Passover and Easter are two major observances of Judaism and Christianity. This year the first night of Passover occurs on April 8th and Easter arrives on Sunday, April 12th. With various levels of social and physical restrictions currently in place across the world due to COVID-19, these holidays will feel very different this year. Attending a service at your church or traveling to a Seder are likely not possible nor safe. Even gathering with close friends and family may be restricted. How can you and your family celebrate and recognize these important holidays in the midst of Stay-at-Home orders?
Ritual and tradition are central to these observances. Take a moment to consider what aspects of these holidays are most important to you. Is it the religious service? The food? The decorations and special heirlooms? Kids activities? Connecting with other people? The music? Make a list of the elements that are most important to you and then brainstorm ways to honor these in the current climate without in-person gatherings. Allow yourself to let go of those elements that are not as important to you. There are many great resources online for this, including Seder2020.org and Holy Week Pandemic Ideas from Louisiana Conference.
Music Can Help
Music is central to both Easter and Passover traditions, and may be more important than ever this year. We are living in a time when music is seamlessly accessible, with thousands of songs at our fingertips. These songs are one simple way we can fill our homes with feelings of ritual and togetherness. Music by its nature connects us; to each other, to our past, and to our spirit.
“When language aspires to the transcendent, and the soul longs to break free of the gravitational pull of the earth, it modulates into song” — Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
The Passover Seder is probably the most celebrated and beloved of Jewish Home rituals that retells the story of Exodus. The Passover feast is ladened with symbolism and ritual and uses song throughout to share the story. These songs are passed down across generations and reinforce memories and provide the structure for sharing the Exodus story.
If you know one Passover song, it is likely the catchy Dayenu. It is a song of thanks that is translated “If Only This Had Happened, It Would Have Been Enough for Us.” Many other songs traditionally accompany a Seder, including specific songs sung during each ritual, such as the song that tells the story of the Matzah (Ha Lachma Anya), the Four Questions asked by the youngest attendees (Mah Nishtanah), and the song for Elijah (Eliyahu HaNavi).
Like all religions, Judaism contains many sects, with differences in rituals and traditions. Some denominations reject the use of technology on the Sabbath, others have waived these restrictions due to the current crisis, while others are fully embracing the idea of virtual seders. If you are interested, you can find a list of virtual seders here: https://reformjudaism.org/virtual-seders-gatherings-and-programs
Passover Music Resources
“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” — Martin Luther
For Christians, Easter is the most important holiday of the year, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the Gospel story, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn together at the Last Supper. Since then, some of classical music’s most iconic works were composed for Holy Week and Easter including J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Handel’s Messiah.
Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, tells the story of Jesus’ final days on earth and his resurrection. Music can serve to help Christians explore and express the wide range of emotions surrounding Holy Week. Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus as “King” with loud exclamations of “Hosanna” and often closies in a more somber manner as the church moves into Holy Week. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal. Good Friday, his nailing on the cross.
These two observances often use music that is slower and in a minor key to reflect the pain and suffering of Jesus. Songs, or hymns, like O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? and Ah, Holy Jesus convey the complexity of emotions. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is filled with joy, wonder and awe, through hymns and songs such as Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Because He Lives, and the final chorus from Handel’s Messiah “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, Amen.” These pieces capture the joy of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life.
Easter Music Resources
Holidays in 2020
Many religious traditions are using today’s challenging times to reinforce the true message behind the holidays. For Christians, Lent is a time of sacrifice and quiet reflection. Passover is marked by a feast that celebrates community, resilience, and collective action. The current environment certainly brings these messages into our hearts in a new way. The shared rituals of these holidays being practiced in homes throughout the world reminds us all that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Simple acts and songs connect us to each other, even when we are apart.
What special meaning or message do the holidays bring to mind for you this year, and how is music helping you connect with your traditions?