By Laura Rahill
This week, those of the Jewish and Christian faiths celebrate some important dates in their religions.
Tuesday started the eight-day observance of Passover. This holiday begins on the 15th night through to the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. This observance commemorates the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.
This emancipation came about when God sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message to “send forth my people, so that they may serve me.” When ignored, God sent 10 plagues on the Pharaoh’s people, land, livestock and crops. In the year 2448 of Nissan 15, at the stroke of midnight, God sent the last plague, which killed all the Egyptians’ first-born children, sparing the children of Israel by “passing over” their homes.
After leaving in such a hurry, the Israelites had no time to wait for their bread to rise and so had to take unleavened bread as provisions. About 600,000 Israelites left Egypt on a trek to Mount Sinai, beginning their journey as God’s Chosen People.
There are four days — the first two and the last two — of Passover when candles will be lit and holiday meals prepared. Many who observe Passover do not go to work, write, drive or use electronic devices. The middle four days are called Chol Hamoed, when most forms of work are allowed.
Matzo is eaten instead of Chametz (leavened bread). Matzo is a flat, unleavened bread which is symbolic of the unleavened bread the emancipated Israelites ate on their journey to Mount Sinai. The Seder is considered the highlight of Passover and is observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a 15-step ritual feast. This feast is a strong tradition within Jewish families.
In the Christian faith, Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, fell April 17 of Holy Week. This day is a solemn observance which commemorates Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples, one of whom betrayed him, on the night before he was crucified.
Before this meal Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and by his example showed how Christians should love one another through humble service. It is not uncommon for churches to practice foot washing as part of Holy Thursday services.
During the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine and asked his father to bless it. He then shared the bread and wine with his disciples. The bread is symbolic of Jesus’ body and the wine the blood he would shed for his followers. This is where the sacrament of Holy Communion comes from. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” which means commandment. Jesus left his disciples with the command to love one another.
April 18 is Good Friday. This observance marks Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Many Christians attend church services on this day of mourning. Candles are often extinguished and statues and crosses may be draped in black, purple or gray cloth. It is not uncommon for worshipers to kiss the cross at this service in veneration of Jesus.
The Passion of Christ, including his Last Supper, agony in the garden, arrest, trial and crucifixion is often read at this service as it is on Palm Sunday.
Holy Saturday is the final day of Lent and, of course, the day before Easter, which celebrates Christ’s resurrection.
Easter is a joyous occasion within the Christian faith, as Jesus rose from his tomb and walked the earth for 40 days before his ascension into heaven.