This year, I gave up meat for Lent.
So the overlap between Lent and Pesach means I am currently deprived of a shocking percentage of the food pyramid (pyramids amirite?) and subsisting on matzah brei for more meals than is recommended for a functioning digestive system.
Am I the only person who checks the calendar to see if it will be religiously possible to eat my mother-in-law’s bunny cake on Easter?
In the history of my interfaith relationship, I did not start going to Easter until a few years after Christmas for the practical reason that I was a student with vacation over Christmas and the end of term approaching over Easter. With all due respect, it was less practical to travel home with my boyfriend to celebrate his savior’s rising in March or April than to celebrate the same savior’s birth in December.
The first year I went to Easter dinner, my father stopped me to impart a piece of his trademark sarcastic advice laced with a bit of truth.
“Remember, they are fine with us on Christmas. On Easter, not so much.”
The undefined “they” referred not expressly to my future in-laws, who seem to like me regardless of which Christian holiday is next. Instead, it was the nebulous “they” – they who had slandered Jews with the crime of deicide and they who labeled us with the blood libel. They who had otherized us and punished us and killed us for a 2,000-year-old crime that has changed the course of world history.
Why is a nice Jewish girl, albeit one married to a nice Catholic boy, giving up meat for Lent? Why is she dragging her children to the stations of the cross, which recount the death of Jesus? Why does she – in non-pandemic years – wedge herself into an uncomfortable wooden pew in a church so crowded that one wishes for the ample space of a high holiday parking lot?
The real reason is not the Bunny (who scares me a bit) or the eggs or the candy. The real reason is that several years ago, my children and I were home on Good Friday. I felt that pull of the emotion that belongs equally to Catholics and Jews – guilt.
“Oy, I should do something with my children for Good Friday.” Knowing I would be sitting through Mass two days later on Easter, I decided to take them to the Stations of the Cross service.
The Stations service marks certain events surrounding the death of Jesus. I had no idea what to expect walking into church. Then they recited the 3rd station: Jesus falls. And the 7th station: he falls again. And the 9th station: he falls for the third time.
This was a piece of the holiest Christian day that this Jewish girl could understand. We commemorate the falls, not just because we fall but because we rise. Not rising in the divine sense of what Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday, but rising in the most human sense. In life, we will stumble, fall and carry burdens that are far too great for us to bear alone. But we can rise.
At that moment, standing in that church with my children, I was reminded that we do not have to believe in a religion’s tenets to learn from their teachings. I do not have to believe in the divinity of Jesus to learn lessons about humanity in the Christian bible. I do not have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus to appreciate the very human ways that Jesus fell and then found the strength to rise again.
To all my Christian friends, may you have a blessed Good Friday filled with good health and the promise of a brighter future. And for the rest of us, may we find the strength to constantly learn from each other and the power to always rise after we fall.