This past weekend Christians celebrated Palm Sunday — a holiday that marks the beginning of their Holiest time of the year, Holy Week, and ends with Easter Sunday. Also this week was Passover, one of Judaism's major holidays.
A common question for this time of the year is why Easter and Passover always occur around the same time — I usually answer by talking about one of my favorite films, "The Ten Commandments," the 1956 Cecil B. Demille classic, starring Charlton Heston as Moses, and Yul Brynner as Rameses. You know ... the one with the parting of the Red Sea and the pillar of fire!
Because we are primarily a Christian nation, many Christians think that movie is about Easter — but it's not. "The Ten Commandments" is about Passover. (Ben Hur, another great Charlton Heston film, is actually more of an Easter film.) Passover, or Pesach, marks the Hebrews' flight to freedom from slavery in Egypt.
On Tuesday night, I had the privilege of taking part in my first Passover Seder. It was wonderful, and quite educational. What struck me most was how focused it is on what God — not Moses — had done to lead the Jews out of bondage. In the book of Deuteronomy 26:8, it states, "And the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders." Moses was God's chosen deliverer, through which He did his work.
Moses was born into the tribe of Levi, a priestly clan. When he was a baby, Moses was put upon the water, in a basket, to save him from Pharaoh's edict that proclaimed that all newborn male children should die. Moses was later found by Pharaoh's daughter. Here's where Hollywood takes a big leap of faith in the film — so let's fast-forward to Moses and the burning bush.
After killing an Egyptian, Moses flees Egypt (the movie shows him being exiled), and meets the priest of Midian who has seven daughters. Moses marries Ziporah, one of the seven, and settles in as a shepherd, tending flocks for his father in law. One day: [Exodus 3:1-5] ".... he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up … God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am.”
According to scripture, God tells Moses that he must return to Egypt and lead the Hebrews out of bondage — that he must go to Pharaoh and tell him that the Lord says, "Let my people go." Of course, Pharaoh was stubborn and didn't bend easily. So God, through Moses, brings down several plagues on Egypt: blood, frogs, gnats, flies, boils, hail, locusts, darkness. The last plague is the harshest: the death of every firstborn.
The Israelites were told to sacrifice a lamb — and not just any lamb — a perfect lamb, male, without blemish. They are told to put its blood over the doorpost. The Lord said: [Exodus 12:14] "...and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance."
After that night Pharaoh, of course, frees the Hebrews. Moses leads them through the desert and to God's sacred mountain where they receive God's Law, His Ten Commandments.
Several centuries of Passovers later, scores of Jews enter Jerusalem to celebrate the annual feast. Jesus and his disciples are among them. They are of course Jews, coming to celebrate the sacred time, in the most popular, and Holy, city. The meal, "in an upper room,” includes the usual Passover elements, wine and unleavened bread. But Jesus and his disciples have not sacrificed a lamb. According to the Gospel accounts, at the meal Jesus breaks the bread and says [Luke 22: 19] "...this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." [Mathew 26:27] "Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it all of you. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'"
During the meal, Jesus predicts that Peter, one of the disciples, will deny him three times, and that one of the others at the table, Judas Iscariot, will betray him. After the meal they went out to the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemene where Jesus was arrested. Within hours, he was tried, beaten and crucified.
What's significant about the two events, Passover and The Last Supper, is the lamb. During Passover it is present and the central focus. But during Jesus' Last Supper, there appears to be only bread and wine. Where's the lamb to be sacrificed? Christians believe the lamb is Jesus himself. It is almost poetic in its simplicity, the link between the Old and New Testament events.
Commentators have summed up the parallels like this: Hebrews were not saved from certain death because of their heritage. The angel of death wasn't checking DNA during Passover. The Hebrews were saved by putting their faith in the blood of a lamb.
And for Christians, it is the same. They are not saved by their pedigree, by their membership in a church, or by how much money they put in the plate each week. According to the Gospels, Christians are saved by putting their faith in the bloodshed of Jesus, who they call, the Lamb of God.
Whether you celebrate Passover or Easter, it's always good to remember the foundations of these faiths. It's less about "religion," and much more about a "relationship."
And, I hope you'll watch the upcoming special this weekend on FNC called, "THE PASSION: FACTS, FICTIONS & FAITH." In this special, I investigate how much we really know about the Easter story, and the week that led up to it. Travel with me from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb, and witness a crime scene investigation of the crucifixion and resurrection, using one of the most studied objects in the world — the Shroud of Turin.
Tune in on Sunday at 4, 9 and Midnight, E.T.
Have a wonderful holiday!
Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."