Reflections on Easter and Passover
Gratuitous acts of violence in our country in recent days raise questions about whether the message of Easter hope has any relevance. At press time, the anti-Semitic shootings in Overland Park are on the news and on my mind. Besides that, there is the slow-motion violence against the poor and working-class by a process of sucking what little wealth they have into the pockets of the financial elite. What hope is there for them? How can it be, during the season of Passover and Holy Week, that such things go on?
Both stories — Passover and Easter — are set against the background of violence against Jews and against the poor. In Egypt, there were acts of whipping and overworking the Hebrew slaves, but the major violence was economic. The Hebrew immigrants had come to Egypt in a time of famine, and the ruling class had pushed them into debt slavery. It is debt slavery that has taken all hope away from the poor and the working class in the US, and from whole countries who find themselves in impossible debt to rich nations.
Against that background, the miraculous escape from the Egyptian army represents both an escape from debt and outright theft from the rich in the name of justice, orchestrated by the Lord himself. When the new society is formed in Sinai, the Law is clear that there is to be no loaning at interest which could rob people of their homes and land, and that every 50 years all debts are to be forgiven. When two millennia later, Rabbi Yeshua (as Elliot Taubman calls him) teaches his students to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” he means it literally as well as metaphorically.
The context of the stories of Holy Week includes such a fear of pervasive Roman violence that the religious leaders of Judea, as well as its puppet king, make political decisions to avoid the hammer of the Empire. Pilate placing a sign over Jesus’ head saying “The King of the Jews” may have an ironic meaning for Christians, but for Pilate it was a blatant act of anti-Semitism. Combined with a crown of thorns and a purple robe, the message is “You Jews are pathetic.” However much some Christians — and even the recent movie about Jesus — want to pin the blame on the Jews, it remains a fact that it was the Romans who put him to death. You can make the case that the religious leaders acted not only out of a desire to protect their positions of authority, but out of deepseated fear of the Roman army.
Against such violence, Jesus’ whole life was a loud “no.” Against such violence, God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead was a loud “no.” The message of Easter is that even in a world filled with anti-Semitism and racism and state violence, God can bring life out of the culture of death.
The Resurrection is the beginning of the end of violence and a statement that the power of God’s love and justice are mightier than the sword and tribal hatreds. If God can bring new life and freedom out of Egyptian and Roman oppression, what can God do today? I do not lose hope.
This year I have chosen to share with you a well written meditation on the great feast of Easter by Father Richard Veras, the pastor of the Church of St. Rita in Staten Island, New York. He gives the observance of the Resurrection a special, refreshing insight. Enjoy, be inspired, and have a Happy Easter.
Fr. Joe Protano
St. Andrew Church
We are Truly Risen!
If Jesus remained dead in the tomb what would it mean? It would mean that Mary Magdalene is nothing but a sinner, Peter is nothing but a betrayer, the woman caught in adultery is nothing but an adulteress, Mathew is nothing but a corrupt tax collector. If the cross was the end, then the thief on the other cross was just a pathetic beggar whose meaningless life and whose brazen request was swallowed in death. Parables about fathers forgiving sinful sons would just be fairy tales to distract us from the deadening harshness of life, and our inability to live it fully. What does the resurrection mean?
It means that Mary Magdeline is the first witness of the most important event in creation. Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, the former adulteress is a beloved daughter, Matthew is an Apostle of God and will ever be. That good man on the cross is rejoicing with Jesus in heaven today and all days. The Resurrection recreates us and gives us a new identity, our true identity. Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! He is truly the Son of God! Truly, we are now beloved sons and daughters and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Only with this knowledge can we truly and reasonably say, Happy Easter.
Reflection based on John 20:1-9
Fr. Richard Veras
Sometimes church authorities misjudge clergy.
That was the case with John Mason Neale. John Neale was born in London, England, in the early 1800s. The son of an Anglican priest, he was an honors student at Trinity College. In the history of this distinguished college, Neale was a standout as a writer and scholar. He was ordained to the priesthood, yet suspected by church authorities because his theology leaned toward being “too Roman Catholic” for them, so he was assigned as a chaplain for male geriatric patients. Neale found time, however, in this assignment to not only be an effective chaplain but to begin outreach programs for orphans and prostitutes. His other passion was as a scholar. In the late afternoons, he went back into church documents and history to find potentially valuable but overlooked writings and music. As a result of this work, the hymns, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” and the hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” were translated from Latin and became part of our modern canon.
On one such search, Rev. Neale discovered the text for, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” which had been written by Theodolph of Orleans (circa 820). Theodolph of Orleans wrote the hymn and first sang it while a prisoner. He had begun life as a member of the royal family. His life changed when he read the story of “the rich young man” in the gospels. This gospel text inspired him to give up his title, money, and property to become a priest. Theodolph was a holy man who worked among the poorest of the poor and raised funds to support his work by appealing to his former friends and the royal family.
The Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne was intrigued and inspired by the now Bishop Theodolf to not only feed his poorest citizens but to educate them as well. This radical idea was attributed to the influence of Theodolph of Orleans. When Charlemagne died, however, Theodolph was sentenced to life in prison by Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious. Louis the “Pious” was so jealous of Theodolph he condemned him to a life sentence in prison. It was in the year before he died a prisoner that he wrote “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and sang it with and to his fellow prisoners. It is generally believed he was poisoned by Louis the Pious. The text that Neale found hundreds of years later was brought to greater life by Neale’s decision to use more uplifting music with the words he found so inspiring. The music he set the text to was composed by a martyred German pastor who had been killed by Cossacks in the 1600’s.
By the late 1800’s the hymn “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” was the signature hymn the church used on Palm Sunday of Holy Week. This hymn is considered to be one of the oldest of the Christian hymns still in use. Although not specifically written as an Easter hymn it embodies the resurrection hope of those who face despair and find peace beyond understanding. It was written from prison by a Bishop in 820, translated centuries later by another priest who had been minimized by church authorities, who then sensitively set the hymn to music composed by a faithful German pastor in the 17th century who had died for his faith.
Easter doesn’t deny human pain, it is a faith at both the day and the night of human experience. Einstein said “we see what our theories allow us to see.” Our Christian theory of Resurrection is HOPE.
A very Blessed Easter to Block Island from St. Ann’s
The Rev. Eileen C. Lindeman, Vicar
St. Ann’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
Passover is the Jewish holiday of freedom and fair treatment of the stranger. It commemorates the story of the “Hebrews” (Hiskos, Ebraica) leaving Egypt, allegedly under the leadership of Moses (Moshe, Moises). In Exodus, the story is that at the time of the Pascal Moon, after many false promises and many plagues visited on Pharaoh and the Egyptians for refusing to grant freedom to the Israelites, Pharaoh once again refused to let them go. In response, Moses called on the Ruler of All who directed the Hebrews to take actions to protect their children. Throughout the few thousand years of the telling of the story, aspects of it may have changed. However, in short, the story read each year at Passover in the Haggadah (the handbook of events and their implications) depicts the Israelites gaining their freedom from Egypt, which resonates for peoples searching for liberty throughout history.
Food at Passover, as it tends to be in all Jewish holidays, is important and has commemorative value. Like many other things, contemporary recipes derive from a mixture of ethnicities, for instance from the exchanges of numbers of Egyptian Jews traveling between Italy and France, which have impacted education and trade with Egypt. One of the most significant traditions at the Seders (traditional meals and services) is to state: “May all who are hungry enter and eat.” Feeding the stranger is important because Jews were strangers in the land of Egypt — as they have been in many other lands.
Two particular foods that are popular at Pesach (Hebrew for “pass over”) are charoses (haroset: a mixture of chopped apples, spices, nuts and such) and fried matzoh (matzoh brie: a variation of softening matzohs in egg batter, adding sundry condiments and frying the mixture). The charoses does not look like much , as it is supposed to depict the mortar the Israelite slaves used in Egypt, but it is delicious on matzoh. Matzoh is necessary, which is the unleavened bread that the Jews made in the desert.
The recipes below are a gift from my parents: my father’s mortar and my mother’s fried matzoh.
Miriam’s Fried Matzoh
Ingredients: Matzoh — one or two eggs per two slices of plain matzoh; grated onion (about a teaspoon per matzoh); salt, pepper and cinnamon. Water and olive, peanut or other good quality vegetable oil.
Technique: Boil water, soak matzoh (hand cut-up one inch pieces) in boiling water, let stand a few minutes, pour off any excess water, but matzoh should be wet. Blend in eggs, salt, pepper and cinnamon in bowl with matzoh. In large skillet, heat up a good covering of oil. When hot, put a layer between a half and three-quarters of an inch thick. It should sizzle and turn down heat to medium. The first side is mostly done when it is sticking together (10-15 minutes). Turn over in large pieces with spatula and cook at middle-low heat for another 10-15 minutes.
Notes: May substitute chicken fat for olive oil if you are not using dairy. May also add vegetable/chicken substitute broth. May be eaten plain for breakfast or brunch. May be served with plain yogurt, sour cream or apple sauce. Also goes well with coffee, tea or juice.
Big T’s Charoses
Ingredients: Apples, walnuts, Manischevitz Concord Grape Wine, cinnamon. About equal weight on first three ingredients and cinnamon to taste. Best apples available now are Fujis, but any semi-hard, semi-sweet apple can do. May use shelled walnuts, or pecans. The Manischevitz really is best for this recipe. People have tried alternatives, but they are not sweet enough or balanced with acidity. There is no need to add additional sweetness if enough wine is used.
Technique: If you have an old fashioned electric grinder, it works best. May also use hand grinder or food processor, or chop by hand (messy).The goal is a medium coarseness of the ingredients. Have big bowl under grinder surface. Core apples, cut into pieces (can get tool to do both). Optional to leave skins on — adds color and fiber, (but be aware of whether pesticides were used.) Grind or chop into a medium course mixture. Alternate apples and nuts going through grinder, but add wine as soon as apples are ground as this prevents discoloration. Taste and adjust the four ingredients – may clean out solids by running wine through grinder. Let sit. Tastes best next day, as it marinates - cover and leave in refrigerator.
Notes: Served as part of Pesach seder, served on matzoh. Also made into a Hillel Sandwich. Hillel taught that in commemoration of the bitterness of the lives of Jews as slaves in Egypt, we should take two pieces of matzoh, put charoses in center and then add “bitter herbs” (traditionally, grated horse radish). Nowadays, people sometimes substitute scallions or onions. It commemorates hard work and tears, but still tastes good.
Cantor Elliot Taubman
Congregation Sons and Daughters of Ruth