of the Christian belief in the risen Christ. The body is gone from the cross and salvation is present in the belief in the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. The naked cross is the perfect symbol of Christian hope and faith in the risen Christ whose death and resurrection have redeemed the world from sin.
So let me wish all my dear Christian readers a joyous Easter where you have an opportunity to see the two crosses and to let them both speak to your deepest faith. May you embrace suffering and may you know that it will pass and you will be redeemed.
Now, a long overdue correction and apology:
The day Tommy (Father Tom Hartman) and I met was Easter Sunday, and that evening was the start of Passover. We met at News 12 Long Island, which was doing a short news piece on the differences and similarities between Passover and Easter. The news anchor asked me to sum up in a few seconds the basics of Passover and Easter. I was not trying to be snarky but I replied, “Well it comes down to this . . . there are no chocolate bunnies in Passover and no horseradish in Easter.”
For years I told that story and, recently, some God Squad readers wrote to correct me. They were from Polish, Ukrainian and other Eastern European traditions and said that horseradish was a very traditional accompaniment to their Easter meal.
And one last thing. I have received questions about the origins of the Easter bunny and have discovered that there is really no serious or theological connection between bunnies and Easter.
But bunnies remind us that holidays are not only about sacred history but also about seasonal renewal. True faith is a balance between nature and history, between events like the Passover and Easter that happened long ago and events like springtime that are happening right now.