Beliefs Culture

The promise of the Good Friday-Passover overlap (COMMENTARY)

A statue depicting Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion death, is displayed at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

NEW YORK (RNS) This year, Good Friday and the start of Passover occur on the same date: Friday, April 3. The coincidence is no accident.

Jesus’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the eight-day Jewish festival marking the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egyptian slavery was a religious requirement for Jews of his day. After his death by Roman crucifixion, Passover became an integral part of the Easter story, and Jesus’ Last Supper was like an early version of what later became the Passover seder meal.

A statue depicting Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion death, is displayed at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

A statue depicting Mary holding Jesus after his crucifixion  is displayed at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

In past years, I anonymously attended Good Friday services in New York and sat alongside Christians as they commemorated the death of Jesus as recounted in the New Testament Gospel of John. I alternated each year between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches because I was interested in how preachers handled John’s 71 references to the Jewish people, a text that’s often called “radioactive” because of its negative teaching about Jews and their alleged culpability in killing Jesus.

I attend the most solemn Christian service of the year knowing it had often been a day of dread and even death for many European Jewish communities. On some Good Fridays past, worshippers stormed out of churches filled with hatred and venom for Jews. Many preachers riled up their congregations with sermons saying that “the Jews killed our Lord,” the infamous “Christ killer” or deicide charge that has long poisoned relations between Christians and Jews.

John’s Gospel introduces more problematic themes and hostile descriptions about Jews and Judaism than the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some contemporary scholars have attempted to mitigate or soften John’s negative description of “the Jews.” One explanation is that the Greek word “Ioudaioi” refers only to the obsequious Jewish leaders who collaborated with the Romans, not the entire people. Another approach is to translate the word as “Judeans,” the residents of Judea, the Roman name for the region.

Yet for most people, these are linguistic differences without any real meaning or significance. A more plausible explanation is that John describes a bitter intra-Jewish family feud, an internal clash between the followers of Jesus and those who remained faithful to the older faith. Vigorous angry debates took place within the “mishpacha,” the Hebrew word for “family.” Truth be told, people often utter or write more derogatory words and phrases in family disputes than they would ever use with those outside the family circle.

Such finely crafted academic opinions, however, were rarely heard at the Good Friday services I attended. Some preachers made “the Jews” into the chief adversaries, the eternal enemies of Jesus. They preached that the Jewish people merited eternal divine punishment because of their “crime.” The decisive and central role played by the cruel Roman authorities — the only ones with the power to carry out capital punishment — was frequently minimized or omitted completely. Jesus’ killers were “the Jews,” full stop. Such anti-Jewish Good Friday services were painful and distressing.

But I also attended Good Friday services in both Catholic and Protestant churches where the death of Jesus was portrayed in broad universal terms without placing the blame on “the Jews” or even the Romans: no condemnation, no divine punishment. Such sermons focused less on “who” killed Jesus than on the meaning of his death for our own age. Those positive sermons reflected the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 repudiation of the deicide charge and the call for “mutual respect and knowledge” between Christians and Jews.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious adviser, is the author of "Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations." RNS photo courtesy Rabbi A. James Rudin

Rabbi A. James Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is the author of “Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations.” RNS photo courtesy of Rabbi A. James Rudin

After Passover and Easter concluded, I always contacted the various preachers and suggested we meet to discuss my Good Friday experience. Almost all accepted my invitation. The Christian clergy, including those who did not verbally beat up on the Jews, usually asked: “Rabbi, why didn’t you tell me you were coming to the Good Friday service?”

My response: “Would that have changed your preaching?”

The answer from even those who had spewed anti-Judaism from their pulpit was invariably something along the lines of: “Knowing a rabbi was present would have made a real difference. I would have changed my message so I didn’t offend you.”

My response: “It’s not a matter of politeness. Before you again falsely condemn Jews as ‘Christ killers’ and cursed by God, imagine that Jews, the kinsfolk of Jesus, are physically present at all your services, not just on Good Friday.”

(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser. His latest book, “Pillar of Fire: The Biography of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise,” will be published by Texas Tech University Press this fall.)


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A. James Rudin


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  • Neither the Jews nor the Romans had power over the life of Jesus. Jesus said this clearly in John 19:11.

    Surprised that any Good Friday service sermon would focus on anger.

    Good Friday services typically focus on the passion of the Christ on the cross and pastors study the seven words of Jesus from the cross.

    Christians clearly believe that Christ came as the ultimate sacrifice of the sins of all mankind, without shedding of His precious blood on the cross there is no remission of sins, If there is any guilt for a Jewish person on Good Friday, it must be self-inflicted. In fact, all Christians collectively bear the guilt of sins upon themselves when they remember the passion of the Christ.

    Christians are able to rejoice in the fact that they have found salvation because of Good Friday.

  • Traditionally in Europe from the Middle Ages going well into the 20th Century, Good Friday and Passover were a time when pogroms against Jewish communities were typically done.

    The “blood libel” was the rumor that matzoh used in Passover was made with the blood of unbaptized babies. [Which is why when Sarah Palin used the term, it got tons of groans from Jewish communities all over the nation]

    Its telling that the Vatican waited 20 years after the Holocaust to apologize for its anti-Semitic dogma in this respect.

    One thing about Passover is that it is one of the few religious holidays out there which usually encourages bringing non-believers around to celebrate (and not to proselytize them).
    “All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy come and celebrate”

  • Interesting that this will be a year of the “great Passover”, with Passover and Sabbath coinciding. That’s what is described in John’s Gospel.

    That is why the Gospel of John does not have Jesus’ Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Instead John pictures Jesus as “the Lamb of God” being killed on the Friday when the lambs for the Seder were being sacrificed.

    Some years ago when working as a University Chaplain we had a common building used by Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic students. I had the priviledge of being invited to join in the Jewish Seder service.

    It gave me great sense for the origens of our Catholic Eucharistic service. According to the synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ last supper was a Passover Seder Service. So the “doing this in remembrance of Me” made sense. The “Mass” is a “Eucharist” – a Thanksgiving for deliverance.

    For Catholic Holy Thursday it would be a great experience if we could have a “Seder-Mass” – experience the Seder ritual and prayers…

  • Christians should actually celebrate Passover, since out of Judaism came Christianity. It is part of Christian history and does not conflict with Christian Beliefs.
    Of course, Jews have no religious reason to acknowledge the Crucifixion of Jesus since they do not recognize Him as their prophesied Messiah. They carry no guilt for His death, just suffer from blindness to this day.

  • Wow you are antisemitic too. Throw in racist and you can be the complete package of bigoted dolt.

  • It should be noted what the apostle Peter said to the men of Israel at Acts 2:22-23.

    After Pilate told Jesus that Pilate had authority to let him go or to execute him, Jesus told Pilate would have no authority over him at all unless it had been granted from above. Jesus also stated that the man who handed Jesus to Pilate had greater sin (John 19:10,11).

    In addition, when Pilate asked the Jews if he should execute their King, the chief priests said they had no king but Caesar and Pilate then handed Jesus over to them to be executed (John 19:14-16). They definitely had something to do with whether Jesus would live or die.

  • Yes, that is true, no one group bears the responsibility for the crucifixion. Also, no mere mortal had power over the life of Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was divine. We as Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah as described in Isaiah 53. Prophecies regarding Jesus life and death and resurrection were foretold and fulfilled. Shedding of blood of blameless lamb was necessary to be a propitiation for sins. Jesus became that Passover lamb, how wonderful!

    On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This is example Jesus set for His followers.

    Dear Jewish brothers and sisters, we do not hold you accountable for Jesus crucifixion, all of our sins had to be atoned by the blood of a spotless lamb and Jesus is that lamb that came to take away the sins of the world. We are thankful to God Almighty for making a way for us to be redeemed through His wonderful sacrifice on that cross.

  • As a follower of Jesus Christ, I will share what I feel and have been taught:

    The death and resurrection of of Jesus was pre-ordained long before His physical birth. Jesus suffered His brutal physical death for the sinful ways of all man. Sin is a barrier between man and God, and simply put, Jesus smashed that barrier to dust – Jesus is the conduit, the open door to His followers to live eternally with their Father in Heaven. Verily, it is written in John 14:6: “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    As a Christian, I do not place blame on the Jewish people for anything negative with regards to the physical death of my Savior – the Jewish people of ancient times were simply a means to a very necessary end for all followers of Christ. Absent the physical death of Jesus, the prophesy of the Old Testament would never have been fulfilled.

    In short, my Savior was a Jew, and so as a Christian, I love the…

  • “It gave me great sense for the origens of our Catholic Eucharistic service. According to the synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ last supper was a Passover Seder Service. So the “doing this in remembrance of Me” made sense. The “Mass” is a “Eucharist” – a Thanksgiving for deliverance.”

    For those who worship in the parish and use the Eucharist SYMBOLICALLY … yes, this is an important point: IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME … that same ME used in: I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but THROUGH ME.
    Me is an ongoing “place” of Spiritual Awareness. It is not bound to the chalice, creeds or dogma of man’s religious rituals, nor is it a caliphate type figure. There is no “chair of Peter” THROUGH ME, as God shows no favoritism.


  • Larry, again, learn big words.

    My comment was pro-Jewish, so I cannot be an anti Semite……..which means “against”. I only hate atheists, races can handle their own issues.

  • Read Acts 2:22:23 for clarification on this matter.

    It was Jesus, the son of God, who willingly offered himself as a ransom sacrifice for all imperfect mankind through his perfect body, and not God, who lives from forever to forever (Psalm 90:2; John 3:16).

  • “They carry no guilt for His death, just suffer from blindness to this day.”

    Yeah, that wasn’t a backhanded remark. Give me a break.
    It was anti-semitic, but in a casual, tone deaf variety. The kind frequently employed by Christian Zionists. You can’t help but be offensive because you are not used to the idea of treating other faiths respectfully.

  • JWs carefully read Galatians 1:8, your religion was founded in the 18th century by “revelation” made to someone who knew nothing about Jesus. You’re wagering your life based on false assertions made by men like Russell/Rutherford.

  • Easter is always the time for Christian resurrection of anti-Jewish sentiment, often acted upon with pogroms or other elements of violence.

    The rabbi should know that, and he should know that the best thing Jews can do on Easter and the days preceding it is to keep away from Christians and let them do their own thing.

    The best “outreach” is the acknowledgement that Jews and Christians are different and that they are best served when allowed by one another to live in peace.

    Anything else in syncretic and self-deprecating.

  • James, I think it is good for Christians to participate in a Jewish Passover Seder, but I don’t think they should create their own. It is misappropriating someone else’s religion and traditions for your own purposes. Claiming that Jews are blind because they don’t and didn’t accept Jesus is a centuries old anti-Jewish belief in Christianity. There are statues of blind Jews or Jews with their eyes covered all throughout Europe.

    Midwest Christian, Jews never use the term the “Old Testament”. What you call the Old Testament does not prophecy Jesus unless you read it backward already believing in Jesus

  • In my 60 years, I have never, ever, attended a “Good Friday” service in which “the Jews” were described as “Christ killers.” My faith doesn’t put the blame on either the Romans or the Jews. It clearly teaches that Jesus had to die because of my sin. Therefore, I killed Jesus.

  • Christ’s message was one of absolution and of forgiveness. This was shown to be the most important message he gave us when from the cross he says “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. Clearly he held no malice or anger toward the Jewish People even at the time of his greatest suffering. For Christians to blame anyone, Jews or Romans, for the death of Jesus is counter to the very message of salvation he brought to all of mankind.

  • Who killed Jesus? We all did. He died for our sins and all have sinned. We all put Him to death. He didn’t die for His own sins for He never sinned. He died for ours. This is clear throughout the scriptures. Jesus/Yeshua is the True Passover Lamb, the One to which the story in Exodus points us. He is the fulfillment of many such types or symbols in the OT, and specific prophecies concerning He who comes to suffer and die and rise again. He will return and fulfill the remaining prophecies. Based on that which was foretold concerning Him, Messiah clearly comes twice. The first time in regards to sin, and the second to inherit the kingdoms of the world and reign as King of Kings. Jesus is the only provision that the Father has given whereby we Must be saved. Receive Him as Savior and Lord, turn away from sin and know God’s forgiveness of sins and blessed peace and joy. God Bless

  • What I have never understood, as a Jew, is — if Christ’s death and resurrection had been foretold, if his death & resurrection had been prophesied long before they occurred — why have Christians historically held such anger about it? It seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ entire message and work on earth…if one is a Christian.

  • Stefanie, those who have received Christ/Messiah as Savior and know God’s peace that comes through forgiveness of sins are not angry but truly thankful for what the Lord accomplished through His atonement. Many use the name “Christian” that doesn’t mean that they are. Jesus said one must be born again or born from above to enter the kingdom of God. This is accomplished by accepting Jesus Christ/Yeshua HaMeshiach as Savior. Shalom