Daydreams: Passover and the Christian Holy Week

Posted by Rick Chrisman

This year Christians and Jews celebrate their respective Passovers at exactly the same time. On some years, the week mimics the time when Jesus was in Jerusalem at Passover. "Death passed over" the Israelites as they embarked on their exodus from Egypt (hence Passover) just as death passed over Jesus on Easter weekend.

Something in both these stories, so interrelated, can transform us. Some fusion of good and evil in the original events, when it reaches us, surprises and excites. What could that be? How can one find out about it? To name and explain this unexpected perturbation of the soul is the job of theologians. To receive it only requires listening - quiet, reflective listening - and putting yourself where you can hear or read the stories. From there, you can go out under the spinning stars of the earthly spring, alone and in silence, and consider your life in relation to these stories.

But what might our students actually know of those events and all the stories about them in the Bible? How many here remember and observe the day or the week? For you, religion is probably off-putting, and for good reason. Legend and devotion have added much to these stories, and much unfamiliarity and mystification have obscured them. Moreover, the secular drift of Western history and the bitter polarization of these two historic religions have placed a veil between all of us and the original events. Right now, Americans are involved in controversies surrounding whether these days should or should not be considered civic or college holidays and whether cr??ches on town hall lawns should be permitted. So you have arrived during an age in awkward transition, religiously speaking.

Nevertheless, there is more to religion than meets the eye. There is much more to this season than popular faith discloses or contentious rhetoric affords. The casual observer's doctrines superficial reading of religious texts or practices belies the richly symbolic and spiritually potent content. Although people can be fooled, people are nevertheless not fools, believe it or not. Centuries of attendance at Masses or Seders represent wordless but pregnant reflection about life's profoundest matters while the sacred words are being pronounced. Religion provides one way for society to ruminate and to talk to itself about otherwise imponderable things.

Religion also gives body to the formless intuitions and apprehensions borne daily in our active spirits. We like to say we are spiritual but not religious persons, but without "religion" of some kind, the spiritual activity in us remains largely inchoate. And religion fosters the self-government necessary to survive and flourish while meeting life and death demands. Religion also adds community to the mix, giving us human supports beyond the horizons of the nuclear family and the tribe.

I surmise what we dislike about religion today is what is most unique about it among cultural phenomena - it makes a claim on us, it wants to grab our attention and stake a claim upon our moral consciousness. Both Christianity and Judaism say, "Do the right thing," and thereby alert us to possible citizenship in a kingdom not defined by tyrants or corporations. In the worst cases, religion also claims an arbitrary, blind allegiance to its laws and hierarchies, and that properly should repel us. Yet, the stories of Passover and of Easter oblige us to put our lives under the largest possible perspective and to make our personal, and political, decisions accordingly.

Don't underestimate religion. There are as many Christianities out there as there are Christians. There are as many more Christianities among those who don't even claim to be Christian. I don't know if that might also be true for Judaism. Maybe people can be Jewish, as much as Christian, from where they are. For my own part, I believe Christianity is just a Gentile's way of being Jewish, but I don't know if the religious of either faith would accept that. But why not, since Jesus, a Jew schooled in his scriptures, preached the mercy and loving-kindness of the God of the Hebrew Bible. We might not be celebrating Passover and Easter together, but we are celebrating the liberating love of the same God.

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