Once again, this year, the dates for Passover and Easter are very close together. Passover begins Wednesday evening and lasts for a week. Easter Sunday falls on the 12th. That happens occasionally because of calendar differences. The Jewish community uses a lunar calendar for its religious observances, based on the cycles of the moon, and Easter is determined by a combination of the lunar and solar calendars.
But the two holidays have much more in common than just the dates. In the first place, the New Testament stories of the death of Jesus occur during Passover week. But more importantly, there are significant theological similarities between the two holidays. Both are redemptive in meaning.
Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from the bitterness of their lives in Egypt. It is a holiday of the movement from slavery to freedom, from bondage to humanity. In that sense it is a celebration of redemption.
Easter marks the redeeming death of Jesus on the Cross. Through his death, Christians believe, individuals are saved from the slavery of human sin, which is considered to be an important aspect of all human lives.
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In addition, both religious traditions have a follow-up holiday that comes 50 days later. In Judaism, it is called Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, and in Christianity it is Pentecost.
For us as Jews, it marks the events at Sinai, the giving of the Ten Commandments. For Christians, it celebrates to the reappearance of Jesus to his disciples. So, both have as their theme Revelation.
Redemption without revelation cannot be meaningful. Becoming free, in and of itself, is not sufficient. We need to discover what is expected, or required, of us as we live our lives in freedom.
Pentecost and Shavuot set the standards for our actions and behaviors, which we desperately need.
Finally, both Passover and Easter share some observance similarities based on Passover. Jews begin the holiday with a festive, ritual meal called Seder, designed to help us experience the agony and bitterness of slavery. In that way, we can better understand and appreciate freedom.
The Christian heritage, based on The Last Supper, which was a Passover Seder, has an observance referred to as the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. It uses two symbols of the Passover celebration, wine and unleavened bread. Through participation, the Christian experiences the freedom of the redeeming death of Jesus.
While the differences between Christianity and Judaism are very important, so are the similarities. Unfortunately, we accentuate the difference rather than explore the similarities.
Interreligious understanding is vitally important in our world, and these two holidays could be the means of exploring what we have in common. We would all be the better for that effort.
Whichever holiday we observe, let’s do it with joy and love as we surround ourselves with family and friends. Let’s try to remember what is important and significant about our observance. Both holidays are filled with meaning which we need to permit to impact our lives.
Rabbi Larry Mahrer leads Temple Beth El, the Reform Synagogue of Manatee County.