Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, GVSU
Religious holidays coincide this month
This month of April brings us an unusual coincidence of many religious holidays that does not happen that often. This is primarily because of the different calendars that are used by the various traditions. Jews and Muslims use a lunar calendar (but not the same one) based on the phases of the moon where each month is about 28 days, while the Christians use a solar calendar (but not the same one for both Western and Eastern Orthodox communities).
Ramadan, the month of fasting for our Muslim neighbors, began on April 2 and is a time of spiritual reflection, prayer, and giving to the poor. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and is practiced by fasting from sunrise to sunset by refraining from all food and drinking of any liquids. Following sunset the fast is broken by a meal called the iftar. At the conclusion of the month the Eid al-Fitr is considered one of the major celebrations in Islam. Observance of Ramadan is commanded in the Quran and celebrates the beginning of the revelation of scripture to the prophet Muhammad.
This week is celebrated as Holy Week for Christians in the West, and Passover or Pesach for Jews. Because of calendar differences it is not always the case that they occur the same week. Holy Week for the Christians recounts the final week of Jesus beginning on Palm Sunday with his entry into Jerusalem. Then Maundy Thursday remembers his Last Supper with his disciples prior to his death remembered on Good Friday. Easter Sunday concludes the week with the celebration of the Resurrection.
Holy Week is not always celebrated in the West on the same date as it is by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian. This year the Western church celebrates Easter on April 17, while the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Easter one week later on April 24. Easter celebrates the victory of life overcoming death.
This year, Passover begins at sundown on the evening of April 15. The Jewish eight-day celebration of Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The highlight is the Seder meal celebrated at the beginning of the weeklong event.
The focal points of the Seder include the eating of matzah or unleavened bread, remembering that when the Hebrew people were getting ready to leave there was no time for the bread to rise. The eating of bitter herbs commemorates the bitter experience of the slavery endured by the Israelites. Drinking the four cups of wine celebrates the new freedom that was attained after the exodus. The recitation of the Haggadah is a liturgy required in scripture to tell each generation the account of deliverance. The core narrative of Passover and the Seder meal is the movement from slavery to freedom.
The occasion of the three religions celebrating in the same month has led a partnership of congregations in Grand Rapids to formally recognize each other by bringing personal greetings on the occasions of one of the special events of the other traditions. Jewish and Muslim representatives will bring greetings to the service at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Palm Sunday, April 10, and to the Easter Service at Trinity Lutheran Church on April 17. During that same week the Christian and Muslim congregations will bring greetings to the Second Night Seder at Temple Emanuel on Saturday, April 16. For the Muslim Saturday prayers on April 22 greetings from the Christian and Jewish communities will greet the Masjid At-Tawheed and Islamic Center.
While these religious celebrations of freedom and life take place in our various traditions we sadly remember the loss of freedom and life taking place in Ukraine these days. No matter our religious beliefs, we can all pray for the hostilities to cease and for freedom and life to be once again affirmed in that war-torn country.
I suggest that while the dates may change from year to year, the basic message of these three important religious observations should be a constant reminder to us all. We can affirm each other’s religious traditions and celebrations. We can all learn the importance of these commitments to freedom, life and obedience to God.
Other religious traditions celebrating important days this month include:
Buddhist: April 8, Buddha's Birthday commemorates the birth of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Gautama Buddha, who was the founder of Buddhism
Hindu: April 10, Ramanavami celebrates the birthday of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the God Vishnu
Sikh: April 13, Vaisakh celebrates their New Year and the founding by Guru Gobind Singh
Baha’i: April 20, Ridvan begins the 12-day commemoration of the founder Baha’u’llah’s exile in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad
Jewish: April 27, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), memorializes the six million Jews who died as victims of the Nazis during WW II
These are still just a few... Check out the Multi-Faith Calendar for everything happening this month!