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April Chaplain's Reflections

U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Gray, a chaplain assigned to 169th Fighter Wing, at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Feb. 6, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Gray, a chaplain assigned to 169th Fighter Wing, at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Feb. 6, 2018. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Megan Floyd)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

Happy Passover and Easter...almost! Passover this year is Friday, April 19 through Saturday, April 27. It is traditionally celebrated on the first Full Moon following the vernal equinox, which is the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Since the Christian celebration of Easter has its roots in the Jewish celebration of Passover, it is celebrated on the Sunday of Passover which will be April 21 this year. Given the close relationship between the celebrations of these two faiths, I thought I’d take a moment to tell about their history.

The Passover commemorates Israel’s exodus and liberation from Egyptian slavery around the year 1313BC. According to the book of Exodus, the last plague put upon the Egyptians by God would be the death of the first born male of every family. God instructed the Israelites to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of an unblemished lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the firstborn in those homes that were marked. The death of all the firstborn in Egypt, including the son of the Pharaoh, caused the Pharaoh to free the Israelites. They left in such haste that they took with them bread that had not yet had the time to rise. They then passed through the Red Sea, wandered through the desert for 30 years (this is a story for another time), and eventually made it into the land promised to them by God.

From this point on, the Israelites came to see the sacrificial shedding of blood as an oblation for the forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 4:35 and Hebrews 9:22). Thereafter Jewish faithful would journey each year to the Temple in Jerusalem and offer sacrifices (animal and cereal) in atonement for sin and as offerings to God. After the destruction of the second temple in 70AD, the focus of the Passover shifted to eating a ritual meal made up of lamb, bitter herbs, four cups of wine, and the recitation of the Haggadah which is the story of their freedom and exodus from Egypt.

The Christian “Last Supper”, which is recounted in the Gospel, was essentially a Jewish Passover feast. The New Testament describes the Passover, or Seder, meal as being given new significance by Jesus because He identified the matzah (or unleavened bread) used at a Passover meal as his “body” and the cup of wine they drank at the meal as his “blood.” Early in Jesus ministry, John the Baptist describes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1:36) thus connecting Jesus to the unblemished lamb of Passover at the Last Supper.

The Passover ritual would come to symbolize the sacrifice he was about to make in death and became the basis for the Christian ritual of Holy Communion. Holy Communion remains a fundamental part of Christian religious services most especially on Easter Sunday when Christians recall the shedding of Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of sins and His resurrection/freedom from death.

So this time of year is a sacred time for both Christians and Jews. It is a time both Faiths focus upon redemption with God as the great liberator of humanity. The divine redemption of the Israelites thus becomes the blueprint for the Jewish and Christian understanding of God. This Passover and Easter season may each of us have peace in our homes, joy in our hearts, and goodwill to all. Happy Passover and Easter to you and your families!