The religious holidays of Passover and Easter are aligning in the same week this year. Traditionally, these are festivals of renewal, rebirth and most importantly freedom and forgiveness. Passover and Easter ordinarily fall sometime after the Vernal Equinox (after the full moon) or the beginning of Spring, and for good reason.
From the frozen hibernation of winter, plants, trees and wildlife spring back to flower, seeding and pollinating offspring, giving birth and gaining life in a magnificent cycle of fertility. The same is true for us. We are freed from our own deathly hibernations and enslavements, and are offered release, rebirth and even resurrection. Thankfully, we have lots of symbols and rituals as tools for celebration and remembrance of God's grace.
For the Jewish people, Passover, the seven-day holiday of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, celebrates the freedom from enslavement in Egypt, and the end of ten Biblical plagues from G-d (as in the Exodus passages). Hebrews followed orders to mark their homes with the blood of a sacrificed spring lamb, so that the spirit of G-d could "pass over" them. Once freed, the families fled so quickly there was no time for the daily bread to rise, thus the use of unleavened bread, or matzo wafers today.
Hebrew Bible Scripture teaches us to observe and remember both our enslavement, and our release: Deuteronomy 16:12, "And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt; and thou shalt observe and do these statutes." Exodus 13:3, "Remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength the hand of the LORD brought you out from this place." For Jews, Passover is originally called Pesakh thought to mean "God passed over," or in other words, "God gave protective watch over His people." It may also signify a sacrificial lamb.
The name "Easter," is likely from Old English after the goddess Ēostre from Anglo-Saxon paganism. Also around the eve or close to the Vernal Equinox, for Pagans and nature lovers it is a time of fertility, rebirth, and equality - one of two moments in the calendar when the lengths of day and night are equal. We are offered a wealth of symbols, like green grass, buds, blossoms, flowers, eggs and the Easter bunny from these nature-oriented celebrations and feasts. They are all about Mother Earth's rebirth from the dead of winter, and of fertility.
Christians too observe a springtime feast of freedom and rebirth, in Easter. The original church, Orthodox Christianity, celebrates this time as Paskha (from original Greek and Aramaic, meaning "Easter" or a special white cheese curd dessert). It is the most important time of year for followers of Jesus Christ as it honors Him, God and the Holy Spirit for the resurrection, after the third day after His crucifixion. 1 Peter 1:3, God has given the material world "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
For followers of Jesus Christ, Easter is particularly important as we are freed from the limits, iniquities, injustice, suffering, sin and imperfection of the material world, along with Jesus. To be a believer and follower of Christ means that we are not only forgiven for our limitations and errors, in accepting the gift of God in His Son, Jesus Christ, we are taken into new realms of being. Christians are brought alive again, even though (like Adam and Eve) we may have separated from God, erred and fallen from grace.
Jesus Christ is often called the "Lamb of God," or the "sacrificial lamb," as in the Jewish Passover; given to slaughter as a sacrifice to God, as lambs were slaughtered in Jewish temples. In Christ's Last Supper (a Passover celebration) He gave us Himself for eternity as His Blood and His Body, accepted today as the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist or Communion wine and bread, signifying His tangible human presence that we literally take into our body, mind and soul. So we too have a kind of last supper, a Passover celebration of the gifts of God on Earth, and God's Kingdom to come. Christians partake of bread and wine in the body and blood of Christ - for the purpose of resurrection from human flaws, errors, sin and death - and enjoy spring rebirth as children of God, infinite and everlasting.
Jesus Christ gave the Passover feast a new meaning as part of His New Covenant between God and human. His followers are forever freed as slaves of crude materiality, and are made pure and clean, and forgiven. Christians are both metaphorically and tangibly made whole, born and reborn again, over and over, for eternity. 1 Corinthians 5:7, "Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed."
Christ's resurrection from the dead certifies to Christians that Jesus is the Son of God. He was not merely any ordinary teacher or Rabbi; His crucifixion and resurrection verified His Godliness. Whether you are a believer or not, it is hard to deny that the figure of Jesus Christ and the Easter, or Paskha event is most special. Whether you are Jewish or Pagan, the Passover or Spring Equinox is also most holy.
Jews, Pagans and Christians have much in common this time of year. So let us rejoice and join together in spring rebirth, renewal and resurrection. We come together at God's holy table, appreciating and accepting His gifts of life, and the love that He has for us all.
Follow Norris J. Chumley, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Jesusmysteries