Next week Judaism and Christianity will retell the central stories that define the essence of their religions. Passover reminds us of the ancient Israelites' Exodus from Egypt and God's liberation with the help of Moses. That narrative leads up to the theophany at Sinai. God spoke to the children of Israel and presented them with the sacred laws and stories collected in the Torah. On Passover, Jews gather in homes and synagogues to remember and re-enact the exodus with an elaborate Seder meal combining rituals, prayers and stories designed to take us back to the story and the meaning of it through the generations of commentaries that have taught the meaning of this ancient event.
Christianity will observe the events that lead up to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and then on Sunday proclaim his resurrection, which gave birth to the holy day of Easter.
Both of these holy days define freedom and salvation in different ways. They remind us that God is ever present in our lives and that faith, even when all appears to be lost, can sustain us.
These are incredibly powerful events that bring us back into history. We all need to know that we can connect to that history and all the traditions that apply to us as they did for our ancestors. In some ways these stories we cherish create a protective theological cocoon for us. Do we not derive great inspiration when we look inside our respective Scriptures and liturgies as we study, pray and talk about what they all mean for us today?
We also should reflect carefully on how these events impact us in our world. Just think about how they speak to us, given the world we live in. The challenge here is to balance between the timely and the eternal teachings that we can discover this year in our houses of worship or at the dinner table with our friends and family. Sure we shall enjoy our meals and socialize. The question is can we have one conversation that makes us think about how our holy days teach us about not only the way we as individuals should live our lives but also about what we can do to apply those teachings to the world?
We have, for example, witnessed too much violence against children recently. The terrorist attacks against the children of Toulouse, France; the killing of Trayvon Martin; the Nigerian radicals that destroy countless schools; the children of Homs, Syria; the abuse of children that goes on every day in our country and throughout the world, and the worldwide slave market, which seduces and kidnaps teens into a new form of bondage.
In my tradition, there is a story of students who asked a rabbi, "Why did God create one single individual at the dawn of Creation?" He answered them by saying, "So that no one could say that my father is better than yours." Furthermore, the rabbi explained, "for this reason every person should grow up to say: 'For my sake was the world created.'"
Do we not want our children to grow up being loved and feeling that the world we bring them into believes that human beings should value and respect human life? Christians and Jews can look deeply into their holy days of Easter and Passover and remember the suffering, the slavery and the redemption of our ancestors. At the same time are we supposed to lose hope for the future and shut the door on the world, which desperately needs us to care about the children and the rest of humanity that cries out for justice, love and compassion?
Of course, the world is too often brutal and cruel. What I am afraid of is that the never-ending stories we read about will numb us into just accepting things the way they are. Passover and Easter represent different traditions, but they also can teach us that we are obligated to say, "For my children's sake, the world was created, and it is up to me to do my part to make this profoundly imperfect world more humane."