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Passover, Easter unite us

For Christians and Jews, all of our religious holidays divide us except for Passover and Easter. Passover and Easter divide us by bringing us closer together. Let me try to explain this exquisite spiritual contradiction.

Passover and Easter are different in that Passover, as theologian Martin Buber has written, is celebrated by a meal eaten for God, while Easter is celebrated by a meal eaten of God.

Passover celebrates a God who could not become visible, while Easter celebrates a God who had to become visible to save a sinful humanity. Passover is about liberation for a nation of slaves. Easter is about liberation of individual believers from the enslavement of sin.

There are worlds of difference between these two faiths, and as much as we wish to come together, our sacred histories do keep us apart. However, we're only kept apart the way singers in different parts of the same choir are kept apart by the timbre of their voices. We're kept apart the way climbers are kept apart by their choices to climb the same mountain by different paths. Passover and Easter teach us that the ways we're different, though real and defining, are not nearly as important as the ways we're all the same.

Passover and Easter are both songs of springtime. Both are celebrations of a season of new growth and new births for the flocks that still feed us. The parsley on the Seder plate and the Easter eggs in the neon green plastic basket are both just symbols of springtime. We are sophisticated human beings now, but our spring song holidays remind us that we're still animals waiting for seasonal rebirth.

Passover and Easter unite us through our sacred history and sacred scripture. According to the gospels, Jesus' Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; and Luke 22:7).

The point is that this holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt for Jews was transformed into a new kind of Exodus from a new type of bondage -- the bondage of original sin. To ensure that the messages of Passover and Easter remain forever linked, Easter is the only Christian holiday whose arrival is calculated on the ancient Jewish lunar calendar.

This year, the first Seder meal was on Good Friday. It's my personal view that God would be pleased by this connecting of freedom stories. Passover is about freedom, understood as liberation from oppression. Easter is about freedom, understood as salvation from sin. Both capture an essential element of freedom.

To try to comparatively rate our two different spring songs or, worst of all, to try to force our songs upon each other, is a betrayal of the way God has taught us to sing our songs into this broken world. I can love the song of Easter, and I do love it, without forcing its song into my soul's voice. Christians can love Passover without believing that the song of the Last Supper was supposed to be the last Passover song sung by Jews. When we're at our best, we are not God's debaters, but God's choir.

Our lives sustain us, but our lives also break us. We make bad choices, and we're also the victims of pure bad luck. Either way, we can be tempted to lose hope. Passover and Easter restore our hope.

The Exodus from Egypt was a historical event, but it echoes our personal emancipation from the Egypts that keep us enslaved to false gods and small needs. This is why the text of the Passover haggadah citing Exodus 13:8 commands us to teach our children and each other that each of us must view ourselves as if we had also left Egypt. If we were freed then, we can be freed now. If we were led through the sea then, we can be led through our oceans of despair now.

In an identical way, Easter embraces and challenges every Christian with the joy and good news that our sin is no longer an obstacle to God's acceptance of our lives as they are right here, right now.

Just as God reached into every Hebrew home during Passover, then as now, so God reached out into every Christian heart during Easter, then as now.

Taking his people out of bondage and removing the bondage of sin are acts of liberation so awesome and exquisite, so transformative and gracious, so loving and powerful, we have no proper response except gratitude that washes over us and waters the world with a redeeming stream that shall never cease.