I remember years ago, a Jewish friend saying that she was always happy to welcome strangers at her Seder table but that it would be a little awkward if they were Egyptian. I suppose it might be tough to celebrate your victory over your oppressors with the descendents of those oppressors, but I would hope that after millennia, modern-day Egyptians could just let bygones be bygones. At any rate, I know that my school district (and many others!) were happy that Passover and Easter coincided this year. I don’t know all the calculations in regards to lunar calendars, but for whatever reason I know they don’t always overlap. But questions from my children and the readings on Holy Thursday brought me to the question of their original, biblical, convergence. In explaining why the Passover meal was supposed to be eaten under such specific conditions, certain things really stood out to me, worth remembering for both myself and my family. I claim no original thoughts here, but the service of memory is always worthwhile.
First, the idea that you need to remember, decisively and collectively, the history of your people in order to maintain your identity. In speaking casually to a friend the other day, he remarked on how we are culturally bereft on this point. While close and happy families may reminisce on their “special memories” we do not engage in this on a more public or cultural level (or not much, anyway). And yet, it is this awareness of our past that reminds of who we are, and prevents external forces from unsettling or uprooting us too easily. That recalling of history is such an elementary and essential part of the Seder meal and such a beautiful and useful thing.
Second, the tradition within Judaism to ask questions regarding the history of Passover and answer them, with particular regard to educating children in their faith. Different strains of Jewish tradition handle this a little differently, but many have a child answer questions: understanding what and why everyone is doing what they are is an essential part of the celebration. This natural incorporation of education into an aesthetically beautiful and meaningful meal is striking; I wish it came more naturally to us Christians.
Third, I was struck this year by the (rather obvious, I confess) connection between Christ and the Passover meal. While the Passover meal is in commemoration and celebration of the liberation out of Egypt, Abraham is a clear reference point as the first patriarch of the Jewish faith. It’s impossible to think of Abraham and eat lamb without thinking of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But while Isaac was spared, Jesus was not. And while the first-born sons of the Hebrew people were spared, Jesus was not. Thus, Christ takes part in both the liberation of the Hebrew people and the (necessary) suffering of the Egyptians. There is no people’s suffering that He doesn’t, mysteriously, take part of. So too, I was struck by God’s insisting that the Jewish people remember annually their being freed by their Lord—that it was not their own doing that got them out of Egypt. And God knows we Christians certainly didn’t do anything to release ourselves from our slavery to sin. (Some people may kid themselves, but I know I would have been asleep before even the other apostles…)
So Happy Easter! Consider yourself liberated—wherever you’re from!