Renewal in spring is a universal theme
For Christians, it's Easter, but the appeal of the prospect of a second chance is there for many faiths
It's the simplest of celebrations, based on the pure exhilaration and joy that comes with a second chance.
For Christians, it's Easter. And ultimately what gives the celebration its meaning is the recognition that, messed up as we may be, as weak or vain or petty or mean, we have the chance to start again. Thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, which is celebrated on this day, all Christians believe in their ability to start anew.
Resurrection. A new chance. Can there be any more powerful idea?
Yet it's not just Christians who mark this time of year with a celebration of life and rebirth. It seems nearly a universal theme, a recognition of our yearning -- our desperate need -- for a second chance.
For Jews, this weekend marks the midpoint of Passover, a celebration in its own way of rebirth and deliverance. The celebration's name -- Pesach, meaning passing over or protection in Hebrew -- refers to God's instructions to the Israelites. They were seeking freedom from the Egyptian Pharaoh some 3,000 years ago. God warned that he would slay the firstborn in every household unless their freedom was granted, and instructed the Israelites to mark their homes with sheep's blood so they'd be spared. They then made their way through the parted Red Sea to safety, and have marked the deliverance ever since.
Last week Muslims marked Ashura, a fast recognizing the Israelites' deliverance, the Creation and Noah's departure from the ark, all stories of hope and new beginnings. In two weeks Sikhs and Hindus will celebrate Baisakhi, the beginning of the New Year for Hindus and the commemoration of the founding of the Khalsa for Sikhs. Only days ago Bahai celebrated Naw Ruz, marking the vernal equinox with a celebration of spiritual growth and renewal.
The roots go even deeper. Easter, at least by Christians in the Western world, is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, a recognition of the importance of the changing of the seasons to our sense of who we are and of the possibility of starting anew.
Even the name Easter is derived from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Eastre," both goddesses associated with spring, fertility and birth.
It's not hard to understand the appeal of renewed hope and a new start, especially this Easter. The evidence of our weaknesses are all around us.
The most terrible tragedies make the headlines, the bombings and the atrocities, especially those that come in the midst of what should be a sacred time for so many. They make us wonder about the possibility of redemption in a world capable of such horrors.
But our small failures should haunt us as well, our willingness to watch as drug addicts die needlessly on our streets, our failure to reach out to those whose lives could be transformed by a small gesture or act of kindness.
The message of Easter, of Passover, of Ashura and Baisakhi -- of spring -- is that redemption and deliverance are there for us to choose, today, tomorrow or any day.
The message should also be that we can go beyond the exciting possibility of choosing a new, better life for ourselves. For we have the ability to deliver redemption to others. Christians believe that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life in pain and suffering on this day to redeem the rest of us.
But each of us -- whatever our beliefs -- has the power to offer redemption, with far lesser sacrifices. Our time, a small amount of money -- even our attention to the pain of another person -- can transform a life, delivering the possibility and hope of a new start that is at the essence of this celebration.
That is the possibility we should contemplate this Easter, in a church, a synagogue, a temple or simply out in the growing warmth of the sun, amid the smells and sounds of the cycle of life starting anew.
We can change. We can choose our own form of redemption, drawing on the examples and ideals of our faith and values. And that is truly a cause for the most joyous celebration and hope.
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