Beginning Saturday evening at sundown and through the next month, millions of Jews, Christians and Muslims will celebrate their most high or holy holidays.
The holidays all reflect a time when individuals look introspectively and outwardly in service as they remember and reclaim their devotions to their beliefs and deity.
Passover is from Saturday through April 4; Holy Week begins Sunday and ends on April 3, with Easter on April 4. The month of Ramadan is from April 12 to May 12.
The worldwide pandemic has changed up a bit how certain traditions are being played out, but devotees are certain a pandemic won’t stop them.
For many people, knowledge of the traditions of the Jewish Passover may have come to them from watching movies like “The Ten Commandments,” “Fiddler on the Roof” or some other Jewish-based script. But Passover is much more than a two-hour movie.
“The Passover celebration is about the beginning of the people of Israel,” said Jeffrey R. Chadwick, religious education professor of church history and Jewish studies at Brigham Young University.
It begins with the first chapter of Exodus in the Old Testament when the Israelite slaves are freed from bondage by the prophet Moses and ancient Israel is formed.
The traditional Seder dinner is a significant part of the Passover and represents the last meal eaten in bondage.
According to Rabbi Sam Spector of Kol Ami Synagogue in Salt Lake City, the Israelites had to flee so fast that their bread didn’t have time to rise. That is why one of the traditions of the Seder was to eat unleavened (no yeast) bread.
“The Jews have celebrated Passover continually for 3,000 years,” Chadwick said. “Since the first century AD Passover has been home-centered.”
The Seder dinner is usually two or three nights during Passover, starting with sundown on the first night families gather. In the original Passover tradition, the family would eat a slain lamb, as long as lambs were able to be sacrificed.
When the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem and they lost the ability to offer sacrifice that tradition ended, according to Chadwick. That happened about 70 AD when the Romans kicked the Jews out of their own land.
In modern times, the Seder plate holds a piece of leg bone from a lamb, bitter herbs (Maror), unleavened bread (Matza), a boiled egg and other items.
With that, four cups of wine or grape juice are served as you progress through the dinner. Families also will have a favorite family food as part of their entrée. According to Chadwick, it most likely would be a poultry dish, but doesn’t have to be.
“The four cups of wine are taken during episodes of telling the Passover story and the exodus,” Chadwick said. “When the meal is ended, they drink wine, say prayers and repeat, ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ ”
“More Jews serve Seder dinner (including non-practicing Jews), and Passover is the most widely observed holiday and the most strict of all the Jewish holidays,” said Spector.
Rabbi Spector worships in the tradition of reformed and progressive Judaism. The modern traditions are a bit more lenient that Orthodox Jewish traditions.
“The ritual takes place in the home in kind of a Thanksgiving-esque atmosphere,” Spector said.
“There are two big messages from Passover. One is being grateful for what we have. Food isn’t something we’ve always had,” Spector said. “We connect with the idea that tomorrow will be better than today.”
Spector said the second message is social justice and advocacy work.
“We ask who is still in Egypt, who isn’t really free,” Spector said. “The modern Jews have worked hard for Syrian refugees, for China and Myanmar.
“Who needs to be liberated from their bondage?” Spector said. “I ask in my counseling, ‘Where are you in your journey?’ ”
The Passover helps Jews to think of their journey, their walk through the wilderness of despair, pain and vulnerability and then the joy of entering their promised land.
“Next year in Jerusalem is a metaphor,” Spector added. “It means ‘may we find our freedom.’ ”
Orthodox Seders can last many hours with the complete tradition, visiting and retelling the stories, according to Spector.
The one thing the Rabbi did note is that even in the modern tradition, a cup of wine is left at the table for the Prophet Elijah from the Old Testament that said one day he would return.
During Passover there are food restrictions, particularly no flour, corn, rice, anything with yeast, according to Spector.
“It is a time for reflection and to remember the past and where we came from,” Spector said.
Holy week begins Sunday. When not in a pandemic, Christians pour into Jerusalem to celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Christ into the city. Most Christian churches throughout the world celebrate Palm Sunday.
Christ’s followers laid palm branches along the road as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. It was an important time in the city as preparations were being made for the Passover.
In Christian tradition, many churches celebrate Holy Week by contemplating the scriptures and the sacrifice Christ made on the cross.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to focus on the suffering and atonement in the garden of Gethsemane, according to John Hilton III, author of “Considering the Cross,” published by Deseret Book.
Speaking to the LDS, Hilton said, “We focus on Christ’s atonement in Gethsemane and sometimes skip over the sacrifice (on the cross) of the atonement.”
Thursday of Holy Week is also significant in Christendom. Maundy (meaning command) Thursday is celebrated and remembered as the night of the Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus.
“The Last Supper is in Matthew, Mark and Luke (in the New Testament) where Jesus institutes the Eucharist or Sacrament. In John, there is no mention of that, but of the washing of the feet of the disciples,” according to Hilton.
“Maundy Thursday contemplates both traditions and teaches metaphorically to wash somebody’s feet through service,” Hilton added.
Good Friday, which is still considered a holiday in 12 U.S. states and several countries, is the day Christ died.
Between those two days Christ was taken back and forth between the Roman ruler Pilate and the Jewish leaders who were seeking his death. He was beaten, ridiculed and finally had his own cross given to him to carry.
The walk to Golgotha, where he was crucified, was on the Via Dolorosa. It is a very important journey for most Christians and is signified by the Stations of the Cross. While traveling the road in Jerusalem is optimal for Christians, the Stations of the Cross are celebrated worldwide.
Elliott Wise, a professor in Art History at BYU, has studied the Stations of the Cross. Even here at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Provo there are Stations of the Cross set up for readings, prayers and contemplation.
There are 14 stations that traditionally appeared on Christ’s walk.
“Some are scriptural, some are an amplification of scripture and some are images of putting yourself there,” Wise said. “There are three stations – 3, 7 and 9, that are the ‘falls’ of Jesus.”
These are not in the scriptures but give people an opportunity to think how they stumble in life and how Christ falls with you, according to Wise.
Station 6 is the only station that is fictitious. It is about Saint Veronica, indicated as a female follower of Christ.
“During an intense moment of suffering on the way to his death, Veronica pulls out a cloth for Christ to wipe the blood, sweat and tears off his face,” Wise said. The story says that Christ’s image was left on the cloth.
Wise said this particular story or station became very important in the medieval church. It teaches that when you serve, you do services for Christ.
The Stations of the Cross include:
- Jesus is condemned to death.
- Jesus receives the Cross.
- Jesus falls the first time under the Cross.
- Jesus meets his afflicted mother.
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross.
- St. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
- Jesus falls the second time beneath the cross.
- Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.
- Jesus falls the third time under the cross.
- Jesus is stripped of his garments.
- Jesus is nailed to the cross.
- Jesus dies on the cross.
- Jesus is taken down from the cross.
- Jesus is laid in the sepulcher.
“Every Catholic Church — and some Protestant churches that have carried on this beautiful custom (notably Anglican and Episcopalian) — has 14 positions along the walls, tracing the chronology of these stations,” Wise said. “Sometimes these are marked by a simple cross at each station and the number, but more commonly there is a painting or a sculpture at each station that provides an important visual component to the meditation.”
LDS Easter Message
The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which consists of President Russell M. Nelson, and his counselors presidents Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, sent out the following as the 2021 Easter Message:
“At this Easter season, we gratefully commemorate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We joyfully proclaim and solemnly testify that because of Jesus Christ, we will all live again,” the message states.
“Central to God’s eternal plan is the mission of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came to redeem God’s children. Through the Savior’s Atonement, resurrection and immortality became a reality for all and eternal life became a possibility for all who would qualify. Jesus declared:
“ ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die’ (John 11:25–26). Thanks be to God for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and for His gift of resurrection!” The First Presidency stated.
There are numerous non-Christian faiths that believe in deity, the importance of worship and service including the Muslim or Islamic tradition.
Muslim believers throughout the world are preparing for this month of fasting and introspection.
“Ramadan is an old Arab tradition practiced even before Muhammad, but he institutionalized it,” Chadwick said.
Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Mecca, Arabia, now known as Saudi Arabia. In 610 AD, he claimed to be a prophet. He died in 632 AD.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and the month in which the Quran, Islam’s scriptures, was revealed to the Muhammad.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. A firing of a cannon or a large sound signifies that end of the fast, prayers are said and then a dried date is eaten and a drink of water taken, according to Chadwick.
As part of the fast, during each day Muslims are not to smoke and are to abstain from personal pleasures.
After the fast is ended, then Muslims are allowed to eat. On the third night before the end of Ramadan, called the night of power, Muslims remember Muhammed. At the end of Ramadan there is a three-day holiday of food, gift giving and treats. It is the most festive time of year, according to Chadwick.
“While I don’t know in pre-Islam why they fasted, Muhammed was told by God to do it as a personal sacrifice and a spiritual sacrifice,” Chadwick said.
It is practiced today the same as it was 1,400 years ago. It is a very personal experience demonstrating the love of God, Chadwick added.
There are other faiths that celebrate the seasons of change, newness of life and service.
Being missed this year because of COVID is the March celebration of Holi, a traditional Hindu festival celebrating the beginning of spring as well as the triumph of good over evil. The Hindu Temple in Spanish Fork sees thousands of local college students celebrate through chants and the traditional throwing of the colors ushering in spring.
The Baha’i faith celebrates Nowruz, the first day of the calendar year. It happens on the vernal equinox around March 21. This is the traditional new year in Iran and Afghanistan.
The traditional holiday has been celebrated since ancient times in Iran and is observed by people in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Pakistan, Syria and Tajikistan.