Good Friday falls on the first night of Passover this year. Or, if you prefer, Passover begins on Good Friday.
Whichever one comes first to you, their overlap is fitting as these holidays are when the two great Abrahamic faiths draw closest together.
“Nowhere is the relationship between Judaism and Christianity better demonstrated than in the comparison of Easter with Passover,” writes Jack Santino, a scholar of holidays at Bowling Green University. He points out many Christians consider the Last Supper a seder, and Christians increasingly hold seders themselves. Meanwhile, Jews will invite Christians to join them at their seders, something I’ve done myself, first warning that it is a meal that begins by dipping celery in salt water and ends, six hours later, with singing a very long song about a goat.
The idea that we all are united by the commonalities of our religions generally sits on the sidelines while a far more popular, far more energetic tradition — push your religion in the face of others — is given full play. We see this in the recent frenzy over “religious freedom laws,” which are not designed to make sure you’re free to be just as loving as your faith dictates, but rather to let small-business owners better shun the people they’ve traditionally despised.
I heard from a representative of the Thomas More Society, asking if I wanted to talk about Thursday evening’s erection of a 19-foot cross in Daley Plaza. Hard to say no to that.
“There’s a legal background to this,” began Tom Brejcha, founder of the society, a public interest law firm, explaining how the organization was formed out of the legal struggle to keep a Nativity scene on Daley Plaza.
Where it belongs?
“The idea is free speech,” Brejcha said. “It’s a traditional public forum, with the government’s role as a neutral gatekeeper. We have a constitutional right.”
I told Brejcha that when I pass Daley Plaza at Christmastime, I do not think, “Ah, the glory of belief manifesting itself through the miracle of free speech in the public square.” The displays — a life-sized Nativity scene tooth-by-jowl with a brutish steel Hanukkah menorah, the Muslim star and crescent, plus that really-is-this-the-best-you-can-do? spindly red “A” set up by atheists — seem more like a sad beauty contest that diminishes them all.
“It should start a lot of discussion,” he said. “I urge people to look at the secular significance of Easter, the second chance.”
But shouldn’t government build roads and levy taxes and keep itself a neutral space free of professions of faith? Aren’t we hurtling toward a Daley Plaza filled with crosses and giant matzo balls and three-story Ba’al deities with red eyes and curling horns? Wouldn’t it be easier to leave that to our respective houses of worship?
“That was part of the Protestant approach, to make it more private,” he observed. Say no more.
He reminded me of the May 1 gatherings of anarchists on Daley Plaza. If they get to present their dream of lawless chaos — and I agree they should be able to — then why not note the resurrection of Jesus?
He must be a good lawyer, because while I can’t quite agree, I finally stopped disagreeing with him.
Santino, in his very useful book, “All Around the Year,” points out something about Easter I didn’t know related to the tradition calling the night of the Last Supper “Maundy Thursday.”
“Because on Thursday of that week, Christ proclaimed a new commandment, that we should all love one another,” he writes. “Maundy is a corruption of mandate from the Latin Dies Mandati, Day of the Mandate, in recognition of this new commandment.”
It’s true. John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Wow, why can’t more people fixate on that? It sure would have saved Indiana a lot of grief.