Easter is right around the corner. Easter egg hunts, Easter bunnies, family gatherings, and church services are the norm for many families whether or not they identify with Christianity. Passover, a time when Jewish families gather together to remember and celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery is also in full swing and will conclude on April 4, 2021.
I work for a Catholic organization. Each morning we receive a meditation in our emails and Friday’s was about Passover. Of all the major world religions, Judaism is my favorite. Judaism is firmly rooted in its history. Its celebrations are times of remembrance of their humble roots, trials, tragedies, and struggles that support a strong tree of resilience in the face of adversity. Jewish holidays follow the lunar calendar so we don’t always celebrate Easter and Passover at the same time. Even though Passover represents the harsh realities of slavery, the Jews, down through the centuries, have rejoiced in God’s mercy and redemptive power. In the United States, Passover is the most celebrated of the Jewish holidays.
While many participate in various Easter traditions and celebrations, the Passover Seder is a sacred time for Jews to remember the horrors of slavery and the uncertainty and joy of their Exodus from Egypt. The seder meal begins as night falls on the first night of Passover and includes foods symbolic of their slavery and Exodus. A special plate is traditional containing the following: 4 cups of wine, vegetables, usually celery, dipped in saltwater, unleavened bread – usually matzah, a flat cracker – bitter herbs or horseradish, and romaine lettuce dipped in a paste made from nuts, pears, apples and wine, a shank bone, likely lamb or goat, and a hard-boiled egg. The bitter herbs represent the harsh treatment of slavery, the celery or vegetable dipped in saltwater represents hope, renewal, and the tears of the Jews, the lettuce dipped in the paste represents the brick and mortar used to build the pyramids, the matzah represents the bread of affliction the Jews ate during their slavery and in remembrance of their redemption. The Exodus was quite an undertaking, and there was no time for the bread prepared for the trip to rise.
Prior to Passover, the Jews clear their homes of all leavening as part of the rich tradition of Passover. The goat or lamb shank commemorates the Passover lamb whose blood marked the doorways of the firstborn, and finally, the hard-boiled egg represents the circle of life. A meal of favorite foods is also prepared and eaten as part of the sacred Passover celebration.
The four cups of wine have different meanings associated with them, but all Passover services begin with the reciting of the kiddush – the sacred blessing – while holding the first cup of wine. Some associate the 4 cups of wine with the four expressions of freedom, which is a favorite of mine. The four expressions of freedom include maintaining their Hebrew names and their native language, maintaining high moral standards, and loyalty to one another. There are many more intricate details and traditions associated with the celebration of Passover – and each has deep meaning passed down from generation to generation.
The story of the Exodus is emotionally reenacted – those gathered around the table are asked to put themselves in the shoes of their ancestors, to feel the fear and joy of leaving slavery behind and journeying forward into the unknown.
Children are an important part of the story, too. As the second cup of wine is poured, a child asks the questions that children have asked for centuries when Passover is celebrated. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Why only matzah? Why the dipping? Why the bitter herbs? Why are we relaxing and reclining as if we were kings?” The telling of their history and Exodus begins using the foods on the Seder plate to represent slavery and freedom. Other important traditions are woven throughout the storytelling, and finally, when it’s time for the holiday meal to be eaten, the remaining two cups of wine are poured. The third cup is poured and the prayer following the meal is recited. The fourth cup is poured for Elijah and the door to the home is opened while passages about the Prophet Elijah are read. The symbolism representative of Elijah who comes to announce the Messiah of the Jews.
The matzah, the bread of affliction, is an important part of the Seder. It also symbolizes redemption – redemption from bondage. The reality is we are all in bondage to something. We all need redemption regardless of our spiritual affiliations.
This Easter as we celebrate, reflect on the bonds that hold us from experiencing life to its fullest. Is there resentment, estrangement, bitterness, or emotional wounds in your life in need of healing? Today, this moment is the moment of redemption. The exodus from pain and suffering begins in our hearts. Let go of resentments, bitterness, and the pain of estrangement and emotional wounds inflicted by others that serve no purpose in your life. Let the power of Divine Love permeate the dark places of your heart and leave the chains of captivity behind…..