Easter, Passover celebrate basic message of freedom from bondage

Published: Saturday, April 7 2012 1:06 p.m. MDT

Ladies light candles prior to the service. Members of Chabad Lubacitch celebrate Passover Friday, April 6, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The scene is repeated every year about this time: Hundreds of Christian pilgrims walk behind a white donkey from the Mount of Olives to the Old City section of Jerusalem, carrying crosses and waving palm fronds as they retrace the route taken by Jesus Christ on the last Sunday of his life some 2,000 years ago.

"It's the holiest place in the world for Christians," Etienne Chevremont, a pilgrim from Paris, told the Associated Press last Sunday. "It's important for me to come here at least once in my lifetime."

Meanwhile, throughout Jerusalem, Israeli Jews are preparing for the holiest of their holy days — Passover — in the city that is every bit as sacred to them as it is to Christians (and, for that matter, to Muslims).

"The festival of Passover calls for early and elaborate preparations," wrote Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who led the Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch movement from 1951 until his death in 1994. "It is not physical preparedness alone that is required of us, but also spiritual preparedness, for in the life of the Jew the physical and spiritual are closely linked together, especially in the celebration of our Sabbath and festivals."

And so last Sunday — Palm Sunday in the Christian tradition — there was a confluence of faith throughout Jerusalem. Christians lit candles and attended special worship services associated with Easter's Holy Week, while Jews began their physical and spiritual preparations for Passover — making the matzah (flat, unleavened bread), gathering bitter herbs and purchasing the celebratory wine.

This intriguing intertwining of faith and religious tradition is not unique to Jerusalem. Wherever Jews and Christians live in proximity to each other, Easter and Passover run a parallel course, occasionally intersecting at points that are, to some, completely coincidental, and to others, deliberately profound.

Said Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of the Christian-oriented World Magazine, "Passover and Easter are the only Jewish and Christian holidays that move in sync, like the ice skating pairs we saw during the Winter Olympics."

And neither, it should be noted, has anything to do with a rabbit that lays multi-colored eggs.

History of Passover

The history of Passover is centuries older than Easter, and is based on an Old Testament story that is meaningful to Christian and Jew alike. It is an eight-day festival that commemorates the release of the Israelites from decades of slavery in ancient Egypt. If you've seen the classic Cecil B. DeMille film, "The Ten Commandments," with Charlton Heston as Moses, you know the story: how God preserved the baby Moses so he could safely grow to become the means by which he would deliver Israel from bondage.

According to the Biblical account, Moses — under specific direction from God — approached Pharaoh and demanded that he give the Jews their freedom. Each time Pharaoh refused, God sent a new plague upon the Egyptians to destroy their land, their livestock and their crops. In the final plague, all of the firstborn Egyptians were killed while the firstborn Jews were spared, or "passed over" — hence the name of the holiday.

"Pharaoh's resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land," said Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad-Lubavitch Utah. "The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day, and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as God's chosen people."

The Passover story, therefore, is about deliverance. But more than that, said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, it is about freedom.

"Passover celebrates the notion that freedom is a right," Rabbi Hirschfield said, "while recognizing that rights are not always free."

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