Jews commemorate Passover and Christians celebrate Easter this week, ancient holy days with connections that transcend their spring dates that variably fall in March and April (Nissan in the Hebrew calendar).
Christians on Palm Sunday, March 24, marked Jesus’ triumphal passage into Jerusalem on a donkey — symbol of peace — along a path lined with palm leaves. Current-day Christians continue the tradition with palm leaves, sometimes made into crosses, which they distribute in their churches on Palm Sunday. The holiday, included in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, precedes Easter by one week.
Jews sat down to their Passover Seder on Monday, March 25, the first night of the eight-day holiday marking their liberation from the oppression of slavery in ancient Egypt. God, seeing the distress of the Israelites under Pharaoh’s rule, sent Moses to deliver them. But Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, despite nine plagues that God sent on them, until the 10th most terrible one: death of the first-born. The angel of death passed over the Israelites but killed Pharaoh’s first-born son, too much for him to bear. He at last let the Hebrew people go, free from their unbearable bondage. They fled in haste, leaving no time for their bread to rise. Eating unleavened bread to symbolize emancipation from oppression is a continuing Passover tradition. The story, told in the book of Exodus, dates back to 1313 BCE, ordained by God to be observed every year. All of the food eaten during the Seder symbolizes emancipation from slavery of people everywhere.
March 28, Holy Thursday — or Maundy Thursday, as it’s known in some Protestant sects — marks Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples before his betrayal by Judas Iscariot on Good Friday, the darkest day in Christendom, and resurrection on Easter, the most joyous day in the Christian calendar. Jesus was Jewish and a rabbi, who spent hours teaching his followers in the temple, and the Last Supper was a Seder. Some Christians incorporate a Seder into their holy week worship in honor of the Last Supper.
Passover restores faith and hope that a future free of oppression is possible in a troubled world. Christians’ belief in Jesus’ miraculous resurrection on Easter, after being crucified to take away the sins of the world, restores faith that God’s love and light will prevail and lead to better times, despite seemingly overwhelming challenges.
Jews and Christians also believe in human responsibility; we must do our part to overcome evil and do the right thing. We wish our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters happy holidays and peace beyond understanding. And we wish people of good will of all faiths the renewal of hope that comes with each springtime.