This weekend, Jews and Christians will celebrate two of the most sacred holidays on their religious calendars. On Friday night, Jewish families will gather around the dinner table and recall the ancient epic of their ancestors’ redemption from Egyptian slavery. As they tell the story, they will re-enact the experience, dipping parsley in salt water to remember the tears shed by their enslaved forbearers. They will also eat matza, the unleavened bread their ancestors took with them as they hastily fled Egypt, rushing to escape the cruel grip of their Egyptian taskmasters.
On Sunday, Christians will gather in churches to hear the account of the death and resurrection of their savior. Easter eggs are ubiquitous on the holiday, some sources suggest representing the empty tomb from which Jesus ascended to heaven, and as a symbol of rebirth, a common springtime theme.
Scholars remind us that religious rituals develop over centuries, shaped by the culture and customs of the lands in which the faith is practiced. For Jews, telling the story of the Israelites’ redemption from slavery is central to the observance of Passover. However, the story must also be related to our own day, recognizing that there are still those who live under the harsh yoke of oppression.
For many Christians, the observance of Easter has also changed over the centuries. Even the name of the holiday, which most likely originated in the early 8th century, was changed from the original Pascha, the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach).
While the theology and rituals of Easter and Passover differ, the two holidays share similar themes. The promise of redemption is common to both. For Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus redeems his followers from sin. For Jews, Passover celebrates the Israelite nation’s redemption from the harsh bonds of servitude and oppression.
Central to both Passover and Easter is the hope of rebirth. Easter and Passover are celebrated in the springtime, as the dark nights and the chill of winter give way to longer days and warm breezes. The season portends renewal as the flowers begin to bloom and the earth awakens from its winter rest.
Easter and Passover, each in their own way, are celebrations of promise with the hopeful message that no one is beyond salvation. Even if enslaved by destructive habits or trapped by tired and unsatisfying routines, we can change and grow.
Whether one celebrates Passover, Easter or just the glory of a beautiful New England spring, this season assures us that hope can defeat despair, freedom triumphs over oppression and light will always banish the darkness.