A Season for Renewal
“Here Men from The Planet Earth
First Set Foot upon The Moon
We Came in Peace for All Mankind.”
—Plaque left behind on the moon’s surface by the crew of Apollo 11
We all get mail. Some of us never get the message. And many of us will keep getting mail long after we’re gone. Bye-bye. Life doesn’t always leave a forwarding address.
Ms. Florence Forget recently received a postcard. The postcard had been mailed 47 years earlier. The card was from Florence’s two older sisters, both of whom have now passed away. There was a two-cent stamp on the card and a picture of a public garden in St. Petersburg, Florida. The message read, “seeing the sights.” Even though Ms. Forget’s sisters are long gone they are not forgotten. Perhaps they are still “seeing the sights” but in altogether other gardens. “Everything in its season,” says the Book of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps this is God’s way of reminding us to make patience our pace.
History is patient with us. It keeps replaying until we get it. History is a history of seasons. Seasons of war and peace, hunger and hope, famine and faith, slavery and liberation, crucifixion and renewal. History doesn’t threaten us, we do that. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself unless we do.
In Genesis 1:14 it is written that the sun and moon would serve as “symbols and fixed times.” For thousands of years people set their spiritual clock by the moon, and in the moon saw a reminder of who it was within our spirit to become. The Judeo-Christian experience shifted the consciousness of people from praying to the moon to knowing when to pray because of the moon.
There is a line in Buddhist poetry that observes both truth and beauty and reads: “The moon is in a bucket of water.” Certainly little is as beautiful as watching a full moon walk on water. When Jesus walked in Jerusalem on the way to the Last Supper, he walked under a full moon. Across time, the importance of the moon was not just in the light it lent directly, but rather that by the moon ancients knew what date it was, when it was time to do what.
Sometimes all of us need a little prodding, sometimes a push. On the calendar wheel, Passover and Easter mark a new season. Exodus 12:2 is translated by the nineteenth-century scholar, Samson Raphael Hirsch as: “This renewal shall be for you the beginning of renewals.” Passover and Easter are spring to the spirit, and these holidays of liberation and renewal are always in season. Any day is a good day to be free, a wonderful day to begin anew.
Around 200 B.C., when Antiochus and the Syrian-Greeks conquered Israel, one of the conquering power’s first dictates was to take away the lunar calendar from the Jews. This lunar issue wasn’t Greek to the Greeks. Take away a religion’s calendar and a population is religiously stranded. You don’t have to be in the dark to see the moon, but when times seem darkest you sometimes see the clearest.
At the beginning of the Book of Exodus it is written, “Now there arose a new king in Egypt.” And with this new Pharaoh came a new season. And with this new season came the reminder that every season is not spring, every new season is not necessarily a time of renewal. Joseph saved Egypt from starvation, and his descendents woke to find themselves slaves in Egypt. In life, the wheel turns. And turns again. Change is the only constant.
Every dream begins with someone falling asleep, and dreams sometimes tell us more than we want to know. There is a story from several hundred years ago of a man who dreamed of a tower and sets out to find his dream. Eventually coming upon the tower, the man begins going ‘round and ‘round. Over time another traveler witnesses the first man and calls out to him, “Why do you keep circling the tower?”
“I’ll tell you,” answered the dreamer, “I keep going ‘round and ‘round the tower because every now and then a beautiful woman sticks her head out from the very top window. And seeing her, for even one moment, is enough reason to keep me going ‘round and ‘round.”
This story was told by rabbis as a reminder to keep reading the Bible year after year, not for what you always see but for what you might see. Life is always worth a second look. And a third. No matter what season of our life we are experiencing or what we think we’ve seen before, it’s worth keeping an eye open for something or someone beautiful. Even, if it’s just for a moment. Take a moment to enjoy the seasons of your life.
Jews are required to retell each year the Passover story to themselves, family and friends. In this requirement is the opportunity both to remember what our ancestors once saw and realize what we might yet see. Indeed, each Jew is required to know that this story about the Exodus happened to them. And herein is the rare simultaneous view of both perspective and intimacy. Anyone that we depersonalize is never interesting to us. Intimacy is sometimes achieved when we step back from ourselves and into someone else.
The order of the Passover retelling is dictated in a meal that is called a Seder. The word Seder literally means “the order.” The Last Supper with Jesus and the disciples was during Passover and was, according to scholars, a Seder. Like Passover and Easter, the concept of liberation and renewal are intertwined historically.
Though history is by definition always in the past tense it is never past being relevant. The past does not necessarily dictate the future, but there is no future without a past. Freedom is not the absence of slavery but the memory. Teach your kids where they come from, who they come from. Teach your kids about their past and they will more effectively find their way in the future. We’re not lost in a dream; we’re only dreaming we’re lost.
We may be born trying to find our way but we are not born lost. God is a guide. And the moon is a sign left by Our Guide. Passover always falls on a full moon—even 3,000 years ago it did. Certainly at that time when there were no flashlights or streetlights, if you had several hundred thousand Jews taking leave of their taskmasters, you wouldn’t want to make the grand exit in the dark. When God took the Children of Israel out of Egypt, it was definitely one of God’s great movies. The spotlight on this “opening night” was the moon.
To ancient psalmists the moon was an endless source of wonder and reflection. To both Jews and Christians, and anyone else who cares to take a gander, the moon is certainly a teacher. The moon comes and goes as we do, and returns when we think all is lost. The moon goes through cycles as do women AND men. The moon reminds all of us that all is a cycle, that much in life and love should be recycled, and that in our mortality we are part of God’s great recycling. “Energy can neither be created or destroyed,” said Einstein, “it can only be transformed.” To borrow on a current movie that has everyone saying: “Analyze this!” I can’t help but think that Passover and Easter is an opportunity to hear a higher voice saying, “Transform this.” Transformation is the highest form of personal transportation. Transformation can take us where transportation never goes.
Learning is the mind’s transport. As with any teacher, the moon can sometimes help us find our path and sometimes leaves us to find our own. Sometimes we can see the moon and sometimes we can’t. But what we can’t see isn’t necessarily absent. The moon is a spiritual lighthouse sending its signal even when its light is hidden by the day’s light. The moon is present even in its apparent absence. God doesn’t go into hiding because of bad weather or because we shut our eyes. God had the ancient Hebrews set their lives by the moon. And the moon’s message in this season is to mark our liberation and renewal.
Passover and Easter are transforming experiences. Like any other transforming experience the journey is as individual as the individual. In 325 C.E. the Council of Nicaea ruled that the Easter festival should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox occurs when the sun’s disk passes directly above the equator. The sun is a harbinger. The moon is the sign. Both are a reflection of what in Hebrew is called the Ein Sof, the One Light. Like the moon, none of us are the light but rather a reflected light.
A reflection of God’s light.
No matter how many times one has heard the Passover story and how Moses climbed Mt. Sinai; no matter how many times one has climbed to a high place and attended an Easter sunrise service—the repeated experience does not have to be original for us to experience it as original. A transformation is never passé. “After climbing a great hill,” wrote South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, “one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Life is not a long walk for some. And it is all uphill for many. Some of us will struggle under our load. Some of us will pause to help another. Moses said, “Let my people go!” Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Dear reader, no one frees a free man or woman. Forgiveness frees any of us who have the capacity to forgive. Forgiveness gives us more than it takes. All of us have a birthday, but each day is an opportunity to be born again. The abiding lesson of Passover and Easter is that these frail bodies are not frail if the spirit is mighty, and it is by the grace of the Almighty that we are made more. Made free to renew.
Few of us can part the seas or walk on water but passing over our fears is the miracle of walking on our faith not our feet. The moon is almost full. Let it fill our hearts. Good Passover. Happy Easter!