Dozens of students, including kindergartner Sarah Lash, were marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, using ingenuity in the form of 9-inch cotton-tipped applicators. Photo provided
By Janis Fontaine
Happy Passover! And Happy Easter!
Because both are tied to the lunar calendar, Easter, the most important Christian holiday, will always coincide with Passover, the first festival of Judaism, but the spring timing isn’t all they share.
Jews have been celebrating Passover — which commemorates their escape from slavery in Egypt — since the exodus itself, scholars say, which was around the 13th century B.C.
Centuries later, Jesus would be crucified during the Passover day of preparation, what Christians call Good Friday. The night before, Jesus hosted the Last Supper, a Jewish seder.
It is called Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday now, and Christians revere the day as the origin of Christianity’s most important sacrament: the Eucharist of which Holy Communion is part.
Maundy Thursday services will be held on April 1 this year, with Easter on April 4.
At St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, the annual seder that brings Christians and Jews together to celebrate has been canceled because of the coronavirus for the second straight year, but the interfaith spirit of goodwill remains. The church hopes the seder can return next year.
For some Christians, Easter is a one-day holiday. But the season really begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year was Feb. 17, and lasts about six weeks.
On Ash Wednesday, the ashes from the burning of palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday, which have been crushed into a fine powder and blessed by the priest, are applied to the forehead in the shape of a cross.
The minister prays, “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15), or “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), the older, more traditional invocation. The ashes are also a plea to God for mercy and compassion, pardon and forgiveness.
In this no-touch pandemic world, Pastor Dave Franklin at Advent Church in Boca Raton said about 35 drivers came to the church drive-thru to be marked with ashes.
At St. Joseph’s Episcopal, the Ash Wednesday service was live-streamed to classrooms, then kids were taken one class at a time to the church, where they were marked with ashes. Nine-inch cotton-tipped applicators were used, which was fun, funny and a break from the isolation of the pandemic.
Rabbi Josh Broide at Boca Raton Community Synagogue says his congregation is eager to celebrate Passover, which is March 27 to April 4, but many still feel vulnerable to the virus. Involving the children in the retelling of the Exodus story and the Resurrection story is important to both faiths.
“Families look forward to getting together, and it’s important to engage the children,” Broide said. “It’s also a time to reflect and see what matters. Politics are divisive, the economy is erratic. Do we really need to fight with each other?”
St. Joseph’s and most other churches and synagogues are finalizing Easter and Passover plans and, as with Ash Wednesday, celebrations may require creativity. Some will be virtual only and some usual activities will be canceled as they were last year during lockdowns. But in-person services have resumed in places, and Broide and Franklin feel positive about the future.
“We have a tight community and that helps,” Franklin said. “It’s been a blessing to have virtual church because it allows us to stay connected, to engage with people online who don’t feel comfortable coming to in-person worship, and it’s especially important at Easter.”
Holidays can make people feel more isolated, Broide said. “I get a lot of calls from lonely people and I tell them to stay strong. I believe we can see the beginning of the end,” he said. “Call it cautious optimism.”
Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. firstname.lastname@example.org.