A Celebration of Passover and Easter

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Easter and Passover.png
Author: Jahily al'Karee, April 2014

With Nymala Ingasy

When we sat down to write about Easter and Passover, it was difficult to determine what to write about. Though many people are celebrating a holiday at this time of year, they're celebrating for different reasons. It would be too easy to point out our differences, to let them be something that keeps us apart rather than brings us together. We thought about symbols and what unites us. So come, join us around the table as we celebrate this season together as one big family.

So what unites the celebrations of Passover and Easter? There are two things, actually: the lamb and the egg. We'll look at them both.

First, the egg, humble and simple. You wouldn't think that something so simple would unite two major world religions symbolically, but they do. In the Passover celebration, we remember the Exodus from Egypt and the freedom of the Jews from slavery. We retell this story with the use of ritual foods. There are two interpretations of the symbolism of the hard boiled egg ( ביצה or beytzah in Hebrew). One is that it is an ancient fertility symbol. The other is that it is a symbol of mourning for the loss of the two Temples, the first of which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the second of which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E. Hard boiled eggs were traditionally the food of mourners and hence they were an appropriate symbol for the loss of these sacred sites.

Secondly is the lamb shank bone (זרוע or zeroah in Hebrew). The roasted shank bone of a lamb reminds us of the tenth plague in Egypt, when all firstborn Egyptians were killed. The Israelites marked the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a lamb as a signal that death should pass over them, as it is written in Exodus 12:12: "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn - both men and animals - and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt... The blood will be a sign... on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt." The shank bone is sometimes called the Paschal lamb, with “paschal” meaning "He [God] skipped over" the houses of Israel.

Although Passover and Easter share it as a common symbol, the meaning of the egg is different for Easter. For Christians, the egg symbolizes new life. The hard shell represents the rock tomb Jesus Christ was laid in, and breaking the egg – or a baby chick breaking out – represents Jesus emerging when He rose. There are many different kinds of eggs. Real eggs (usually chicken) are hard-boiled and dyed; there are also egg-shaped chocolates or candies, plastic eggs filled with goodies, even jelly beans (love them or hate them!) are egg-shaped. In some parts of the world, eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Jesus. In other traditions, they are dyed in spring colors. A favorite children’s activity on Easter weekend is an egg hunt, where eggs are hidden inside or outside for them to find.

As for the lamb, its significance stems in part from the Passover traditions. Jesus and his disciples in the upper room were celebrating the Passover Seder meal. It was during this Last Supper, that Jesus changed the liturgy and introduced what Christians now celebrate as Holy Communion. Jesus was also referred to as the “Lamb of God.” Since the time of Abraham in the book of Genesis, sheep were one of the animals used for sacrifice - offerings to God to take away the sins of man. Jesus was identified as such by John the Baptist, who said “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Many people enjoy lamb as the main dish for their Easter Sunday dinner.

While the symbols and what they mean are different, one thing is the same: We all come together for faith, family and food. We share this time of year with those who are most important in our lives. We celebrate the meaning behind the foods we eat, and what we say and do in our places of worship. Differences are important, to be sure. They remind us that we are individuals. But when we come together and deeply examine our symbolism, we'll find we're not so different after all.

Happy Holidays from Nymala and Jahily! No matter what you might be celebrating, may it be filled with family, food and best wishes.