The Jewish celebration of Passover and the Christian celebration of Easter rarely fall on the same dates inasmuch as the dates are determined by different methods. Moreover, not all Jews agree on the date of Passover; nor do all Christians agree on the date of Easter.
But this year the days of Passover coincide roughly with that of Easter, which in the Western Christian churches will be celebrated this coming Sunday.
However, the real importance of these celebrations is not the arcane methods of deciding their dates based on the Jewish calendar, the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar or the vernal equinox as much as the precious mythologies which they represent.
For Jews, Passover reminds them that at one time, many generations ago, members of their faith were slaves in the land of Egypt. There they had to serve harsh taskmasters until God came to their rescue in the form of 10 plagues on their captors that would lead to their freedom. The final and harshest of the plagues was the impending death of each family’s first-born. In order that no harm should come to the Israelites, they were to make a sign in blood on their houses so that the avenging angels would pass over them.
Thus, Passover becomes a wonderful sign of release and an everlasting challenge for them to create a new social order based on mutual respect, love and peace. These worthy goals are explored for a full week in family settings, usually around the dinner table, by telling tales of faith along with songs, poems, scripture readings and symbols.
Likewise, the Christian Easter, which incidentally has historical connections to the Passover, reminds Christians that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and after three days in the tomb was resurrected on Sunday. It, too, is a reminder that from very horrible events, of which few are more vivid than crucifixion, good things can and do happen.
In this case the mutilated and dead body of Jesus once again becomes alive. For Christians, this strengthens their belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and a proof that there is life after death.
Several modern customs associated with Easter make it, in some ways, more enjoyable for both children and adults; new clothes for mama and colored eggs and chocolate bunny rabbits for the children.
However, the primary purpose of these stories is not to create division among peoples, but to remind us all – whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic or atheist – that while life can, at times, be very ugly, there is always hope in the human spirit and a desire to strive for a more noble and uplifting future.
Faith, love, joy and peace are universal aspirations. Thus, we should all rejoice with our brothers and sisters this Sunday as they, and we, celebrate Easter and the Passover together.