The Passover Seder and its symbolic foods like matzo--unlevened bread--recount the Exodus from bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land of the Jews.
at sundown Passover or Pesach began when Jews around the world gather 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.
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!
Lambs blood on the lintel--a sign to God's avenging angels to pass over
the homes of Jews as the first born sons of Egypt are slain.
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.
of the Seder meal shared today, however, dates to the early years of the Diaspora after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, not in the early
years of the First Century BCE when
Jewish religious life still centered on the Temple and the priests attending it. But
some sort of family meal before or after Temple rites was shared.The Last Supper was depicted as a Seder meal early in Christian iconography.
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 and Conservative congregations in the U.S. invite non-Jews to attend special
Seder meals. I once got to open the door for Elijah.
the first full day of Passover coincides with Palm Sunday which Christians celebrate as the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem
to prepare to celebrate the holy ritual.
2012 the Passover and Easter coincided. It was also a Blue Moon, the second full
moon of the month, symbolic of
how relatively rare that coincidence
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 UU
Congregation, Naturally, I committed
poetry for the occasion. I have edited
the poem and replaced a verse from the original.A modern family Passover Seder by Adelle John.
for Passover/Good Friday
For Social Gospel in
Words and Music
April 6, 2012
The child always asks…
What makes this night different
all other nights?
You have to think hard.
Somewhere children are always
being massacred for some
accident of birth
or for mere
Somewhere slaves are plotting their escape
Pharaohs hitch their war chariots
Somewhere the fearful faithful
the feet of a dying master,
frightened an Empire.
What makes this night different?
son, except that
the right question.
are we going
to do about
The Plague of Locusts was just one of the punishing catastrophes
visited on the Egyptians in Exodus. The disasters we face today are even more chilling.
In 2016 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?
April 23, 2016
What if there were no Passover?
What if no
What if there were no Us and Them?
What if the
sons fell alike
same dark curse?
What if the Dark Angels were not Yahweh’s?
they were our creation,
and fed by
What if there were nowhere to flee?
What if no
haven or Promise Land
even after wandering
have laid waste to it too?
What if there were no Milk and Honey?
What if our
goats all starved,
the earth bare?
What if there were no Seder tables to lay?
there were no progeny
to ask what
makes this night different,
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
it would have sufficed!
If He had
smitten their first-born,
and had not given us their wealth
— Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
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 a just safety for a people nearly exterminated by others?
questions, and undoubtedly ones some would wish un-asked.
Seven 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.
The death of the Egyptian first born struck all classes and castes.
Blood Moon/Egyptian Passover
Was there a Blood Moon
that terrible night
long, long ago?
Khonsu, Disk of the Moon
The wails of the women
house to house,
it is said
The curses of the men
What quarrel between
mighty and their Priests
to them, not us.
We are the farmers,
of the River
shepherds, the weavers,
folk who cast pots,
brewers of beer,
molders of simple brick
mud and dung,
What care we for those palaces,
the slaves who build them!
No Jews dug our wells,
course of simple brick
a single stone on stone
save our dead
Yet they called down on us
our kids and lambs
death by hail,
flesh that erupted
And now our very sons!
did they do you,
If your damn God
did you not call him
just wipe out Pharaoh,
Generals in their chariots,
all their minions
have had their sandals
Such a God would be
Your freedom—and ours—