Connecting the Passover and Easter dots

At my last Rotary Club meeting, I had the pleasure of presenting some interesting highlights and sidelights on the connections between Passover and Easter.
My club is a small one, about 20 members. We’re all Rotarians because we believe in the purpose of something that was started many years ago by a Chicago businessman — a Jewish man, at that — who believed that bringing businessmen together informally would be a good thing. Paul Harris recruited two friends — not Jewish — for lunch meetings. From this tiny seed grew a worldwide movement devoted to doing good things for others, based on telling the truth, being fair and helping those who need it.
There are only two Jews in my club. The rest are a mixed bag of Christians, all denominations, including one Baptist minister. And from time to time, I get the chance to share bits of my Judaism with them.
Yes, they all know, and agree, that Jesus’ last supper was indeed a Passover Seder. At our meeting, I went over the elements of the Seder, the meanings of our symbolic foods, the way our faiths come together at these springtime holidays with eggs — the universal symbol of life; greenery — the abiding sign of spring; lamb — the sacrificial animal: salvation through blood on doorposts for us, salvation through the blood of Jesus for them. Shouldn’t we, as Jews, all recognize that our Exodus was the reason Jesus has come to be called by Christians “the lamb of God”?
The goblet Christians say Jesus held aloft at his Last Supper as he proclaimed “This is my blood” was one of the four cups we drink at our Seder table. And, the bread he broke as he said “This is my body”? It was surely matzah. To this day, Christians of many faiths take “communion,” their coming together as closely as they can with Jesus, through wafers. Wafers are essentially unleavened bread.
I could go on like this for a long time — and, indeed, I did so at my Rotary Club meeting. But I finally ended with two facts of which many Jews and Christians are unaware. First, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey for that fateful Passover Seder, he was met by many who already revered him for defying the hard lines of the priests and adapting much to the level of the common folk. I count myself among those who consider Jesus the first Reform Jew. But those palm fronds grew in significance after his death, and this is what today’s Palm Sunday is all about! Palm branches are gathered to decorate churches, and some Christians — notably Catholics — burn them afterward. Then they gather the residue and save it for Ash Wednesday. Those ashes are used to mark the foreheads of worshippers as the Easter season begins, with hope for new and better life in the coming year.
And here is the second fact. In some synagogues, there is a special box, not much noticed or even talked about, sometimes attached to a high wall in the sanctuary. In it is a piece of matzo saved from the Seder of the previous year. Each year, after the Seder concludes, that box is opened and the old matzo is replaced with a new piece. This symbolizes continuity, with hope for new and better life in the coming year.
We have given so much to the religions that grew after ours, out of very Jewish roots. I have the great opportunity — small as it is — in Rotary, to help others know those roots, so that what may grow now is for more Christians to acknowledge and bless their own debt to our Judaism.
May your Seder tables be beautiful and bountiful, and herald a good year to come — for all of us.

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