Allow me to start out with a pat on my back for knowing how to figure out what day Easter is. Not everyone knows how to calculate it; it’s a different date every year. Everyone agrees it’s early this year. When I asked around of some of my minister friends even they couldn’t explain it to me. So when I figured it out I take it as my obligation to share with you here because that’s the kind of generous chick I am.
I started with what I know: The Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday, marks the last supper Jesus had with his disciples and it was the Passover meal. So I knew I needed to figure out when Passover is. I called my Jewish friend, Nancy Greenfield, who is such an expert she’s been published in the Texas Jewish Post. She has a website and a blog. You might enjoy looking at Tiptoe Through theTorah. It explores the first five books of the bible verse by verse.
When I go to her house I like to peek into her study because she’s usually got three or four books open and laid out so she can read and compare the texts. What’s cool about this is that the books Nancy is reading are usually all in Hebrew. So, to say that her answers are a little intimidating and above my head is an understatement.
When I asked her how they decide the dates for Passover she responded with a bunch of Hebrew terms and I zoned out almost immediately. I’m not sure if she thought I understood what she was saying or not but she eventually quit talking and I pretended to understand what she said. About the only part I understood was that the moon has something to do with it.
And the moon part is right because when I finished looking it up on Google, here is what I understand: (You might want to write this down.)
Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
Got it? Once you wrap your head around those three conditions it’s easy.
The Spring Equinox, according to my 6th grade granddaughter, is always March 20. She knows these things; my genes have traveled well. (Likewise, the Summer Solstice is June 20, the Fall Equinox is September 20 and the Winter Solstice is December 20, which is why Christmas is where it is. But that’s another blog.)
So, now all I had to do was look up the moon phases. The first full moon after March 20 this year will be March 27th. That’s tonight, unless I get antsy and post this blog on Tuesday. (You can check me by going outside and looking up at the sky.) So what’s the next Sunday after the 27th? Bingo—March 31st. Aren’t you proud of yourself? Now you can get a job at a calendar factory.
Back to Passover. I sent out emails to the only two Jews I know to help me understand how the average Jew celebrates Passover. Both Nancy and Susan were way too busy to answer. I think the big meal part of Passover is over but they may be resting up or something. Both told me they would give me some answers but probably not until Thursday, which is when my own holiday starts to heat up so I may not get around to filling you in on what they say.
Not only is it the biggest holiday of the year, their Christmas, so to speak, there is usually family visiting and—here’s the best part-- one of the big traditions is to clean the house to make sure there’s no leavened bread in the house anywhere. Anywhere. Not even a crumb. I console myself that even when they are too busy to answer me it’s because they’re cleaning house right down to the last crumb of leavened bread, picking up people at the airport or making sure Aunt Etta has a comfy mattress. And all I have to do for Easter is pop a ham in the oven and devil some eggs.
However, I did have a fall-back. I went to Kaylin Nickol. She grew up in the Presbyterian Church, went to a Presbyterian college then went off to Washington DC and married a good Jewish boy. She gave me such a relaxed and friendly answer to my message, I figure she must have chosen to skip the house cleaning part of Passover. Surely if you’re a gentile just married to the Jew there can be some limits as to how far you have to go. A few crumbs of hametz overlooked by a well-meaning goy surely can be excused.
Actually, she skipped the hosting job this year because they are expecting a baby in just a few weeks. But she said she and her husband usually love to host Passover at their house--a crowd that can number between 20-25 people. That’s a big crowd, folks. Since they are a mixed family she really enjoys the inclusivity of non-Jews at the Passover meal. Her husband smokes a brisket and they have the traditional seder plate at each table with the parsley dipped in salt water. She’s supposed to serve a roasted lamb shank and she uses the same one every year, keeping it in the freezer the rest of the time. This sounds suspiciously like cheating but I’m no judge, especially when I would fail the crumb test right off the bat.The kids all go around looking for the matzah cracker that is hidden. When they find it they get a prize.
As per tradition, they opened the door for Elijah, which I thought was generous of them given the weather in DC this spring. She told me they didn’t leave the door open very long. Elijah was going to have to make up his mind fast if he wanted to come in and announce the coming of the Messiah. But she also said she was pretty sure Elijah would know how to use the doggie door if he really wanted in.
Four glasses of wine per person are prescribed, which may be why this is such a great holiday. Jews are really better at religious celebrations than Christians. I’m not sure where we got instructions to navigate stressful family get togethers totally on tea; certainly not from Jesus. Even Elijah gets his own glass of wine.
I think the reason I love to hear how much fun my Jewish friends are having at Passover is because Christians are bound to the same Passover meal even if we don't think about it that way. There is still a connection but with a few differences.
In our case, we don’t need to leave the door open for the announcement of the coming of the Messiah because he has already come. And Jesus also took the evening and added his own special twist to it.
On the night Jesus ate his last Passover meal with his friends he gave us a new maundatum (commandment) that we are to love each other. To illustrate his point Jesus sat down, washed their feet, and showed us how to serve one another.
We remember the Passover meal with our own special celebration of Maundy Thursday. Then we retreat into somberness for a couple of days, sometimes with a worship service on Good Friday, then ending with a rousing worship on Easter Sunday that brings the Hallelujahs back into the Sanctuary. It all leaves us as weak as my Jewish sisters recovering from their own cooking and cleaning.
Kaylin told me her favorite Passover was a few years ago when circumstances brought several relatives from both sides of their family into town for the holiday. It was the biggest Passover she has ever hosted and she had Christians and Jews celebrating together; two religions but one family. I love big family holidays, too; I love happy times to tell stories and keep traditions. Mostly, I love a God who is big enough to love us all back, no matter how we interpret God.
Like Kaylin and her family, we may call ourselves different religions but it’s all the same God we worship.