Churches and Jewish congregations are holding services in Pleasanton and throughout the Tri-Valley today, with Jews celebrating the joyous holiday of Passover and Christians mourning the death of Jesus and then, on Easter Sunday, marking his resurrection some 2,000 years ago.
The Jewish Passover begins tonight and is observed for seven days by Reform Jews, including those at Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton, and for eight days by Conservative and Orthodox Jews, including those who attend services at the Chabad of the Tri-Valley.
For both faiths, this is a weekend for prayer and introspection.
For Christians, the Easter observance known as Lent began March 6, the start of a 40-day period of fasting and reflection, which ends Easter Sunday.
"One of the unique aspects of Christianity is that it actually traces its origin to one particular event in one moment on one day in history," said Matt VanCleave, the teaching pastor at Blue Oaks Church in Pleasanton. "That moment has changed more human hearts than any other event in history."
Added Steve Ingold, the Livermore campus pastor at Cornerstone Fellowship: "His resurrection became the catalyst for the Christian faith. It changed everything."
Blue Oaks Church, which has offices at 6601 Owens Drive, holds its services at Foothill High School.
"Our Sunday services are engaging, casual and relaxed. You can come as you are and expect to feel welcomed as our guest. You'll experience modern music and a relevant, engaging message," VanCleave said.
Blue Oaks will have four identical morning services on Easter, at 7:30, 8:45, 10 and 11:15. There will be a tent in the courtyard that will include a photo booth area. A special children's service will include special music and skits, with an Easter egg hunt for preschoolers.
At Cornerstone, located at 348 N. Canyons Pkwy. in Livermore, across from Costco on Independence Drive, Good Friday services will be held today at noon and 6:30 p.m. Easter services will be held tomorrow (Saturday) at 3 and 5 p.m., with Sunday services at 6, 9 and 11 a.m.
"This Easter, Cornerstone Fellowship will unpack the life-altering joy, peace, hope and love that was made possible by this one event. Come join us and experience how this changes everything for you," Ingold said.
Other pastors added their commentaries:
Catholic Community of Pleasanton
Catholic services for Good Friday: St. Augustine Church, 3999 Bernal Ave. noon and 8 p.m.; St. Elizabeth Seton, 4001 Stoneridge Drive, 8 p.m.
Catholic services for Holy Saturday, April 20: St. Elizabeth Seton, 8 p.m.
Catholic services for Easter Sunday: St. Augustine's, 8, 10, 10:15 a.m. (in Grotto behind church), and noon. St. Elizabeth Seton, 9 and 11 a.m.
Also today, a walk across Pleasanton will start at St. Augustine at 4:30 p.m. and go to St. Elizabeth Seton.
"Easter celebrates and 're-members' the accomplishments of Jesus Christ to save humanity by teaching and living the life of sacrificial love," said the Catholic Community's Rev. Fr. Kwame Assenyoh. "The saving actions of Jesus are his suffering, dying, and rising! This is how we were and are being saved."
He added: "This is what Christianity offers and showcases with Easter to the world; and we celebrate these saving actions in the service Roman Catholics call the 'Triduum' or three days involving Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. As the disciples of Jesus today, we too re-member, re-actualize, re-incorporate and re-live what Jesus did to save us in a single Easter celebration across days.
"We also invite all Christians and non-Christians, alike, to join us if even to celebrate what we believe is the greatest gift that God has given to liberate the world and humanity -- the pure act of love for peace."
CrossWinds, located at 1660 Freisman Road, just east of the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore, will be offering four identical Easter services: On Saturday at 5 p.m., and on Easter Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m. and at noon. A family event starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday will feature bounce houses, an egg hunt, face painting and more for children to enjoy.
"One of the core values that CrossWinds Church holds to is that Jesus Changes Everything," said Chris Coli, the church pastor. "This Easter, we'll be examining the search for fulfillment and satisfaction that every person encounters and lives through. There's a longing for deep satisfaction that we know is out there somewhere, and we believe that Jesus made a way for us. And that this changes everything. The question is, will we receive what he offers?"
The church will also host "Walkthrough Experiences" at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. today. These will be self-guided, contemplative pilgrimages through a prayer labyrinth where participants will have the opportunity to explore the last week of Jesus' life.
"This event has the potential to be a powerfully, moving experience as you meditate on the death and burial of our Savior," Coli said.
GraceWay will hold Good Friday services at 7 p.m. tonight and services on Easter at 10 a.m. at its new location at 1183 Quarry Lane in Pleasanton's Valley Business Park.
"On Good Friday, we take time to reflect deeply on the unconditional love of God and the reality that Jesus willingly gave his life in place of ours, so that we would experience freedom from death and life forever with him," said Mike Barris, GraceWay's pastor.
He added: "The cross of Good Friday leads to the empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. The theme for Easter is 'Death Arrested' and the invitation to all is to consider the hope found in Jesus. In this world, death ends life. The resurrection of Jesus declares death has been arrested. In him is hope that your life can be made new, you can be made whole, and you can be forever free."
The church will hold a children's Easter egg hunt following Sunday's service.
The church, located at Santa Rita Road and Stoneridge Drive, will hold a Good Friday service at 6:45 p.m. tonight and three Easter Sunday morning services at 8:45, 10:15 and 11:45.
"As we approach Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus many are excited, some are suspicious and some are indifferent to it all rejoicing in last week's spring break or an excuse at Easter to eat extra chocolate," said the Rev. Matt Lacey, who with his wife Jacqui serve as the lead pastors of Fountain Church.
Lacey added: "The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like Jesus' teachings, but whether or not he rose from the dead. In other words, if the resurrection is true, then it's all true, that Jesus really lived a sinless life, died on a cross that we might be forgiven of our sin and healed from our past hurts and pain.
"He rose again that we might be saved, not just from our sin but into a brand-new life of hope, joy, power and freedom. That, my friends, is the Gospel, which simply means Good News."
Harvest Valley Church
Located at 3200 Hopyard Road, across from Ken Mercer Sports Park, Harvest Church will hold Good Friday services at 6:30 p.m. tonight and on Easter Sunday at 9 a.m., with an Easter egg hunt for children preschool to fifth grade following that service.
"It seems that Easter has always been known as 'that Sunday' where if at all possible you went to church to show your appreciation to God for not only sending His Son Jesus to earth to die for humanities' sins, but also to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave," said Derek Meekins, Harvest Church's executive pastor. "However, within the last several years this message has gotten lost within the ever-growing popularity of Easter egg hunts and bunnies to the point that many think Easter was created for kids to have another fun day on the calendar."
"Now don't get me wrong," he added. "I'm not saying Easter shouldn't be fun. I'm all for festivities and hunts but only if the message of Easter is talked about. People need to remember that Easter commemorates the day Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead after he had died for the sins of the world."
Lynnewood United Methodist Church
Services at Lynnewood United Methodist Church at 4444 Black Ave. will be at 7:30 for Good Friday tonight, and at 9 and 10:30 a.m. on Easter.
"Easter is upon us, and Christians all over the world will celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead and the fulfillment of God's promise for eternal life," Lynnewood's Pastor Henry Kim said. "But, do we really think about the meaning and why we celebrate this season?"
"Most Americans delight in the bunny, games and egg hunting on Easter day and attending church services," he added. "It's part of our tradition. People from other cultures and religions are quickly catching on to this Christian tradition to enjoy the festivity, much like Christmas. But without Jesus' journey to the cross, Easter doesn't really exist."
Kim said, "On this holy week and Easter, let us meditate on the heart of Jesus as he journeyed to Jerusalem and let us join in his journey to seek a new life of humility and peace. It might not be possible on our own, but let Jesus show us the way. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
A Good Friday service will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at Our Savior Lutheran Church at 1385 S. Livermore Ave. in Livermore, followed on Saturday by an "Easter Eggstravaganza" for children at 10 a.m. Easter Sunday services will be held at 9 a.m.
"We live in a time when there is so much going on in our world that we long for opportunities to gather with friends and family to celebrate," said the Rev. Dr. Kevin Austin, senior pastor. "So, each year we circle Dec. 25 on our calendar to gather around a tree in the glow of the lights to exchange gifts and celebrate together. Each November we gather around the dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving as we eat turkey and reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for.
Austin continued: "But what about Easter? Often times the images in our heads of Easter are bunnies or baskets full of eggs, beautiful spring flowers or special Easter dresses. But is this all there is to Easter? Is it just another excuse to escape the mundane or trials of everyday life? Or is there something more?
"Easter is important because it tells us that Jesus' death on the cross didn't have the last word in his life. Easter tells us that because Jesus lives, we have hope. For one day, the darkness and the trials that overwhelm us at times will be a thing of the past and all that has been wrong will be made right. And so, if Christmas is about love and gifts, Thanksgiving is about thankfulness, I would suggest that Easter is about hope."
St. Clare's Episcopal Church
Easter Sunday services will be held at 8 and 10:15 a.m. with a reception and Easter egg hunt following at St. Clare's at 3350 Hopyard Road.
"Vibrant churches trade in the messy business of being part of each other's lives," said the Rev. Ron Culmer, St. Clare's rector. "We see it in the disciples after the death of Jesus, wondering what will become of them. We see it again in the life of Job who loses everything. And, because I'm a priest, I know that we see it outside of the scriptures in the lives of the people I serve, and the lives of those who serve."
He added: "We have a phrase at St. Clare's: 'All in.' We're all in for God, all in for each other, all in for our neighbors, and all in for each others' lives. At its worst it's challenging, but at its best, you just can't buy this kind of love. The Easter celebration is only one-half of the story: One half is showing up every week. That other half involves a love that meets us where we are, loves us as we are, and walks with us as we are. You can never know that kind of joy by sitting out, holding a grudge, or writing off hope. And heaven knows, we all could use a lot more hope."
Trinity Lutheran Church, ELCA
The church at 1225 Hopyard Road will hold a Good Friday service at 7 p.m. tonight, with an Easter Sunday service at 9 a.m., followed by an Easter egg hunt for children on the church lawn.
"Emptiness, grief, disappointment, heartache and anxiety: these emotions and experiences seem to permeate our lives more so than ever these days," said the Rev. Heidi Hester, church pastor. "Wherever we turn we are confronted with the brokenness of relationships, health, politics, world issues."
"Which is why Easter is such an important time for the world to realize that on this important day, empty is good," she continued. "The empty tomb reminds us that Christ defeated death itself, and from that emptiness comes new life and abundant hope. Christ meets us in our emptiness and offers us meaning and purpose. We become the beacon of hope for each other as we gather in faith communities. I pray that everyone who feels empty this year that they may find a place to worship and be filled with God's hope."
Valley Community Church
A Good Friday service will be held today at 7 p.m. at Valley Community Church at 4455 Del Valle Pkwy., followed by three services Easter Sunday at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. The church also is sponsoring a Bunny Hop egg hunt starting at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday) at Inklings Coffee & Tea at 530 Main St. for children 10 years and younger. They can register at the Museum on Main, 603 Main St.
In a message, the Rev. Heath Hardesty, lead pastor at Valley Community Church, noted that "something happened on Easter, something that left an impact crater in history."
"That 'something,'" he continued, "was the resurrection of Jesus, the opening of his grave, and, as a result, our graves. The claim of the Christian faith is not just that something happened 2,000 years ago, but that the resurrection reality is present now, validated by the countless followers of Jesus whose broken lives have been brought to life by the love of God and their hope of physical resurrection in the future."
The Jewish community in the Tri-Valley will join Jews worldwide in celebrating Passover starting at sundown tonight.
Jews will then enjoy the first Seder meals, which include four cups of wine and eating matzah and bitter herbs, followed by retelling the story of the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt 3,331 years ago. At that time, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Egypt and began the trek to Mount Sinai and the land of Israel.
Locally, Passover will be celebrated by Pleasanton's two Jewish centers: Congregation Beth Emek, at 3400 Nevada Ct., just off Bernal Avenue; and Chabad of the Tri-Valley, at 3370 Hopyard Road.
"All Jewish holidays begin at sundown, which includes Passover tonight," explained Rabbi Larry Milder, the leader of Congregation Beth Emek, which is affiliated with Judaism's reform movement. "As reformed Jews, we follow the Israeli calendar, so Passover for us lasts seven days, ending at sundown next Friday, April 26."
While Passover is very important to Jews, there will be no services tonight at Beth Emek. Members of the congregation instead will be in their homes with friends and family celebrating Passover with the Seder meal. It's one of their great traditions where elders in families tell their children the story during the Seder meal of the exodus from Egypt, a story which Jews by tradition pass down from generation to generation.
Chabad, however, will hold a Passover Seder service tonight.
"We invite all Jewish people to come to our Passover service the first night," said Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, spiritual leader of Chabad of the Tri-Valley, a more traditional, conservative assembly of Jewish faith. "Friday night is a community event. Saturday night is when people celebrate in their homes, but we will have services here as well."
Both rabbis were asked to provide Passover messages, as follows:
Rabbi Larry Milder, Congregation Beth Emek
Jews everywhere will gather this Friday, April 19, to begin one of the highlights of the Jewish year, the holiday of Passover.
Prayer, songs and ceremonial foods are at the center of the Passover celebration. Unlike many Jewish holidays, Passover is observed primarily in the home, beginning with an elaborate meal called the Seder.
Seder, meaning "order," refers to the ordered ceremony in which the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold. Special foods, including matzah, a simple crisp flatbread and bitter herbs, serve as a pretext for reciting the story of how God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.
The Seder meal is meant to be filled with discussion, and many Tri-Valley Jews will be talking about recent events at their Seder. Concern for refugees recalls the theme of the Seder, which talks about a once-wandering Aramean. We are commanded to care for the stranger, because, the Torah teaches, "You were strangers in the land of Egypt."
In remembrance of the hardship of slavery, Jews refrain from eating food made from grain during Passover, except matzah. Many Jews take pride in their culinary creativity in substituting matzah for bread and other grain-based foods.
Reform Jews and Jews in Israel follow the Biblical practice of observing Passover for seven days, while more traditional Jews living outside the land of Israel add an extra day to the holiday, extending its observance to eight days.
Rabbi Raleigh Resnick, Chabad of the Tri-Valley
While an overwhelming majority of people in our country practice religion and believe in God, it's no secret that that religious affiliation in the U.S. is in decline.
Fourteen years ago, my wife Fruma and I moved to Pleasanton to bring Jews in the Tri-Valley together and help them grow in their traditions and faith. As our community celebrates Passover, I think it an opportunity to discuss the importance of religion and faith in our lives and society.
Today, some are hesitant to embrace religion. They feel that in the current polarized and tenuous climate, religion and faith are divisive tools; pulling people apart. But maybe, just maybe, what we so badly need today is, in fact, a healthy dose of religion and a bolstered conviction in God's providence.
Maybe if we all took the Bible's statement "God created man in His image" (Genesis 1:27) seriously, we would recognize that all of human life is sacred and inviolate. We would understand that an attack on human dignity is -- by definition -- an attack on God.
Maybe if we strengthened our relationship with our creator, we would be more committed to fulfilling His precept "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) and have more respect for the unalienable rights -- "endowed by our Creator."
During this week of Passover, let us each embrace our religion and our faith in God. It will, no doubt, bring unity, peace, and prosperity for our families, community and country.
* At Congregation Beth Emek, Passover festival services will be held at 10:30 a.m. this Saturday and next Friday (April 26).
* At the Chabad Center on Hopyard Road, the Passover Seder will be celebrated starting at 7:15 p.m. tonight with subsequent Passover services and meals from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and again at those same times April 26 and 27.