On Wednesday, Jews will mark the first night of Passover with the traditional Seder — a dinner retelling of the story of the Jews' exodus from slavery in Egypt. And later this week, Christians will observe Good Friday and Easter.
But many are struggling with how to celebrate when community gathering, which is at the very heart of these traditions, is not permitted amid the coronavirus pandemic. Faith leaders say solitary observances can still be meaningful if we can find new ways to connect.
For the most Orthodox Jews who don’t use electricity, connecting through video chatting apps can be difficult, says Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations. But he suspects people will retool their Passover traditions to adapt to social distancing guidelines.
“We're finding that people are more sensitive than in any other year, and we are making our best attempts to connect with them,” he says. “I suspect that they'll be Orthodox Jews who will make sure to connect before the sun sets and perhaps do some pre-Passover ritual. It might not be at the exact moment of the Seder, but the love can be transmitted in different ways.”
For Christians, Easter mass and other family gatherings are canceled for this year. But Pastor Jared Wellman, who leads the Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, says the medium in which celebrations take place does not detract from their meaning.
“The beauty of what we believe is that it transcends the medium,” he says. “Now until further notice, we are an online ministry, so Easter is going to be the same thing. It's just going to be the celebration of the resurrection through online worship.”
On creative ways of creating community in these hard times
Jared Wellman: “The whole nature of what we practice as a faith, and I would say really most, if not all religions, are rooted in community. We're just honestly trying to build community the best way we can. We've had some pretty creative ideas with some of the things we've done.
“We have a really fun video on our Facebook page about [our virtual Easter egg hunt] and some information on our website at TateSprings.com/minecraft, because Minecraft is a really simple safe video game. You just build stuff. And on our website, parents can sign up to join on Easter Sunday after church. There'll be a little scavenger event there online that they can participate in. And just something kind of to break up the mundane nature of what everyone's experiencing right now.”
Noam Marans: “There are so many ways that we are creating community during this very different Passover. We say the famous line: ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ We're now saying, ‘Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?’ What's amazing about Passover is the preparation in advance. This year, people need to think out what they are doing. They can't necessarily do the regular shopping that they do.
“We are more focused on what really matters, which are the values of Passover. Every single year at the Seder we say in the ancient Aramaic: “This year, we are slaves. Next year we will be free.” And this year we're not physically slaves, but we had to change everything that we are doing. And we know that if we pay attention to the things that matter. That is to protect life at all costs, to defeat this disease and to worry about those who are at risk, that is the story of the exodus from oppression to freedom. Maybe the silver lining of this terrible crisis is that we are more sensitive to one another. Those are the most important Passover values, and frankly, they are the core values of all faiths.”
On how the values of Passover and Easter can help people through the fear of this time
Wellman: “If we really believe what we've said we believe, which is that Jesus rose from the dead, he conquered the grave, that actually colors and informs and changes the way that we view everything. And we've kind of couched the coronavirus as this antagonism. You know, we're actually walking through [the Book of Acts] right now. And so Acts is about the birth of the church and how there was an antagonism. How do we live out our faith whenever we feel like we're being challenged? And the root of all that is our hope in the resurrection, which Paul says is the pinnacle of our faith.”
Marans: “I think this is a time when we need to pray for those who are on the frontlines, and they should inspire us to embrace our traditions and commitments, but to do it in the safest way possible. And as the pastor and I, both in our individual ways said, to focus on the values that are inherent in the messages of this season. Spring will come after this winter, and we are very hopeful that this season of holidays will be the touchpoint by which we'll be able to get to the other side.”
This segment aired on April 7, 2020.