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Easter, Passover celebrate basic message of freedom from bondage

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

The Easter story

Interestingly, the Jewish freedom won through the events celebrated at Passover had been lost again by the time Christianity's Easter story took place. This time, instead of the cruel bondage of Egypt, the children of Israel were under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. In the midst of this oppression came Jesus, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with his followers waving palm fronds and shouting his praises even while Jewish leaders plotted to destroy him.

Jesus was Jewish, and he arrived in Jerusalem at the time of Passover. The Passover observance therefore is woven into the fabric of the Easter story, inextricably linking one with the other. For example, before he was crucified, Jesus ate a "Last Supper" with his closest followers. This was likely the traditional Passover Seder, which includes the ceremonial eating of unleavened bread and drinking of wine. During the Last Supper, Jesus gave his followers bread and wine, but he imbued those Passover elements with new meaning that took the bread and wine from the Passover tradition and turned it into the Christian communion, also known as the Eucharist or sacrament.

During the days of Passover observance, Jesus was taken, judged, beaten and eventually crucified. Christians believe that in a Jerusalem garden called Gethsemane and on the cross of crucifixion Jesus was sacrificed for the sins of mankind, in much the same way the Passover lamb (or "Paschal lamb") was sacrificed in remembrance of the deliverance of the children of Israel. Three days later, on what is now known as Easter morning, Jesus was resurrected, which Christians believe is how Jesus overcame death and made salvation available to all.

"The resurrection of the dead is the chief truth of the Christian faith," said Christian pastor and author Robert L. Moyer. "Other doctrines are important; this one is essential."

According to Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the great message of the Easter story is that "the most glorious, comforting and reassuring of all events of human history had taken place: the victory over death. The pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary had been wiped away. The salvation of mankind had been secured."

Passover traditions

It isn't surprising, then, that religious observances with such remarkable beginnings would include with them long-lasting traditions and celebrations. For Passover, the celebration is divided into two parts.

"The first two days and last two days are full-fledged holidays," said Rabbi Zippel. "Holiday candles are lit at night, and Kiddush (a blessing over grape juice or wine) and sumptuous holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days. We don't go to work, drive, write or switch on or off electric devices. We are permitted to cook and to carry outdoors."

The middle four days are what Zippel called "semi-festive intermediate days," during which most forms of work are permitted.

The central element of the Jewish Passover observance is the traditional Seder, a ritual meal that is, according to Rabbi Zippel, "a 15-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast" that includes the re-telling of the Passover story, special blessings and songs, the drinking of four cups of wine, the eating of matzah and the partaking of bitter herbs and other symbolic foods on the Passover Seder Plate while in a reclining position.

Although there are usually variations between different Jewish congregations relative to the strictness of various religious observations, "Jews everywhere perform the Seder in much the same way," Rabbi Zippel said. Out of respect and interest, non-Jews also celebrate the Passover Seder. Professors at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University have been conducting an news.byu.edu/archive12-mar-seder.aspx on-campus Seder every year for nearly 40 years. And www.suntimes.com/news/metro/11695458-418/obama-hosts-passover-seder-friday-will-use-maxwell-house-haggadah-again.html President Barack Obama as been hosting a Passover Seder since 2008, when he was still campaigning for the presidency.

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