Jews are celebrating the joyous holiday of Passover on the same weekend Christians are mourning the death of Jesus and then his resurrection more than 2,000 years ago today, Easter Sunday.
Churches and Jewish congregations are holding services in Pleasanton and throughout the Tri-Valley as these major observances occur simultaneously.
The Jewish Passover began Friday night and is observed for seven days by Reform Jews and Jews in Israel, and eight days by Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside of Israel.
For Christians, the Easter observance known as Lent began Feb. 18 and ended yesterday, Holy Saturday. Lent mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before starting his ministry. Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, commemorating the occasion of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ.
Friday, which Christians call "Good Friday," commemorated Jesus' crucifixion at Calvary. The etymology of the term "good" in the context of Good Friday is contested. Some sources claim it is from the archaic sense of the word "good" meaning holy, while others contend that it is a corruption of the word God.
For both faiths, this is a weekend for prayer and introspection.
"We hope to build in our community an appreciation for all faiths," said the Rev. Heather Leslie Hammer, pastor of Lynnewood United Methodist Church in Pleasanton. "We speak of Jesus as a Jewish teacher who would have celebrated Passover in Jerusalem as a faithful Jew."
Abbreviated responses from local rabbis and church leaders who were asked to comment on how their congregations will observe their respective Christian and Jewish holy days follow:
Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection
Rev. Heather Leslie Hammer, pastor
Lynnewood United Methodist Church
Easter is a time to give thanks for the rising up of faith that occurred after Jesus' death, when his disciples experienced Christ's presence in a new way. It is also a time to celebrate new life and new hope in our everyday lives.
Friday night, Lynnewood recognized the day Jesus was crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem with a solemn service of scripture, prayer, music and readings from the 14 Stations of the Cross, a ritual that comes from the Roman Catholic tradition. The United Methodist Church borrows contemplative practices today to enhance its spirituality. Whereas a generation ago Protestants tried to be different from the Catholics, today we welcome customs from different traditions that foster a deeper connection to God.
Our Easter Sunday worship at 9 and 10:30 a.m. will celebrate Christ's resurrection. The Chancel Choir will sing "Hallelujah, Amen" from Händel's oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus. This piece of music relates to Jewish history, when in 170 B.C. Judea was occupied by the Seleucids.
We have invited brass players from Amador Valley High School to play a special offertory piece, Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," as well as to accompany the organ on hymns, such as Charles Wesley's "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." (Charles and John Wesley were the founders of the Methodist Movement in England in the 18th century.) The young musicians are Matthew Aubel and Jalen Choy, trumpet; David Kim and Kevin Yang, trombone.
In my sermon I will make the connection to the need for religious freedom in our world today, particularly in places like Iraq, where Christians are being persecuted by religious extremists, such as ISIS. My text is Mark 16:1-8, the first ending in the earliest Gospel account of Jesus' resurrection.
For more information, sign on to the church's website at http://lynnewood.org.
The Rev. Luther Werth
Our Savior Lutheran Church
Following Christmas, when Christians celebrate God's coming as a human being, Easter is the most important occasion of the year. On Maundy Thursday, the congregation of Our Savior Lutheran Church of Livermore commemorated the Lord's Last Supper. Friday night, they observed Jesus' horrific death, by crucifixion for all our wrongdoings. And then today on Easter, they will celebrate his resurrection with a festive service at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Even though Jesus' followers were scared stiff on that first Easter, they still went to his grave to perform the final burial rites which could not be done on Friday because of Jewish Sabbath laws. Surprisingly, they were met by an angel who gave them a message which changed everything in their lives: "Don't be afraid, he is risen."
Some of the fear that alarmed his followers is with us now as we make our journey year by year to the graves which will one day be our own. That is why the reassuring words of the angel lead us to joyously worship on Easter, for the message still is: "Christ is risen. Don't be afraid." Don't be afraid to live and don't be afraid to die.
God tells us that all who follow Christ will live with him in glory after our earthly life is finished. In faith we can say, "I know that My Redeemer Lives." And because he lives, we shall live also.
For more information about Our Savior Lutheran Church, sign on to its website at http://oslnet.org.
The Rev. Mike Barris, pastor
Easter is the greatest celebration of Christians throughout the world. It is the Holy Day where every Christ follower, apart from denomination or tradition, proclaims the good news that Christ is risen from the grave and offers new life to all who believe in him.
As a pastor, I look forward to celebrating this day knowing that in being part of the body of Christ, we are spiritually connected to every other believer in every other Christian tradition (including those who, because of their use of a different calendar, will celebrate this day on a different date). Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday point to the central truths of the Gospel that salvation and new life are by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
On Easter Sunday at Centerpointe, we will celebrate the great truth of the resurrection of Jesus with two identical services at 9 and 10:30 a.m. My Easter message will focus on how God's grace is at the center of a restored relationship with God that results in peace, hope and security for all who believe.
Thursday night on Maundy Thursday, we reflected on Christ as our Passover lamb and the meaning of the Passover celebration, which remembers the original deliverance of the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. We celebrated Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the great truth of the resurrection of Jesus with two identical services at 9 and 10:30 a.m. at Centerpointe, which is located at 3410 Cornerstone Ct, Pleasanton. For more information, sign on to centerpointechurch.org.
Ministries Missions Director
Christians all over the world celebrate the Easter weekend with two distinctive types of services, Good Friday and Easter. Good Friday services focused on Christ's sacrifice for all people on the cross. Easter services celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the gift of eternal life he offers to all people.
We recognize that we all live in challenging times, in a world that often seems to be full of conflict and uncertainty, but through our Easter weekend message we see that Christ offers love and hope to all.
At Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, Easter services will be held at 4 and 6 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday at 9 and 11 a.m.
For more information about Cornerstone sign on to its website at cornerstoneweb.org.
Passover comes to Pleasanton
Rabbi Larry Milder
Congregation Beth Emek
Passover, which began at sundown Friday night, is a joyous holiday for Jews in the Tri-Valley. It commemorates the exodus of Jews from Egypt and freedom from slavery. It is observed for seven days by Reform Jews and Jews in Israel, and eight days by Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside of Israel.
A celebratory meal is shared on the first night of Passover, called the Seder, meaning "order," referring to the ceremonial order of the meal. Matzah is eaten with maror, bitter herbs, recalling the bitterness of slavery. The Passover Seder is a lesson in the unfinished task of bringing about a world redeemed from all forms of slavery and oppression.
Passover also celebrates the arrival of spring. Jews in ancient times cleared out the remnants of the previous year's grain before Passover, an act of faith that the coming year would bring a new and sufficient harvest. Jews today continue this practice by eliminating from their homes chametz, all products made from grain, in preparation for the holiday.
Eating matzah is an act of humility. Chametz represents all that is puffed up in our lives, like a loaf of bread. It is the ego, the pursuit of personal interest at the expense of others. Matzah is a recognition that the simplest things in our lives are ultimately the most meaningful: our freedom, our faith and our families.
Services for the last morning of Passover will be held at Congregation Beth Emek, 3400 Nevada Court in Pleasanton at 10:30 a.m. next Friday.
For more information about Congregation Beth Emek, sign on to its website at www.bethemek.org.
Rabbi Raleigh Resnick
Chabad of the Tri-Valley
Passover, which commemorates the exodus of the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt 3,327 years ago, continues to be the most widely observed Jewish festival. In the Tri Valley's Jewish community, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a family that doesn't observe Passover to one degree or other. Inquiries I receive range from "Where can I find kosher for Passover cereals" to "How do I properly conduct the seder (traditional Passover dinner)."
The Tri-Valley also is home to a fair number of first generation American Jewish families who grew up in the former Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain of Communism. While all religious observance was strictly forbidden, their accounts of secretly bringing home pieces of matzah for Passover from the clandestine matzah bakeries inspire and fascinate me.
On the first two nights of Passover, one of the primary biblical obligations of Jewish parents is to transmit the story of the Exodus to their children. The memories of a grandfather leading the seder table and the aromas of a grandmother's Passover dish stir up a deep sense of connection to the past and remind everyone present that he or she is a link in the unbroken chain of the three millennia of Jewish history.
Not only a commemoration of liberation from ancient slavery, Passover carries a timeless and relevant message. Each of us faces internal servitude and bondage. Our habits, fears, inhibitions, and insecurities, at times, restrict and limit us from acting with morality, goodness and kindness. In Hebrew, the word for 'Egypt' (mitz-rayim) actually means limitation and constraint. Thus "leaving Egypt" translates into English as "leaving limitations and constraints".
We are fortunate to live in a country of liberty where we face no external restrictions. We are free to act in goodness and kindness and to practice our faith. The only limitation that hinders us from unleashing our potential for goodness lies within us. And so on Passover we focus on breaking free of and transcending those internal hurdles and challenges; of "leaving Egypt."
This is also the symbolism of the matzah, the unleavened cracker-like bread consisting of only flour and water the Children of Israel ate on their journey to freedom. Its shape and simplicity is meant to instill humility and help overcome our obstacle to inner freedom, namely a bloated and complacent sense of self.
During the eight days of Passover the biblical obligation for Jews to refrain from eating any leavened products, such as breads, cakes, cookies, pastas, etc., reminds us all to let go of our egos and experience inner freedom wherein our spirits can soar high and we can overcome and transcend all boundaries and limitations.
For more information, sign on to its website at www.jewishtryvalley.com.