|A late 19th Century engraving illustrating the Angel of death passing by a Jewish home where sheep's blood has been smeared on the door lintle.|
Last night at sundown Passover or Pesach began when Jews around the world gathered around ritual tables to remember and give thanks for the events that lead to the ultimate freedom of the Hebrew people and a Promise Land of their own. That came at a terrible price for their oppressors—a pain that they thank God for inflicting. It is an uplifting night, a hopeful night, but also a terrible one.
The story of Passover and the Exodus from Egypt is a saga of freedom that not only gave comfort and hope to Jews through centuries of persecution but inspired others who were enslaved and oppressed. Blacks held in bondage in America in particular used images from the tale in their coded worship and song in which the Promise Land was freedom itself. In his the speech on the eve of his assassination Martin Luther King evoked Moses when he declared:
I’ve been to the mountaintop…Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
The traditions of the Passover feast are outlined in the Hebrew scripture making them among the most ancient of continually observed religious celebrations in the world. On the first night families gather for a Seder meal, the ingredients of which are prescribed and highly symbolic in re-telling the story. A service is read from the Haggadah and is in the form of questions asked by the eldest son of the father.
|The Seder is a tradition of the home, not the Temple where lore and tradition are ritually transmi identitytted between generations to preserve a Jewish in a world of peril while holding out hope for a better future|
Christians believe that the Last Super was a Seder meal, linking the two observances. In recent years some Christians have taken to celebrating Seder meals to connect to the Jewish roots of their faith. This is a development that is embraced as a bridge to cultural understanding by some, and as an abomination by traditional Jews. Many Reform congregations invite non-Jews to attend special Seder meals. I once got to open the door for Elijah.
This year the first night of Passover shared the evening with Good Friday, when Christians mark the death of Jesus on the Cross. It was also a Blue Moon, the second full moon of the month, symbolic of how relatively rare that coincidence is.
Back in 2012 the two holy occasions also coincided. On that same night I hosted a benefit evening of song and poetry with bluesman Andy Cohen at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry (now Tree of Life—A UU Congregation in McHenry County), Naturally, I committed poetry for the occasion. I have edited the poem and replaced a verse from the original.
|Acording to the Gospel of John, Jesus was the Lamb of God, litterally like the sheep whose blood marked the Jewish doorways, a sacrifice to save the people.|
Brief Haggadah for Passover/Good Friday
For Social Gospel in Words and Music
April 6, 2012
The child always asks…
What makes this night different
from all other nights?
You have to think hard.
Somewhere children are always
being massacred for some
accident of birth
or for mere convenience sake.
Somewhere slaves are plotting their escape
and Pharaohs hitch their war chariots
to pursue them.
Somewhere the fearful faithful
kneel at the feet of a dying master,
a maybe Messiah
who frightened an Empire.
What makes this night different?
Nothing, son, except that
you asked the right question.
Now, what are we going
to do about it?
Two years ago the first night of Passover fell on Earth Day. At a time when the realities and projections for global ecological catastrophe have never been greater moved me to wonder—What if?
|The Plague of Locusts was just one of the punishing catastrophes visited on the Egyptians in Exodus. The disasters we face are even more chilling.|
April 23, 2016
What if there were no Passover?
What if no sacrificial blood
smeared on the lintel
offered any protection?
What if there were no Us and Them?
What if the Pharaoh’s son
and our sons fell alike
from the same dark curse?
What if the Dark Angels were not Yahweh’s?
What if they were our creation,
evoked by our carelessness
and fed by our greed?
What if there were nowhere to flee?
What if no haven or Promise Land
lay waiting even after wandering
because we have laid waste to it too?
What if there were no Milk and Honey?
What if our goats all starved,
we killed the bees
and parched the earth bare?
What if there were no Seder tables to lay?
What if there were no progeny
to ask what makes this night different,
no generations ever again?
What if this is no mere nightmare?
But Passover has always had a dark side, almost forgotten, glossed over, or muttered under the breath—the fate of all of those Egyptian children. It is easy to do, especially if you envision only the sons of Pharaoh and his court—a just punishment for a king who had ordered the slaughter of Jewish babes when he got wind of a rumor that a liberator would be born among them. But death was visited not just on the elite, but upon all Egypt and families of every class and caste. And that sounds, to modern ears, a bit harsh.
At Seder meals Jews acknowledge this in singing Dayenu:
If He had destroyed their idols,
and had not smitten their first-born
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
If He had smitten their first-born,
and had not given us their wealth
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
|A modern reflection on the Plague of Darkness by Russian born and trained Isreali artist Elisheva Ness.|
All of this got me wondering…do the lives of one set of innocents have to be the price for the freedom and safety of another people? Are the babes and children of Dresden, Hiroshima, or some dusty village on the Afghan frontier God’s just collateral damage for our noble freedom? Do Palestinian dead buy just safety for a people nearly exterminated by others?
Uncomfortable questions, and undoubtedly ones some would wish un-asked.
Four years ago Passover coincided not with a Blue Moon, but with a Blood Moon, a rare total eclipse under just the right atmospheric conditions that make the Moon darkened by the Earth’s umbra seem to turn red.
|Lamentions Over the Death of the First Born of Egyp by Charles Sprague Pearce.|
Blood Moon/Egyptian Passover
Was there a Blood Moon
that terrible night
long, long ago?
Khonsu, Disk of the Moon
turning the color
of old blood.
The wails of the women
leapt from house to house,
hovel to tent,
it is said even to
the palaces themselves.
The curses of the men
bearing the limp bodies
of their sons
into the dark air
damning the Moon
What quarrel between bondsmen,
the mighty and their Priests
belongs to them, not us.
We are the farmers,
fishers of the River
and the seas,
the shepherds, the weavers,
the folk who cast pots,
the brewers of beer,
the molders of simple brick
from mud and dung,
the house slaves
and wet nurses,
What care we for those palaces,
those damnable tombs,
or the slaves who build them!
No Jews dug our wells,
laid course of simple brick
for our homes,
piled a single stone on stone
on our graves
to save our dead
from the jackals.
Yet they called down on us
spoiled our grain
stoned our kids and lambs
to death by hail,
our flesh that erupted
in festering boils.
And now our very sons!
What harm did they do you,
If your damn God
is so powerful
why did you not call him
to just wipe out Pharaoh,
the Generals in their chariots,
and all their minions
who have had their sandals
on our necks
since time began?
Such a God would be
Your freedom—and ours—
would be one!