God Squad: Passover and Easter are the same and different
I met my best friend, Msgr. Tom Hartman (Tommy to me), at this time of the year in 1987. Our friend Charles Dolan asked us to appear together on a News 12 Long Island program to explain the similarities and differences between Passover and Easter. He wanted us to meet each other, and the friendship formed that day birthed "The God Squad."
What I remember saying on air was this, “There are no chocolate bunnies in Passover and no horseradish in Easter.” So, in honor of my dearly beloved friend, and in the spirit of these two springtime holidays, I offer this long-delayed answer that goes a bit beyond chocolate bunnies and horseradish. Happy Easter, Tommy! Rest in peace.
Both Passover and Easter are both about freedom. Freedom from original sin in Easter and freedom from Egyptian slavery in Passover. It is hell to live without hope, and religion saves people from hell.
Both Passover and Easter save us from the death of hope by teaching us that freedom is God’s gift to every soul. The freedom of Passover is freedom from slavery. That slavery can take many forms. It can be actual physical slavery, or it can be slavery to addictions and destructive behavior. Egypt is the symbol of slavery, and the Exodus is the symbol of all freedoms. Easter is about the freedom from sin. The atoning death and resurrection of Jesus as the Christ frees people from the inherited effects of Adam’s original sin. This is God’s gift and Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. What we cannot do to save ourselves is freely given to us as God’s gift.
Both Passover and Easter celebrate miracles. The plagues of Egypt and the slitting of the Red Sea were miracles. The resurrection of Jesus on the third day after his death was a miracle. Miracles are unprecedented interventions by God into human history. They give us hope that no matter how broken our world may be, there is always hope that God will have mercy upon us and intervene. We cannot demand miracles, but we can be grateful when they arrive. Passover and Easter are annual remembrances of the greatest miracles.
Both Passover and Easter have the same name and occur at about the same time in the spring. Wednesday, April 5, is the first Passover Seder meal. The next Sunday, April 9, is Easter Sunday. They are always close to each other because they are both calculated on a lunisolar calendar, a combination of the solar calendar and the lunar calendar that guarantees both holidays occur in the spring. The Hebrew name for Passover is Pesach and another name for Easter is Pascha.
The power of the rebirth of nature in the springtime (symbolized by the use of eggs and lamb in both holidays) is conjoined to the power of miraculous events in human history (the Exodus and the Resurrection) to bring us a message of hope that is both natural and supernatural.
Both Passover and Easter begin a 50-day period ending in another holiday (Shavuot and Pentecost, respectively).
Both Passover and Easter involve children in rituals and traditions. The Easter Egg Hunt and the search for the hidden matzo at the end of the Seder meal give children an important role in an otherwise adult holiday.
The Last Supper of Jesus was a Passover Seder meal, according to Matthew, Mark and Luke — but not John. This is the reason the Catholic Eucharist wafers are made of unleavened bread.
Passover and Easter use unleavened bread and wine in different ways. The Passover matzo are just bread. The Eucharist is bread that has been transubstantiated into the body of Christ. The wine in Passover is just wine; the wine in Easter (and all eucharistic meals) is the blood of Christ. So, for Jews, bread and wine are eaten and drunk for God while in Christianity blood and bread are eaten of God.
Passover and Easter both involve family meals in different ways. The traditional Easter family meal has traditional foods (ham, lamb, eggs, rolls). The Seder meal is more than a meal. It is a home ritual with a required script called the Haggadah that involves eating symbolic food, like greens dipped in salt water and unleavened bread, and that involves the retelling of the story of the Exodus.
Easter celebrates the atoning death of the Messiah. Judaism believes that human beings must atone for their own sins. This is the heart of the matter. For Christianity the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden stains every succeeding generation of human beings. Judaism does not believe in original sin, and so the atoning death of the Messiah is unnecessary.