ICCJ President's Pesach and Easter Greetings 2017

Pondering Pesach and Pascha 2017: Reliving the Past, Leaping Forward

Today’s quickly evolving technology causes our everyday language to change with equal rapidity. New words appear. Old words take on new meanings. “Selfies” and “flash-mobs,” “trolling” and “tweeting” have become part of our daily vocabulary. It may be that two words associated with watching videos can bring some new insights into the significance of Pesach (Passover) and Pascha (Easter) and their interrelationships.

To “flashback” is to return to an earlier event from a chronologically later point in the story. To “flash-forward” is to jump ahead to a scene that takes place after the current action to see what is to come. Ancient Greek had its own terms for somewhat analogous literary devices: an analepsis interrupted a chronological narrative by interjecting some earlier incident; a prolepsis was the anticipatory description of an event before it had yet occurred in the narrative.

Both flashbacks and fast-forwards appear in the Bible, and so are also features of both Jewish and Christian religious thought. This is perhaps nowhere as evident as in the respective foundational events of the two traditions and their corresponding rituals: the Exodus from Egypt commemorated in the Passover Seder and the Raising of Jesus to transcendent life, especially observed at the Vigil of Easter.

During the Seder it is stated, “In every generation, each of us should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth from Egypt, as it is written: ‘And you shall explain to your child on that day, it is because of what the Eternal did for me when I, myself, went forth from Egypt’ [Exodus 13:8].” This is a flashback, an analepsis. Even more, it is a recalling of the past so as to experience it anew in the present. This is combined with the flash-forward of opening the door to see if Elijah might be coming to herald the completion of the world’s redemption and the anticipated freedom of everyone from any kind of bondage.

During the Easter Vigil, Jesus’ passage from death to life is described as his “Passover,” a kind of flashback that situates Jesus within the story of the Children of Israel. There are also several flash-forwards during the Vigil, as in a reading from the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “For if we have been united with Christ in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Indeed, a 1984 Pontifical Biblical Commission instruction explained the resurrection proleptically by writing that, “Jesus was introduced into ‘the world to come.’”

This is a fundamental, underlying conviction shared by Jews and Christians while celebrating Pesach or Pascha. Our rituals remind us that we both believe that God will bring about Olam Haba, the Age to Come, the Reign of God, the Messianic Era. While we express this concept in various terms and imagine different scenarios for the End of Days, our expectations converge in our trust in the One with Whom we covenant—God’s plans will prevail. The lion will lay down with the lamb, the swords will be beaten into plowshares, and people will no longer prepare for war.

May our Passover Seders or Paschal Eucharists enliven us with both flashbacks of the past and fast-forwards of our ultimate destinies as the story of God’s love for humanity unfolds over the centuries.

Chag Pesach sameach! An uplifting Easter!