Easter and Passover, signal celebrations in Christianity and Judaism, are linked through the calendar and through long tradition. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that they show other kinships, including some that might be surprising to some who are merely passive believers.
The most striking similarity is that both holidays represent liberation from and triumph over the powers that be in this world — the governmental/political structures of the times they commemorate — and by implication a sense of independence from the powers that rule this world in any era.
According to scripture, the people of Israel had been held in bondage as slaves in Egypt for many years, but Yahweh raised up and inspired the prophet Moses to demand that his people be liberated and allowed to leave the land of bondage. When the Egyptian Pharaoh refused this demand, 10 plagues were sent to afflict the land and change the ruler’s mind, the last being the death of the firstborn son of every family. In order for this plague to “pass over” the homes of the Israelites, they were instructed to kill a lamb and smear the blood above their doors. This final plague forced Pharaoh to relent and thus began the liberation of the Hebrews as a people subject to God’s laws rather than rule by other men.
When Jesus was preaching in Israel thousands of years later, the land was ruled by the Roman Empire. Aspects of his message of love, his promise of such a direct relationship with God that the kingdom of heaven could be said to be within each and every person, of sublime indifference to earthly powers and those who wielded them, were viewed as deeply subversive by the authorities. He was sentenced to death and hung upon a cross to die, a form of execution designed to impose agonizing humiliation, reserved for those the authorities wanted to make an example of. Yet Christians believe that after suffering that death, he rose to new life — a triumph not only over the arrogance of the earthly authorities of the day but over death itself, and a victory that contained within it the promise of eternal life for those who believe in him.
The implications of both these stories taken at face value can be shocking. They suggest that to be faithful and obedient to God, people must be free of allegiance and perhaps of obedience to the earthly authorities in a given land. They suggest strongly that the custom of human beings ruling and lording it over other human beings is repugnant to the deity.
Those in churches and synagogues today who want to nuzzle up to earthly authorities, who think they can use the coercive powers that be to promote their visions of morality and decency may be taken aback by such an interpretation. But it might be worth thinking about as these great religions celebrate their roots.