Friday, April 3, 2015
Happy Passover and/or Easter
Good Friday falls on the first night of Passover this year.
Or, if you prefer Passover begins on Good Friday.
Whichever one comes first in your world, their overlap is fitting, as these holidays are when the two great Abrahamic faiths draw closest to one another.
"Nowhere is the relationship between Judaism and Christianity better demonstrated than in the comparison of Easter with Passover," writes Jack Santino, a scholar of holidays at Bowling Green University.
He points out many Christians consider the Last Supper a Seder and Christians increasingly hold Seders themselves—president Obama holds one at the White House every year (which, if you are of the alarmingly large minority of conservatives, might instead count as a Muslim holding a Seder). Meanwhile Jews will invite Christians to join them at their Seders, something I've done myself, first warning that it is a meal that begins by dipping celery in salt water and ends, six hours later, by singing a song about a goat.
I could fill the column with examples. Eggs are big in Easter, being dyed or cast in chocolate, and in Passover, appearing on the Seder plate, gobbled by the bowlful—reminders us that religion can be a binding force, or it could be a separating force.
The idea that we all our united by the commonalities of our religions generally sits waiting on the sidelines while a far more popular, far more energetic tradition—push your religion in the face of others—is given full play. We've been seeing this in the frenzy over "religious freedom laws," which are not designed to make sure you're free to be just as loving as your faith dictates, but rather to allow small business owners to better shun the people they've traditionally despised, using what they consider religious justification to do so.
I heard from a representative of the Thomas More Society this week, asking me if I wanted to talk about Thursday evening's erection of a 19-foot cross in Daley Plaza to mark Easter.
My initial reaction was, "And you want to talk to me?" But, getting in the spirit of the season, instead I said, "Sure."
"There's a legal background to this," began Tom Brejcha, founder of the society, a public interest law firm, explaining how the organization was formed out of the legal struggle to keep a Nativity scene on Daley Plaza, after the ACLU objected to the fact that, even though a tradesman's union paid for the tableau, the city stored it and assembled it which put City Hall in the celebration of religion business.
A valid point?
"The idea is free speech," Brejcha said. "They have political rallies. All variety of expression. I watched Bill Clinton give a talk there once. So its a traditional public forum, with the government's role as a neutral gatekeeper We have a Constitutional right."
I told Brejcha: when I pass Daley Plaza at Christmastime, and see the displays—their life-sized Nativity scene, tooth-by-jowl with that brutish steel Menorah plus whatever star and crescent the Muslims add, and a wan, really-is-this-the-best-you-can-do spindly red "A" set up by the atheists—I do not think, "Ah, the glory of belief manifesting itself through the miracle of free speech in the public square." Rather it seems a sad pissing contest that diminishes them all, led by Christians hot to thrust their symbolism into the heart of nondenominational government, and the other faiths following along, sheeplike, with a wan cry of "Hey, we're here too!"
"It should start a lot of discussion," he said. "I urge people to look at the secular significance of Easter, the second chance," he said. (I should probably plump Passover, with its emphasis on freedom from slavery though, now that I examine them together, the two concepts aren't really that different).
But shouldn't government build roads and levy taxes and keep itself a neutral space free of professions of faith? Aren't we hurtling toward a Daley Plaza filled with crosses and giant matzo balls and three-story Baal deities with red eyes and curling horns, while inconvenienced pedestrians try to thread their way through all this monolithic symbolism? Wouldn't it be easier to leave that to our respective houses of worship?
"That was part of the Protestant approach, to make it more private," he said. "I'm a lawyer, I believe in free speech, the role of government is to protect the speaker."
He reminded me of the May 1 gatherings of anarchists on Daley Plaza. If they get to present their vision of a lawless chaos—and I agree they should—then why not mark the resurrection of Jesus?
He must be a good lawyer, because while I couldn't quite say I agree with him, I stopped disagreeing.
Santino, by the way, in his very useful book, All Around the Year, points out something about Easter I didn't know. That Protestants call the night of the last supper "Maundy Thursday."
"Maundy is a corruptionn of mandate because on Thursday of that week, Christ proclaimed an new commandment, that we should all love one another," he writes. "Maundy is a corruption of mandate from the Latin Dies Mandati, Day of the Mandate, in recognition of this new commandment."
It's true: John 13:34. ""A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Wow, why can't more people emphasize that? It sure would have saved Indiana a lot of heartache this week.