This year, the holy festivals of Passover (Pesach), Ramadan and Easter overlap. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths are regarded as Abrahamic religions due to their shared worship of God (referred to as Yahweh in Hebrew and as Allah in Arabic) as revealed to Abraham.
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is celebrated from the evening of Wednesday April 5th until the evening of Wednesday April 12th.
Passover commemorates the ancient Biblical story of the Israelites fleeing the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt, who had kept them in bondage and misery and only agreed to free them after God sent ten plagues to the land. Passover derives its name from what happened in the tenth of the plagues God sent to Egypt. It involved the killing of the firstborn son in every home – including the Pharoah’s own child. God told the Israelites that each family should sacrifice a lamb and with its blood, mark their front door with its blood. As a result, God ‘passed over’ the homes of the Jews and they were spared. The most famous tradition at Passover is not to eat leavened bread (‘chametz’) for eight days, recalling the fact that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste that their bread had no time to rise.
Ramadan continues for a month, from the evening of Wednesday Mar 22nd to the evening of Friday April 21st (dates relate to sighting of the moon). Ramadan is believed to be the month that the Holy Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and, as such, it is a sacred time. During this time, observant Muslims will abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. It is a period of great introspection, spiritual discipline and communal prayer. The fast each day is broken in the evening with Iftar meals.
In recent years, many Muslim communities have been reaching out to non-muslims offering invitations to join these celebratory communal meals.
Easter begins with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) on April 2nd, followed by the events leading up to the Last Supper, the crucifixion of Jesus (‘Good Friday’) and the resurrection of Jesus (Easter Sunday). The Easter celebrations happen on Sunday April 9th, and Sunday April 16th for Orthodox churches.
There have been wonderful gestures of goodwill shared between Jewish, Christian and Muslim people this week, recognising the significance of the three holy festivals being celebrated at this time.
At the same time it is heartbreaking to see the news from Israel and the occupied territories, and the violence relating to the raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound (also known as the Temple Mount) in the Old City of Jerusalem that has been venerated as a holy site in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam for thousands of years.
It is a significant site for Muslims who believe the al-Aqsa mosque compound is the location where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven. Jews also revere it as the site of two Biblical temples, the second of which was destroyed in Roman times. It is also a significant site for Christians who trace their sacred story through both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.
Israeli police forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan evening prayers on two consecutive nights this week, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian worshippers. [Note: The interweaving of politics, nationalism and religion in Israel/Palestine is of course complex, and contested].
The two raids have drawn heavy criticism from various leaders and organisations across the world with the United Nations Security Council set to meet for a closed-door session to discuss the raids on Palestinian worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Fears of further confrontations in the coming days are now heightened, particularly if Israeli officials make a visit, or if Israeli police allow Jewish activists to pray at the sensitive site, breaking fragile, decades-old rules which apply there. The important last 10 days of Ramadan begin on Tuesday and leads into Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power. It is the Islamic calendar’s holiest eve which recalls that during the night Angel Jibril revealed the Holy Qur’an’s first verses to the Prophet Muhammad. Historically, Israel as an occupying force prevented Jewish extremists from entering during these 10 days. But with the current government there are concerns that they will allow it.
In this time of Holy Festivals, and unrest and uncertainty, we pray for peace and an end to conflict.
“Then justice will dwell in the land
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”
– Isaiah 32:16-17
O God of life and love and peace,
We witness the violence and injustice in your Holy Land
And our hearts break.
Our hearts break for all Palestinians –
For the victims of violent attacks from Israelis
For those who have endured decades of occupation and oppression
For those whose homes and olive orchards have been demolished
For those who languish in Israeli prisons and in the “open air prison” of Gaza
For those without nearly enough water and electricity and medical care
For those who are refugees, long displaced from their homes.
Our hearts break for the Jewish people of Israel –
For the victims of violent attacks from Palestinians
For those who live with fear and insecurity
For those who re-live the trauma of the Holocaust over and over.
Our hearts break for the wider world –
For those who are indifferent to the pain and suffering in your Holy Land
For those who distort or turn their eyes from truth
For those who fail to see the humanity of all your children.
Heal us all, O God.
Heal the broken and comfort the sorrowful.
Give hope to the hopeless and courage to the fearful.
Strengthen the peacemakers and reconcilers.
Confront those who practice injustice and commit violence.
We especially pray –
That weapons of war be laid down
That walls of separation and the machinery of occupation be dismantled
That prisoners be released
That demonizing of “the other” cease
That political leaders seek the good of all people in Palestine and Israel.
We pray also for ourselves –
That our eyes will be opened to the ways in which our beliefs and actions have contributed to injustice and to violence.
O God, whose heart breaks for the world,
May your justice dwell in the land
May your righteousness abide in fruitful fields
May the effect of righteousness be quietness and trust forever
May the effect of justice be peace – enduring peace. Amen
Source of prayer: Mennonite Central Committee