Why Easter and Passover are significant today

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Written By Clare Wadsworth

There is more to April festivals than the modern-day image of a bunny bringing chocolate eggs; don’t ‘Passover’ this history lesson.

“The Lord passed through the land of Egypt and smote the first born; but when he saw the blood on the Israelites’ houses he ‘passed over’ those houses and saved them from the plague.” Exodus 12:12

Like all evolving traditions, the Passover celebration is apparently older than we think. It originally commemorates, and probably derives from, a Canaanite festival celebrating the harvesting of barley and a rite in which lambs’ blood was painted on tent entrances to protect homes and prove family connections.

According to the Old Testament, when the Egyptians would not release the Israelites from 400 years of slavery, the God of the Hebrews sent 10 devastating plagues upon them: blood, frogs, gnats and lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and, the last and, ultimately the worst, the death of the firstborn. However, where the blood of an unblemished male lamb was painted on the doorpost, the spirit of the Lord passed over the household and all within were protected.

After these afflictions, the Pharaoh freed the Israelites. They fled – or passed over – under the reluctant leadership of Moses. He foresaw that the Pharaoh might change his mind. The left in such a hurry that their bread had no time to rise, hence the tradition of eating matzo or flat, unleavened bread began.

When the Jewish people reached the Red Sea, Moses raised his staff and ordered the sea to part. God split the sea until the last Israelite had walked through safely and then caused the waves to crash back down, drowning the Pharaoh, his soldiers and their chariots. After delivering the Israelites, the God of Israel showed himself to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, gave him the Ten Commandments and ordered that the Exodus should be celebrated each year.

Millennia later, some consider that there is a relationship between the Last Supper and the Seder of the Passover, or traditional Passover dinner. The Last Supper was when Jesus ate with his 12 disciples on Maundy Thursday, the day before His crucifixion on Good Friday. This was where He introduced the Eucharist, which became an essential sacrament of the Christian Church, sharing unleavened bread and wine. This is one of the most important links between the Passover and Easter. There are other Jewish symbols in the Easter tradition, such as the paschal lamb, which signified Jesus as the unblemished, spotless Lamb of God, atoning for the sins of humankind.

There is also a parallel between the preparations for the Passover and for Lent. Before the Passover, Jewish people clean their homes of leavening agent and crumbs; as well as reread the story of the Exodus when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Lent is also a time of abstinence for Christians, to prepare themselves for Easter and lasts for 40 days; the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert after being baptised by John the Baptist.

The Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, the affirmation of redemption and eternal Christian life.

Passover and Easter commemorate God’s covenant with humankind by celebrating major festivals of delivery from despair, thus confirming freedom, hope and rebirth.

The modern Easter tradition celebrates new life and is based on interpretation of the festival of Eostre, first mentioned in Temporum Ratione (The Reckoning of Time) by The Venerable Bede (673-735). The Easter Bunny (rabbits being a fertility symbol – as in ‘to breed like rabbits’) and eggs (another fertility symbol) are linked to spring or as Venerable Bede calls April: Eosturmonath (Easter month).

Whether you put your faith in religion, or the healing powers of chocolate, this time of year celebrates hope and rebirth. We wish everyone a Happy Easter, a peaceful Passover or simply time to rest and recuperate after a tumultuous start to 2017.