· Vatican City ·

Easter Greeting Reflections

A new life of freedom

 A new life of freedom  ING-013
28 March 2024

The development of interreligious dialogue in recent decades has brought together members of many different religions, creating relationships that encourage mutual experiences of the hearts of one another’s faiths. Offering sincere good wishes on our different religious celebrations is enhanced by comprehending and resonating with the essentials of the other tradition’s beliefs and practices.

Since we shared a friendship and were both committed to interreligious dialogue in Buenos Aires, I twice invited on two occasions (September 11, 2004 and September 8, 2007) the then archbishop of the city, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, to speak to my synagogue congregation. Both sermons occurred at the time of year when Jews are preparing for the imminent arrival of the new Jewish year. His words, drawn from the Hebrew Bible, addressed topics that every Jew thinks and prays about at that time.

In the same way, at this moment words of greeting come to my mind as Christians prepare for their upcoming celebration of Easter. Their memories and rituals in this season center on the martyrdom and death of Jesus and on their belief in his resurrection. This pattern of reflection and prayer has certain parallels with other narratives found in the Hebrew Bible.

The story of the flood in the times of Noah (Genesis 6:9-8:22) tells of the destruction of humanity, and the saving of only one family from which a new humanity will emerge. God sends a message to mitigate human anguish in the face of the disaster they have suffered: the rainbow in the heavens is a divine testimony that there will be no similar future destructions like that which surged across the face of the earth (9:9-17).

Another text that has a similar pattern is Ezekiel 37. The traumatized Jewish people, exiled to Babylon after their homes in Judea had been destroyed, along with the Temple of Jerusalem, felt the end of their existence was nigh. Amidst this devastation, Ezekiel has a vision of a valley full of skeletons. God reveals to him that the bones represent the Jewish people who exclaim: We have lost all hope! (37:11). But God foretells that the skeletons will be covered anew by flesh, arteries, veins, and skin, and that God will breathe the spirit of life into them so that they can return again to their homeland of Judah. This envisioned return actually did come to pass during the reign of Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, around 539 bce .

This recurring pattern of the people of Israel suffering for violating their covenant with God through the agency of neighboring peoples (see e.g., Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 25), and who are finally redeemed, is known in the later rabbinic literature as “the rebukes” (Devarim Rabbah, 4:1).

This dynamic found in the Hebrew Bible can in some ways be applied to the Easter story of Jesus. Its essence, it seems to me, is that God’s mercy will redeem humanity from the injustices and transgressions that it repeatedly commits. Humanity, despite its inability to escape from the vicious cycles of injustice and cruelty that imprison it, will be redeemed through the help of God. The human family will experience a new life of freedom. This hope is shared by Jews and Christians alike.

In recent years, humanity has suffered a series of catastrophes that horribly claimed the lives of millions of individuals. The covid-19 pandemic, the multiplication of wars and conflicts, climatic disasters, have — together with a lack of justice and equity — plunged a large part of humanity into lives of misery. Surely, the hopelessness that many feel in ever being able to live with dignity is one of the principal factors that drive people into various kinds of addictions.

In Stefan Zweig’s posthumous book, Die Welt von Gestern. Erinnerungen eines Europäers, (“The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European”) published in 1942, the great writer describes the Europe in which he wrote, concluding with his unease over the rise of Nazism. He sent the manuscript to his publishing house and the next day, on February 22, 1942, he committed suicide with his wife in Petrópolis, Brazil. His book provides visceral testimony from a man in existential despair when confronted by sick barbarism that had turned much of the world into lands of horror and hopelessness.

One message of the Christian Easter, which has its roots in the Jewish Passover, is that God will bring about new life despite the terrible anguish that overwhelms those who are suffering. May this conviction encourage many during this Easter season and also during the Passover season, which this year, because this is a Jewish lunar leap year, unusually is observed almost an entire month later. We Jews and Christians are people of hope.

May these reflections serve as a sincere greeting from one Jew to the Catholic community before it celebrates new life on Easter.

*  Georgetown University, Washington DC

By Abraham Skorka *