Tonight, Jews around the world are marking Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath before Passover begins, tomorrow night. And then on Sunday Christians will celebrate Palm Sunday. It is also a special weekend for me, as this sabbath is the anniversary of my ordination. The Hebrew Scriptures read on this sabbath tells of the initiation (ordination) of Aaron as high priest and instructs us to keep a fire burning in the sanctuary, at all times.
This year as I consider how I am tending my fire, or spirit, one cannot help but reflect on all we have gone through since the last Passover and Easter seasons. Most of us will spend a second holiday season physically distanced from our loved ones. Many of our loved ones have died in this year. We have watched our country be divided and traumatized, over and over, as we experienced financial and health crises, political insurrection, and now multiple mass murders in just the last couple of weeks.
While many people tend to juxtapose Passover with Easter, in reality it has a lot more in common with Palm Sunday; and both have something to say about the moment we find ourselves in. On Palm Sunday, the rabbi Jesus road into Jerusalem with great fanfare and proceeded to overturn the marketplace inside the Temple. On Passover, Moses and the Israelites overturned the machinations of slavery in Egypt and turned their back on all they had known to step into a new life. In both instances the common folk stood up and spoke truth to power. And in both instances, bold actions eventually boomeranged, as reality and fear made them second-guess the voice of hope and freedom. The Israelites built a golden calf and waxed nostalgic for the known dysfunction of enslavement. A week after Jesus’s triumphal entrance, even his own disciples denied knowing him, and hid in fear.
The moment we find ourselves in is not so different. I remember shortly after we all went into lock-down, folks were noticing the blue of the sky and the clearness of the waters, when we were not actively polluting our planet. Many of us were restful, appreciating the slower pace; spending time with our beloveds (if we shared the same home). But before long, we became restless and fearful; it has indeed been a long year. It has been a year in which the stark disparities between haves and have-nots were laid bare, as people of color died at an even higher rate than white folk; when elders and prisoners died in exponential numbers where they were warehoused.
When we slowed down, we could no longer numb ourselves into distraction, so the murders of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor (and so many others) jolted many into finally realizing that racism is still alive and well in our culture. Asian folk, (who for many years had it somewhat better than other people of color), are now experiencing hate on a scale not seen since WWII, as we mourn those lives taken last week. And yet, it is a segment of white Americans who profess fear of the Other and claim to need their guns; while time after time, those guns have caused loss of life for the innocent. Like those early Hebrews and early Christians, fear too often displaces hope.
And yet, when we weather the fear, metabolize the trauma and return to hope, that is when the love of the Divine sets us free. Free to recognize that we are each made in the Divine Image. Free to recognize that only together can we become the Beloved Community. Free to start anew.
This time, as we enter this week holy to so many, let us begin our exodus from fear and hate, and not look back. We are told that a great multitude went out with the Hebrews, all yearning for a new way of life. Let us not return to a toxic normal but continue to pursue our hopes and dreams in ways that do not return to numbing busy-ness, or callous disregard of others. Let us recognize that it is in our diversity that we best reflect the image of the Divine. When we witness and experience that hope and compassion, we free each other to become the Children of God that Jesus and Moses knew us to be.