Tonight millions of Christians will be in vigil, remembering the pain, agony, grief and suffering of our beloved Savior.
Good Friday will be observed in so many ways. Some will go to extremes reenacting the flagellation, crucifixion and bearing of the cross in huge processions. Others will light candles in a somber recognition of the most important night of our faith.
The church I once went to had a very meaningful Friday evening service. As we approached the building, all lights were uncharacteristically dimmed. The sanctuary was darkened. People were silent, like in a wake or being in the presence of death. Excerpts of scripture were read from Matthew 26 and 27, Mark 14 and 15, Luke 22 and 23 and John 13 through 19. There was no singing, no idle chatter. At the end of the service, a note told us to leave in silence and think about the suffering and death of Jesus.
All this happened more 2000 years ago when the Lamb of God was sacrificed. This occurred during Passover, one of the great feasts the LORD ordained his people to observed yearly ever since he delivered his people from Egypt.
This year, interestingly and in mark contrast, millions of Jewish people will celebrate in all joyousness, the feast of Purim this very Thursday and Friday. There will be partying and singing and sending of presents to one another. The feast celebrates the story told in Esther, who, because of her faithfulness, delivered her Jewish people from being wiped out.
On the 13th of Adar, the last month of the year, there was great mourning because the Jewish people’s lives were threatened by one villain, Haman. (During the reading of Esther on Purim, tradition calls for the making of noise to drown out the sound of the villian’s name.) Because Esther had courage and faith to approach King Ahasuerus to stop the killing, the Jewish people were saved. The 14th and 15th are days of great celebration and feasting of the deliverance. How the Feast of Purim began as a holiday is recorded in Esther 9.
This year, Passover—the time Jesus died—will not arrive until the middle of next month. This is because of the way the lunisolar Jewish calendar works, which during a leap year—which is different from the Gregorian calendar’s—has an extra month of Adar. This year there is that extra month and so the Jewish Passover is one month removed from Easter when Christians observe Jesus’s sacrifice.
Just dates, you might say. But it makes me question many things. The LORD commanded his people to observe the Feast of Passover. How significant is it that after more than 4000 years, the tradition remains very much exactly the same because faithful Jews observed it. Moses observed it. Samuel, Ezra, Hezekiah, Josiah led their people to keep it. And then Jesus and Matthew, Mark, James, and Paul observed the festival.
Where does that leave me? Even as I want to remember with my Christian community the night that is the focal point of my faith, I struggle with being nitpicking about dates.
How did the early Christians observe the death of their beloved leader? For sure, they continued in their tradition of Passover and celebrated with their loved ones over Purim? Do I celebrate what Esther did tonight or do I grief the suffering of my beloved Jesus?
I have no answer. Except that I feel the LORD prompted me to consider this as I thought of increased numbers in attendance at Easter service compared to regular Sundays.
What is more important? To do the one time visit at Easter and grief the death or Jesus, or to live daily the life that Jesus taught when he walked this soil?