I cannot speak for other faith traditions, but for the two with which I am most familiar the high and holy celebrations this week share the same inception: an unprecedented act of God in history calling for enormous faith.
In the Jewish tradition, God extricates an entire people group (the Hebrews) right out from under their oppressors (the Egyptians) in broad daylight and sends them on a journey to find their own land and destiny. In the Christian tradition, the Son of God (Jesus of Nazareth) defies death itself, emboldening his followers to continue spreading God’s reign on earth without fear or cowardice.
Both are extraordinary stories worth reading in their original texts (a translation into English helps, of course!). Both events formed the core identity of their respective religions. Neither had any real historical antecedent. And to this day, common folks inside and outside the fold struggle to believe either one even happened.
Faith is a dangerous thing. Horrible acts of treachery and evil have been justified by faith. People can take faith in all sorts of devious directions. And yet faith can also empower and embolden ordinary people to do extraordinary things for the greater good. Because of the escape from Egypt, millions of Jews and Gentiles have found the hope to seek their own freedom, trusting that God can carve a way for them despite tremendous odds. Because of the resurrection, individuals across the centuries have scrapped their own fears of mortality and consequently sacrificed their lives for their fellows.
Faith takes a lot of courage. Especially when it involves doing something never done before. You can trust, say, that God will give you a job next month – which is great! – but that’s not very unprecedented; it’s been done before. It takes more faith, say, to believe that God will break a five-generations-long addiction to alcohol in this your generation; that would be unprecedented, at least in your family. It takes greater faith for a high school student whose parents never got beyond the 3rd grade to seek admission to college. Meanwhile, faith that God will reverse climate change, eradicate hunger, or take us to Mars – all these take great faith because they have never been done before.
Which is why the Passover and Easter inspire such faith: no people had ever been so dramatically and immediately removed from slavery before and no one had ever returned from death with a non-decaying body before. When we embrace either tradition, we claim God’s power to do the unthinkable in our very lives. It’s gutsy, it’s risky, but when carried out with humility and authenticity, this sort of faith can move mountains.
Here’s to great faith! Here’s to moving mountains!
Happy Passover! Happy Easter!
Illustration: John & Peter Running to the Tomb, by Eugene Burnand, from the Musee d’Orsay, Paris, 1898.