For Jews it’s the morning of the first day of Passover, and it’s Holy Saturday for Christians. Tomorrow Christians will celebrate the Resurrection of their Savior, and Jews will keep Passover by not eating levened foods, and remembering the passage from freedom to slavery. There are learned people who claim that neither celebration is what it seems, that both are really pagan festivals of renewal which Jews and Christians have claimed for their own. It’s an equinox ritual, they say, a time to make sacrifices of gratitude to the gods who have given back the light.
Maybe so, but that doesn’t erase age old traditions that have created meaning for countless people for thousands of years. I participated in a beautiful seder dinner last night, eating delicious brisket and talking about what the passage from slavery meant to each us. Many Jews see the seder as an opportunity to pass our Jewish heritage to our children; the readings in the Haggadah, the Passover book, teach that we can never forget that God led us out of Egypt, also known as the narrow place, to freedom. And to the responsibility to build and honor a stubbornly monotheistic nation while wandering in the desert. As Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof, “I know, God, we’re the chosen people, but do you have to chose us for everything?”
Yesterday, my Christian friends went to church to suffer and mourn the crucifixion of God incarnate. In Jerusalem, hundreds followed the stations of the cross, reliving Jesus’s pain on his way to an abominable death. They’re spending today mindful of what a world without God would be like. And tomorrow they’ll arise at dawn and explode with joy on hearing that their Savior has risen from the dead. They’ll sing hymns of rejoicing that He has conquered death. Like their Jewish friends, they’ll gather to eat traditional foods and give thanks for life.
To quote another who gave his life, “I have a dream.” I have a dream that through an appreciation of our different beliefs and practices we will discover our commonality. Jews and Christians have lived different histories. We Jews differ among ourselves; and as a people we differ from our Christian friends. Yet how can we not be dazzled by the message of the Resurrection: that not even the most heinous death by torture can kill God. God is always here, in the world, with us. How many millions of Jews struggled valiantly to hold on to just such a message in the camps?
And among Christians, how many African Americans still suffer the replusive leavings of slavery, the inequality of opportunity, the chameleon quality of a racism that just won’t die? Do not the 99% now cry out that we’re wandering in a desert, unfaithful to the beliefs on which we the people founded our nation? Do they not seek to occupy the promised land in a way similar to we Jews, who have sought for thousands of years to take and build and keep our homeland? Even as I write, patriotic Syrians are slaughtered for their effort to reclaim their country, Syrians who differ from us and from each other, and yet wholly agree with us that occupying one’s own place is worth dying for.
So I have a dream to celebrate, this year and every year: the return of the light, a God who leads us out of slavery, and the Resurrection of our God no matter how shocking or cruel our behavior. We are all so very different, but once in a while, like today, we can dream of common ground.