This week, Jon Stewart ran a segment called “faith/off: Easter vs. Passover.” It was a send-up of both Christian and Jewish rituals, the Easter bunny as well as the seder. At one point, he looks up and makes an appeal to his Jewish viewers (who share his own faith), saying, “We could have gone with a freedom themed festival, and instead we chose to focus on the slavery part of it!”
If you are not familiar with seders, let me explain. The ritual focus of the seder is the seder plate, which holds a fixed set of symbolic foods: horseradish and bitter herbs (for the bitterness of slavery); matzoh (the bread of affliction); charoset (which is really yummy, but symbolizes the mortar with which enslaved Jews were compelled to build Pharaoh’s construction projects); another vegetable (usually parsley) to dip into salt water as a reminder of the tears shed by the slaves); an egg (evoking, through a complex chain of ideas, our mourning over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem); and a roasted lamb bone (evoking the lambs whose blood was put on the lintels of the Jews to save them when God killed the first-born of Egypt). The thing is, Stewart was right: on a feast of liberation, all the signs are are all signs of slavery.
What I wanted to say to him was, Christians do it, too. We have this amazing Savior who has broken the iron bars of death, who has set us free from the bondage of sin, who has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to love and serve the world in his name, and we… we spend a lot of time focusing on sin. And guilt. And shame.
And these things are real, but Christ is more real. The goal for a Christian is not to acknowledge our failings and shackle ourselves to them, but to ask for forgiveness and then live into new life, not forgetting our tendencies to weakness, but reaching still for the love and strength that we find in God and in one another.
St. Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) That is the mark of an Easter faith, to accept that the God who burst from his tomb has freed us from ours as well. The gift he gives are life and joy; claim them, and live.