For Christians, we are about to enter the holiest week of the Christian year, aptly known as Holy Week. During Holy Week, Christians mark the events that took place in the last week of Jesus’ life. We begin with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the head of a peasant parade hailing his arrival. As the week progresses, we gather with Jesus and his disciples for the meal commonly known as the Last Supper. We watch in horror as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tortured and then crucified. We sit in anguish with his friends in the midst of their shock and horror at Jesus’ death. And finally, we celebrate the miracle of resurrection and new life at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.
We begin on Palm Sunday (March 28th, this year). On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg have described Palm Sunday as a day of two processions. They write:
One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus road a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class. They had journeyed to Jerusalem from Galilee, about a hundred miles to the north, a journey that is the central section and the central dynamic of Mark’s gospel. Mark’s story of Jesus and the kingdom of God has been aiming for Jerusalem, pointing toward Jerusalem. It has now arrived. On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. 
Pre-pandemic, many churches distribute palm branches to those who gather for worship. We wave our palm branches and declare, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” This year, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, churches are worshiping in a variety of ways. At St. Thomas, we’ll gather outside on Saturday evening and over Zoom on Sunday morning. Parishioners have been invited to pick up palm branches at church before the Sunday morning service.
In our individual devotions during Holy Week, many Christians read from John’s Gospel about the events that happen after Jesus’ triumphal entry. On Monday, we read John 11: 1-12. On Tuesday, we read John 12: 20-36. And on Wednesday, we read John 13: 21-32.
This brings us to Maundy Thursday (this year, April 1). Maundy Thursday remembers the last supper that Jesus ate with his friends before his death. The day gets its name from the Latin word mandatum or mandate. It comes from Jesus’ command (mandate) that his followers, “love one another as I have loved you.” You can read the whole of the Maundy Thursday story here.
One of the key moments on Maundy Thursday is when Jesus does something quite unexpected for a great teacher. Before Jesus and his companions gather to eat, Jesus wraps a towel around his waist and washes his disciples’ feet. Normally this task would have been done by a servant. Instead, Jesus humbles himself to take on this role – and teaches every Christian the key role that service to others plays in the Christian life.
Good Friday (this year, April 2) remembers the day that Jesus was crucified. It’s probably the most somber day in the Christian year. It seems counterintuitive to call a day that was filled with torture, suffering and death “good.” But Christians believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is ultimately a repudiation of death, evil, and sin. Worship on this day is somber and reflective. We pray. We contemplate the cross. And we share in the sorrow of Jesus’ death (even as we know what his first followers did not – that resurrection is coming).
On Holy Saturday morning (this year, April 3), Christians sit with the grief of Jesus’ death. Again, we know that Resurrection is coming, but has not yet arrived. Many Christians read of Jesus burial by Joseph of Arimathea in Matthew’s Gospel.
As the sun sets on Holy Saturday, Christians gather for what is known as the Great Vigil of Easter. From the earliest days of the Christian Church, Christians would gather in the dark on the night before Easter. A new fire is kindled, and an ancient hymn called the Exsultet, which sings of God’s glory would be sung. They would tell the stories of God’s saving acts in history – how God has always acted for justice and new life. Those who have been preparing for baptism were baptized. And as the sun rose on Easter morning, the first call and response of, “Alleluia, the Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” is heard. Most churches that celebrate an Easter Vigil now, begin at sunset, though I have participated in an Easter vigil that began in the dark at 4am on Easter Sunday.
Finally, on Easter Sunday (this year, April 4), we celebrate the unthinkable news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Each of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) tells the story a little differently, but they share remarkable consistency. And while there was no video camera to tell the story of how the resurrection occurred, we can see its truth in the transformation of Jesus’ first followers. In the coming days and weeks, they’ll undergo a profound transformation. They move from being frightened deniers of Jesus (like Peter after Jesus arrest) who are afraid and locked away (see John 20: 19-31) to fearless evangelists for the way of Jesus Christ (see Acts 2: 1-21).
The span of these eight days that stretch from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday are truly my favorite days of the Christian year. In them, we walk a road that includes hope, community, betrayal, death and new life. If you’d like to learn more or experience one or more of these services, you are welcome to join us at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean (via Zoom – links will be on our website on Monday March 29) or any of the Christian churches that are part of Tysons Interfaith. Click on the logos here to be connected to the congregation’s website.
 Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), pp. 2-3.
In our Torah (the scroll with the first five books of the Bible penned by hand in Hebrew), one of the most important ideas is freedom. This includes the story of Passover, which begins in ancient times with Abraham, the first person to have the idea that maybe all of those little statues his contemporaries worshipped as gods were just statues. The idea of one God, invisible and all-powerful, inspired him to leave his family and begin a new people in Canaan, the land that would one day bare his grandson Jacob’s adopted name, Israel.
God made a promise to Abraham that his family would become a great nation, but this promise came with a frightening vision of the troubles along the way. “Your descendants will dwell for a time in a land that is not their own, and they will be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years, however, I will punish the nation that enslaved them, and afterwards they shall leave with great wealth.”
In the years our ancestors lived in Egypt, our numbers grew, and soon the family of Jacob became the People of Israel. Pharaoh and the leaders of Egypt grew alarmed by this great nation growing within their borders, so they enslaved the Israelites. The Israelites were forced to perform backbreaking labor. The Egyptians feared that even as slaves, the Israelites might grow strong and rebel. So Pharaoh decreed that Israelite baby boys should be drowned to prevent Israelites from overthrowing those who had enslaved them.
But God heard the cries of the Israelites. God then sent upon the country that enslaved them ten devastating plagues, afflicting and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
At the stroke of midnight on 15 Nissan 2448 BCE, God released the last of the ten plagues, the killing of the firstborn. While doing so, God spared the children of Israel, “passing over” their homes, hence the name of the holiday.
Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry that the bread they had baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Hundreds of thousands of Israelites- men, women and children, were freed from slavery that day, and began their trek to Mount Sinai.
The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian Slavery. Jews around the world celebrate this traditional eight day holiday every year. We have first and second night Seders. We eat Matzo instead of bread. We have first night and last night worship services.
The Hagaddah (Order of the Passover Seder) tells the story of our freedom. The Haggadah tells about how the Jewish people were slaves and then became free. Everyone at the table takes part in the Seder. Children are an integral part of the experience, bridging children and the adults who can bring a unique perspective to any Seder, as each year they participate with fresh eyes. Young people are still questioning, struggling, and wrestling with the themes that we experience during Passover as they contemplate their own journey toward adulthood. Adults question these themes as well, and many times write their own Seders to enhance and update their beliefs and add in current themes of freedom.
It is a mitzvah (commandment) to re-live this dramatic event, the emergence of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. Passover also opens each of us up to questions of freedom today. We discuss those who still are not free and how we might help them in their struggles. What WE can do to support those who are still not free- emotionally, physically… or otherwise.
The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian Slavery. Jews around the world celebrate this traditional eight-day holiday every year. We have first and second-night Seders. We eat Matzo instead of bread. We have first night and last night worship services.
In preparation for the holiday, Jews are commanded to rid their homes of leavened foods-including breads, rolls, bagels, cereals, pastas etc. It is traditional to donate unopened boxes of these foods to those who are hungry. Our congregation hosts a food drive every year collecting for area food banks.
Each year, all over the world, Passover is recalled with the ritual meal where participants of all ages read from a Haggadah. The Hagaddah (Order of the Passover Seder) tells the story of our freedom. The Haggadah tells about how the Jewish people were slaves and then became free. We may use different Haggadahs. Some may have finger puppets and guitars around the table, and some may use Haggadahs that came with Maxwell House Coffee forty years ago. Some read from new Women’s Hagaddahs and some from 21st century updated inclusive Haggadahs with new language and ideas. And some write their own that are just right for those coming to their Seders. Whatever Hagaddah is used, the basic story and many songs and prayers remain the same. The Hagaddah, the story of Passover is our script. We learn the customs, taste the foods, and retell the moments of this dramatic story that concludes in celebration after crossing through the Red Sea.
We begin the Seder by singing about how good and pleasant it is to dwell together. This year same as last year, many of us will still be getting together over Zoom with family and friends and will be calling these gatherings Z’eders as we are still socially distancing due to the COVID pandemic.
We continue, lighting the festival candles with a special blessing-praising God, the candles remind us we must help and not hurt, cause joy and not sorrow, create and not destroy, and help all to be free. We praise God for the gift of Life.
Many Seder meals begin with Matzo Ball Soup, Gefilte Fish, a Hard-Boiled Egg in Salt Water (to remember the tears that were shed, and the egg to signify new beginnings, before the actual meal begins.
A Seder Plate in the center of the table includes ritual symbols of the holiday. These include a roasted lamb shank bone representing the Pesach sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem, recalling the ancient sacrifice of a paschal lamb in the Temple, bitter herbs/horseradish representing the bitterness of slavery, a roasted egg -symbolizing part of the sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem, charoset (apples nuts, cinnamon, honey and wine mixture)- representing the mortar and brick used by the slaves, Parsley- representing hope and renewal- this is dipped into saltwater to represent tears, again a symbolic reminder of the pain felt by the Israelites when they were enslaved. Unleavened bread called matzo is served in lieu of bread or rolls, honoring the bread that the Israelites took with them when they left slavery so quickly that it didn’t have time to rise.
We are commanded to eat matzo in lieu of leavened breads, bagels, muffins, rolls, pasta, etc. for the entire eight days of Passover. There are lots of fun recipes to make meals and snacks including chocolate dipped matzo, caramel toffee matzo, matzo pizza, matzo lasagna etc. The “middle matzo” on the table is usually hidden during the meal, for the children to find after the meal. It’s called the Afikomen. Whoever finds it, gets a prize!
- That God will Free us from the burdens of slavery.
- Deliver us from bondage.
- Redeem us with an outstretched arm.
- And Take us as God’s people.
Two thirds of the story of Passover is shared before the meal is served, with the remainder following the meal and closing with songs and laughter.
If the meal is to be “Kosher for Passover style” it is usually an all dairy, or all meat, meal. Regardless of whether the hosts keep kosher otherwise, meat and dairy are traditionally not offered during the same meal.
Traditionally, the first night Seder is celebrated in one’s home, and the second night Seder is more of a community Seder either at a synagogue, community center, or other larger gathering place. Again, our second night Seder will be online this year.
It is traditional to open one’s home up to those who have never been to a Seder, or have nowhere else to go for Seder, if you have room at your table.
Our temple (or Synagogue) is offering several activities during this eight-night holiday, including services, cooking classes, craft projects, a concert and weekday daily programing by our clergy.
For more information, please see our website www.templerodefshalom.org
Our Temple Rodef Shalom community wishes all who celebrate a “Zissen Pesach” (Joyful and Sweet Passover) and hope that this explanation is helpful to those who are not familiar with this holiday.
Probably many people know that Easter and Passover occur in the spring, but spring is also a time of sacred observation for people of the Baha’i Faith.
March 20- 21 are the Baha’i Holy Days of Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i New Year. Naw-Ruz coincides with the spring equinox and is an ancient Persian festival celebrating the “new day.” For Baha’is it marks the end of the annual nineteen-day fast and is one of the nine holy days of the year when work is suspended, and children are exempted from attending school.
Also in the spring is the Festival of Ridvan. This annual Baha’i festival commemorates the twelve days when Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, publicly proclaimed His mission as God’s messenger for this age. Elections for local, national, and international Baha’i institutions are generally held during the Festival of Ridvan. The first day (April 20 or 21), the ninth day (April 28 or 28), and the twelfth day (May 1 or 2) are celebrated as holy days when work is suspended, and children are exempted from attending school.
To learn more about the Baha’i Faith, please visit: https://www.bahai.org/
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
This past Sunday, March 7, was the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, where hundreds of people marching for voting rights for African Americans, including John Lewis, were attacked and beaten by the local sheriff and numerous others after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. About a week before that, on a tour of civil rights sites in the South, we walked across the bridge, which was a very moving experience as we contemplated what had happened there fifty-six years earlier.
One thing that impressed us as we toured several sites in Alabama and Georgia is the involvement of so many people of faith in the civil rights movement. While some of them, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, are well known, some quiet heroes are not so well known. The incident that triggered the march on Bloody Sunday was the killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson, pictured below, who was shot by a state trooper as he participated in a nonviolent march for voting rights in Marion, AL, not far from Selma. Jackson, a twenty-six-year-old Vietnam war veteran and young father, had recently become the youngest deacon in his Baptist Church, see, https://www.biography.com/activist/jimmie-lee-jackson.
Shortly after Bloody Sunday, Martin Luther King Jr. invited people of faith and others to come to Selma to support a march to Montgomery in support of voting rights. James Reeb, a white Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston, responded to the call. On the evening of March 9, 1965, walking back to his hotel from dinner with two other ministers, he and the others were badly beaten by four white supremacists, and Reeb died shortly thereafter in a Birmingham hospital, leaving a wife and two young children. A powerful NPR podcast goes into Reeb’s death and the situation in Selma in riveting detail, https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510343/white-lies.
In Birmingham, the local leader of the movement was Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of the Bethel Baptist Church, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Shuttlesworth. He participated in lunch counter sit-ins, supported the Freedom Riders, and in 1957 was beaten badly when he attempted to enroll his children in an all-white school. He was described this way by one of the organizers of the later Freedom rides: “Fred was practically a legend. I think it was important – for me, definitely, and for a city of people who were carrying on a movement – for there to be somebody that really represented strength, and that’s certainly what Fred did. He would not back down, and you could count on it. He would not sell out, [and] you could count on that.”
The Birmingham Airport has been renamed to honor Shuttlesworth. Also, in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, where many of the famous marches occurred, there is a monument to honor ministers who supported the marches, and also a lovely monument to the four girls that were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1965 (located across the street from the church).
Photo courtesy of Tysons Partnership
There’s a new way to connect in Tysons: cycling.
From my neighborhood on the east side, pedal around the Safeway or take a left at the Kingston apartments through MITRE Corporation to the McLean Metro stop at Route 123. Despite the wait, the crossing is safe and better than the one at the Great Falls intersection. And though I’ve never tried it, you could take the elevators (escalator anyone?) and cross over the Metro bridge as well.
In the early morning, fog might settle on the new Jones Branch connector (Scotts Crossing) by Capital One and Wegman’s, but there’s usually bright sun and little traffic over the thrumming Beltway and hazy skyline. The bridge is pitched so you can make it up on most road bikes, and it has pristine cycle lanes.
Go left on Jones Branch past the Hilton or right past Valo Park and left up Westbranch, which I usually do, and turn right on Westpark for a climb that gets the heart pumping all the way to International Drive. A right at Greensboro across from the Boro and Whole Foods sends you sailing past the Rotunda down to the “T” at Spring Hill for a quick left past the Ascent to the Metro stop on Route 7. The new Vesper Trail on the southeast side pops into Vienna, where I have explored the back roads to find a safe route to the W and O & D trail. There’s even a way to Wolf Trap that avoids the narrow (and scary) parts of Old Courthouse Road. It’s an adventure to find these links between east and west.
Alternatively, the sidewalk past the old Sheraton leads to a trail and a bridge that crosses the Dulles Access Road to Jarrett Valley Drive and the McLean Islamic Center, one of our Tysons Interfaith Partners. Explore the MIC neighborhood and cut across a bit of grass along Route 7 to the service road leading to the traffic signal at Lewinsville, where three churches, including TI member St. Thomas Episcopal, are located. Loop back along Lewinsville or explore the back roads to the Spring Hill Recreation Center along the rolling hills of Brook Road. There’s a bridge/tunnel trail from Spring Hill on the north side of Route 7 as well, but it stops way short. Soon, hopefully, all will be smooth sailing on both sides!
Pedaling around the area this COVID-19 spring and fall, I was impressed by the energy and diversity of Tysons, where young and old of many different backgrounds come out to exercise, walk their dogs, and play. They should also cycle, run, or walk through the Vienna and McLean neighborhoods, where the flora and fauna provide a yin to the yang of the emerging urban space. I’m not sure I would use a Bike Share loaner to cross the connector bridge, but the Vesper Trail is doable, and hardier folks might try the steeper climbs or even the bridge. You can always push the bike, as I saw one construction worker do one morning crossing from west to east. Where did he begin his journey?
Here is an interactive map you can use to explore the possibilities. The Vesper Trail is the unmarked route that parallels Spring Hill and ends on Vesper and Higdon Streets in Vienna: https://fairfaxcountygis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Viewer/index.html?appid=8a7ac4884e9c4c9bb37acc69dfb237a4
There are multiple instances in the Christian Gospels where Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest. You can read these different accounts in Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31, and Luke 10:25-28. Here is the story as Matthew tells it:
34When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I understand Jesus’ teaching to mean that every law in scripture and every word of encouragement from the prophets to live rightly may be summed up in the actions of loving God and loving our neighbors.
This love that Jesus is talking about isn’t romantic love. The Greek word is agapé, and it means self-sacrificing love. It’s the love that asks us to put another’s needs above our own. And, when Jesus says we are to love our neighbor, he’s not simply talking about the person who lives next door to us. He’s talking about all the people we encounter, known and unknown.
I’ve been thinking about this teaching of Jesus’ as I’ve heard the debate about mask wearing in these days of COVID-19. I’ve heard people justify their refusal to wear a mask in a few different ways: wearing a mask in some way infringes on their personal freedom; they aren’t worried about catching COVID, so they won’t wear a mask; and/or the government doesn’t have the right to tell others what to do.
I believe that kind of thinking is completely counter to Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbor. My primary reason for wearing a mask is to protect other people, in case I have unknowingly caught COVID. For me, wearing a mask is one way I can live fully into Jesus commandment to love my neighbor. Whatever your faith tradition, I hope you’ll join me.
This blog post is the expressed opinion of its writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
The following blog post is the expressed opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Tysons Interfaith or its members.
Learning From A Shepherd
After thirty-five years in the military and twenty years in business, I find myself team teaching leadership to high school seniors. January sixth was a challenging moment to handle all their questions. But as a person of faith, I naturally turned to prayer to guide my responses to their questions. An idea came to thought from a poem by the Discover of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. The poem begins, “Shepherd, show me how to go o’er the hillside steep…”. Responding to this guidance, I quoted from the King James version of the Bible from Gospel of Mark: “Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”
My challenge to these students was to have them look deeply into the qualities of this great shepherd to see how he led and why people of diverse backgrounds followed him? After a couple of weeks of instruction and discussion, I asked them to share inspiration and gratitude they had gained. Imagine my thrill when someone read” The Hill We Climb” written by Ms. Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate which she read at the Presidential Inauguration. Her beautiful poem included the line “If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy in change, our children’s birthright.” Love is a leadership quality. In Henry Drummond’s book, The Greatest Thing In The World, he tells the reader that love has nine ingredients that should be universally shared: patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, sincerity. Our leadership class agreed that Ms. Gorman’s poem included all these enduring leadership characteristics.
Can we substantially learn from others? Many would place me in a category of being “over the hill” and would call the teenagers I work with as “immature”. But one of the tenets of my religion states “And we solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure.” Daniel was a teenage shepherd while Moses was at the other end of the spectrum, yet both were leaders who let God speak through them to others.
People of faith can find the opportunity to share and to bless. I know I was blessed when my student recognized the gifts and wisdom of Amanda Gorman and was inspired to embrace these same leadership (shepherding) qualities with the class.