For people celebrating Easter and Passover this weekend, it’s unusual for these two important religious celebrations to have the same dates, but fairly common for them to occur in close proximity. The dates for both are tied to the beginning of spring. And don’t forget, Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover (Pesach) Seder meal that Jesus and his disciples had to celebrate that holiday. But it is very unusual for them to occur while Ramadan is being celebrated as well. This year the three major “Western” religions, all of which began in the same part of the world, mark their celebrations of hope and renewal at the same time.
This is meant to be a time of joy, reflection, and messages of hope within each religion community, both in family units and in places of worship. Interestingly and encouragingly, the messages are similar. They are similar and they convey compassion and peace. But in too many instances, the walk does not reflect the talk. When will that ever change?
The Old City of Jerusalem is considered a holy place by all three religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Old Jerusalem’s historical sites, which have deep spiritual significance for millions of people, surely should be open to everyone, especially at such times. But that seems to be easier said than done. On this Good Friday, as thousands gathered to pray at al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam, there was an altercation between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police that ended up with more than 150 injured and perhaps more than 100 arrested. Where is the hope and the peace?
Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church (and at this time still the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church) has strongly defended Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as being a righteous war, battling evil forces bent on destroying the God-given unity of Holy Russia. He’s even offered his blessing to the holy invasion. Wow! The good news is that Russian Orthodox priests in Ukraine are beside themselves and pushing for his removal or for a complete splintering of the two arms of the Orthodox Church. Regardless of the outcome, these are hardly messages of hope and peace.
In Myanmar, the government, which claims to be Buddhist (the mind boggles), has been massacring their minority Muslim Rohingya population with a view to annihilation since 2016. If anyone ever preached peace and non-violence, it was Buddha. His first tenant was to avoid killing or harming any living thing. What part of that does the government that calls itself Buddhist not get?
We all know that there are many, many examples of intolerance and violence that are perpetrated in the name of religion. And we should all remind ourselves that these all-too-frequent acts of violence, oppression, and/or subjugation bear no relationship to what the prophets of any of those religions meant. The main teachings of all the major religions aim to encourage goodness in the world and to show compassion to everyone.
On this very important weekend, week, and month for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, let us pray that each and every one of us, observant or not, keeps in mind the most important messages that each religion offers.
Put these messages all together and they spell Peace. It shouldn’t be this elusive.
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