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The current week is holy to both Jews and Christians—the celebration of Pesach, or Passover, for Jews, which started Monday evening, and of Holy Week, the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which started last Sunday, Palm Sunday.
But did you know that Islam has a shared reference point and narrative in this holy season? We can use this to reflect upon what is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and what we share in the worship of the One God that all the Abrahamic traditions acknowledge.
Passover and Easter celebrations have Biblical roots. The Passover celebration is rooted in the narrative of the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah, narrating the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian slavery.
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” Exodus 5:1-3
To anyone who is familiar with Islam, it shouldn’t be surprising that some aspects of both Passover and Easter celebrations find echoes in the Qur’an. The Qur’an mentions Moses more than any other prophet and has multiple narratives of his story including repeated descriptions of the Exodus from Egypt and the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert; one of the fullest accounts of the Exodus is found in Qur’an 26:10-69. Another account, including a narrative of the plagues inflicted on Egypt that are recalled in an evocative ritual in the Passover Seder, is found in Qur’an 7:103-157.
The celebrations of Holy Week are rooted in the accounts, found in all four Gospels, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper with his disciples, his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave 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. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29
While the Qur’an does not accept the Christian account of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that are commemorated on Good Friday and Easter respectively–it holds that Jesus was raised up to God before the crucifixion, while another person who looked like Jesus was substituted in his place (4:157)–it does reflect on some of the important themes of Holy Week and Easter. Like the New Testament (Matthew 9:18-26, 11:5, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-44), the Qur’an teaches that Jesus performed many miracles, including healing the blind and lepers and raising people from the dead (5:110).
Most striking of all to a Christian reader, however, is the following passage from that same chapter, named “The Table”:
The apostles said, “Jesus son of Mary, can your Lord send us down a feast from heaven?” He said: “Be wary of God if you are believers.” ‘They said: “We want to partake thereof, so our hearts may be satisfied, and we may know you have told us the truth, and we may be witnesses to it.” Jesus Son of Mary said, “O God our Lord, send us down a feast from heaven to be a festival for us for the first and last of us, and a sign from You. And provide for us, as You are the best of providers.” God said: “I will indeed send it down to you.” Qur’an 5:112-115
A Christian cannot read this passage without thinking of the sacred meal referred to variously in the different Christian traditions as the Mass, the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Jesus’ Last Supper, which is the origin of this rite, is commemorated on Thursday of Holy Week. Indeed, “heavenly banquet” (an alternative translation of the Arabic is “feast from heaven”) is often used by early Christian writers to denote this sacramental meal. Jewish readers of this text are also likely to think of the Seder meal, the holy rite that every year commemorates the Exodus, the seminal event of Jewish history.
And of course the Jewish and Christian traditions at this point are inextricably linked as Jesus was himself a Jew, and the Last Supper is generally believed to have been a Passover Seder.
It is during holy seasons such as these that the Abrahamic faiths can renew the historical bonds that have connected them to each other. We hope this intertextual analysis acts as a reminder of our shared traditions and teachings.
Happy holidays from all of us at ING!