On Palm Sunday, Christians commence Holy Week, to culminate on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Thursday, later this same week, our Jewish friends and neighbors start Passover.
People have commented to me, “It’s sad that your celebrations of Holy Week have been ruined by this awful coronavirus.”
My rabbi friends tell me they’re hearing the same thing: “How disappointing that Passover will be so dreary this year.”
While I appreciate those sentiments, I beg to differ!
In reality — and my Jewish colleagues tell me they agree — the present crisis, with sickness, fear, isolation and death as its signature, actually heightens the significance of the message these holy days bring.
Passover celebrates precisely that: the “passing over” of God’s chosen people from slavery, oppression, darkness and despair in Egypt, to freedom, light and hope in the Promised Land. The “angel of death” “passed over” them; they “passed over” the Red Sea; for forty years, they “passed over” the desert; then they “passed over” the Jordan River into Israel, the land of their fathers.
Christians reverently recall the “pass over” of Jesus from torture, rejection, defection of His closest followers, temptation to despair, His Passion and death that first Good Friday, to life, light, and victory on Easter Sunday.
Note well: These “Passovers” for the Jews and for Christ were hardly easy. To get to the other side — Israel for the chosen people, the victory of Resurrection of Jesus — required anguish, setback, adversity, danger, risk, but God came through!
See, then, how Passover and Easter will be especially meaningful this week. As a rabbi texted me, “Imagine the Passover services canceled because of a plague! We’ve been there before!” Granted, we’ll very much miss being with our parish and synagogue communities for the moving rituals, but the reality of the feasts will still be so dramatically evident.
For we, too, as a planet, a country, a state and especially for us as a city, are “passing over” from contagion, fear, infection, isolation and suffering, to unity, healing, recovery and a renewed life.
Just as the Lord raised up great leaders such as Moses and Joshua to guide and help His people as they “passed over,” and inspired folks like Veronica, who soothed the swollen face of Jesus, Simon, who helped Him carry His cross, and Mary, His mother, to stay close to Him under the cross, so has He now inspired brave and selfless physicians, nurses, health care professionals, researchers, civic leaders, families, neighbors and volunteers to accompany and assist His people today who are “crossing the valley of darkness.”
“Fear is useless! What is needed is trust!” teaches the Rabbi named Jesus.
As we trust that the dreariness, morbidity, and chill of Winter “pass over” annually into the light, life and hope of Spring, so this week do millions of Jews and Christians recall with awe that our God is Lord of life and death, and can bring good out of evil, healing from illness, life from death.
Passover and Holy Week blessings to all!