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The God Squad: Finding connections in Passover and Easter

April 11, 2014|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Passover will be celebrated this year beginning on Monday evening, April 14, 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 holidays, is calculated on a lunar calendar, that makes Easter float with the springtime and with the Jewish calendar forever.

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

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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 salt water 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.

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