We are in a time of high holy observance for two faiths. Religious belief and practice is not the theme of this piece. The deep human yearning that these celebrations tap into is what is central to this discussion, which in turn translates into what we may feel when we emerge from the hopelessness of depression.
"Why is this night different from all other nights?" the youngest child traditionally asks at the Seder, the meal that celebrates the Jewish Passover.
"You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt,'" says the Book of Exodus. The Seder, in effect, is a dialogue in which children are encouraged to ask questions of their elders. There are four more formal questions, including this one:
“Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?”
The bitter herbs, the elder will reply, is a reminder of the bitterness of slavery their people had experienced in Egypt.
Emotionally, we have all felt the chains of bondage. How does it feel to be delivered? From the Book of Exodus: “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.”
The Seder is one of the connecting links between Judaism and Christianity. Two of the foods from the Seder - wine and matzah - feature significantly in the Last Supper of three of the Gospels. According to Mark, Jesus broke bread and said to his apostles: “Take it. This is my body.” In a similar fashion, the wine became his blood.
In the Roman Catholic tradition (in which I was raised), the Holy Thursday mass anticipates this new beginning. But first, there is sober reflection. At the end of the mass, the Eucharist is cleared from the tabernacle and the bells go silent. There is no mass on Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion of Jesus, though there may be formal observances. I recall as a young child the enduring sight of the church draped in black.
Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of the Christ. All four Gospels record Mary Magdalene and other women followers as the first to bear witness to the extraordinary event, which in turn is validated by the men. “Be assured,” the arisen Christ tells his eleven remaining disciples at the conclusion to Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you, always, to the end of time.”
In both faiths - and in many others - there is the undeniably strong element of a new beginning. The harsh winter is ending. We witness life fairly bursting from the earth. We don’t have to be religious to experience this redemptive quality. We are wired for it, and nowhere (at least with me) is it stronger than when we come out of a depression. How can I not feel like being delivered from Egypt? How can I not feel as if I have miraculously emerged from a dark tomb?
Similarly, when I am in a depression, how can I not feel enslaved, entombed?
On a final note, it is worth mentioning that neither Passover nor Easter is for one day. Passover extends over eight days and Easter Sunday immediately follows Holy Week. Both faiths stage their daily observances in a cumulative fashion that encourages us to focus our attention on why we are here right now. It is a time of celebration, yet a time of quiet contemplation.
To all my readers: Enjoy your time of observance in a way that is appropriate to you.
Published On: March 30, 2013
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