For Christians, this is Holy Week; for Jews it is Passover; and Muslims are in the midst of the Holy month of Ramadan. These three holidays are among the most sacred times in the liturgical calendars of the Abrahamic faiths and all three have special relevance this year.
For Muslims worldwide, the Holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time when many Muslims observe a month-long fast, refraining from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in any other physical needs from dawn until sunset. The fast is intended to teach self-discipline and self-control, and to call Muslims to acts of mercy, especially among those who are suffering or those who are less fortunate.
Ramadan acknowledges the first revelation of the Holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad, but this year Ramadan began in sadness as just six weeks earlier, devastating earthquakes occurred in Turkey and Syria that have killed more than 50,000 and left an unfathomable 5.9 million displaced—the vast majority of them Muslims.
For Jews, Passover is a time of remembrance and to call the Jewish people to action against forces that seek to diminish and destroy. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the beautifully designed New American Haggadah, states that “the [Passover] seder is a protest against despair. The universe might appear deaf to our fears and hopes, but we are not—so we gather, and share them, and pass them down. We have been waiting for this moment for thousands of years…And we will not wait idly.”
As Jews look on in sadness (and horror) with what is currently happening in Israel, Passover celebrations form a particularly timely challenge—before it is too late. Dr. Andrew Rehfeld, President of Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, writes, “Safran Foer’s words remind us that the lessons of Passover are a call to action for us today. As we reenact the story of our liberation, we are inspired by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who peacefully gathered, protested, and chose not to wait idly as the nation they love was threatened from within.”
And for Christians, Holy Week began with Palm Sunday—a uniquely bifurcated celebration, coupling Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (to celebrate the Passover) with the looming dread of Jesus’ suffering and death just a few days later at his crucifixion on Good Friday.
My Palm Sunday experience this year began by attending worship at Union Congregational Church in Montclair, NJ, where Rev. Katrina Forman focused brilliantly on the word that generations of Christian writers and hymnists have associated with the day—Hosanna. Katrina rightly pointed out that the word is not exclusively a term of joyful praise that we think of as children festively wave palm fronds in the various pageants and parades that bedeck Christian church schools and fellowship halls in this season. Rather, the word originated as a desperate plea that means “save us now!”
In the aftermath of last week’s shooting in a Nashville elementary school, Rev. Forman focused poignantly on the first part of this traditional term and called passionately for our deliverance from the horrors of gun violence that repeatedly terrify us. It was a most timely connection between the ancient drama unfolding upon Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and our present day.
So, for many of us in this season, whatever our faith tradition, and whether we focus on the devastation of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the unrelenting threat to democracy in Israel, the incessant epidemic of gun violence in the US or personal struggles too many and too intimate to name here, we can unite in our plea to the Great Spirit who is Creator of us all—Hosanna, Save Us Now.