Maundy Thursday

April 21, 2011; April 1, 2010; April 9, 2009

lastsupper

Holy Week — Now that’s a name. It makes sense. It’s holy. It’s a week.

But some of the names of the individual days of the week…

Good Friday remembers the day Christ was crucified and killed. So whoever was in charge of naming either had a morbid sense of irony or put an extra ‘o’ in God, and the name stuck.

Easter, the cornerstone the Christian calendar, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, is named, of all things, for a pagan Goddess.

Holy Saturday? Okay, well that one makes sense.

But what on earth is Maundy Thursday?

The word Maundy occurs but once in the English language. It refers to today, the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday is observed as the anniversary of the Last Supper, the meal widely believed to be the Jewish holiday Passover. At the Last Supper, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, Jesus introduced the ceremony of the Eucharist:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered 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.”  — Matthew 26:26-27

He also washed the feet of his disciples.  Matthew doesn’t describe the feet-washing. but John, who recalls the meal not as Passover, but as an event preceding it, records the ceremony as so:

…so [Jesus] got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…

…When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” — John 13:4-15

That tradition lives on in Great Britain today, performed by none other than the Queen. No, she doesn’t wash her subjects’ feet anymore. James II, the last Catholic King of Britain, was the last monarch to do so, back in the late 17th century. These days the Queen carries on a Maundy Thursday tradition dating back to Edward I.

On Maundy Thursday, the British monarch distributes specially minted coins (Maundy coins) to as many subjects of each gender as the monarch is old. In other words, this year (2010) Queen Elizabeth, who is 84, distributes coins to 84 men and 84 women.

Maundy coins
Maundy coins

Roman Catholic Churches on the other hand still carry on the 2000 year-old feet cleansing tradition introduced at the Last Supper. During the the Pedilavium on Maundy or Holy Thursday, the priest washes the feet of 12 selected people.

The meaning of the ceremony goes back to the name Maundy. Maundy is from the same Latin root as the English word mandate, meaning “command”. The name maundy stems from the 11th commandment.

11th commandment? I thought there were only ten?

The 11th commandment is the one Jesus bestowed on his disciples at the Last Supper, just before his arrest:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” — John 13:34

It was to be a long night. As Jesus predicted, he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, arrested, and brought to trial. Also as Jesus predicted, Peter—who during the meal had offered to lay down his life for Jesus—denied even knowing him.

All before the rooster crowed.

The events of what happened the following day are recounted during Good Friday.

Succinct overview of Holy Week: Philadelphia Bulletin

We Gotta Lotta Haggadah

moses_with_tablets

And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for the Lord, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes … you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt.

— Exodus 12:14

 

We were slaves to pharaoh in Egypt
The year was 1492
Hitler had just invaded Poland
Madonna had just become a Jew…

— Passover according to Wikipedia,
They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)
by Jewmongous

This week Jews across the world have plenty of Haggadahs to choose from.

The Haggadah is the book by which Jewish families at the Passover table recite the stages of the seder meal. The Haggadah details the exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt and asks the religion’s most famous question:

Why is this night different from all other nights?

The question begets four more:

  1. Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread, but on this night we eat only matzoh?
  2. Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
  3. Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our food even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
  4. Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?

The questions are asked by the youngest child at the dinner able to do so.

But for those Jews who just don’t have the time (or patience) to go through the entire Passover ceremony, Michael Rubiner has created the Two-Minute Haggadah:

“Overview: Once we were slaves in Egypt. Now we’re free. That’s why we’re doing this.

Four questions:

1. What’s up with the matzoh?

2. What’s the deal with horseradish?

3. What’s with the dripping of the herbs?

4. What’s this whole slouching at the table business?

For the sake of brevity, everydaysaholiday.org is going with Rubiner’s answers:

1. When we left Egypt, we were in a hurry. There was no time for making decent bread.

2. Life was bitter, like horseradish.

3. It’s called symbolism.

4. Free people get to slouch.

Of course, for those secular Jews who would still like a little more meat on their shank bone, there’s the Liberated Haggadah. Developed by Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the City Congregation of Humanistic Judaism in New York, the Liberated Haggadah seeks to involve Jews who consider themselves “culturally” Jewish, but not necessarily religious.

One of the Liberated Haggadah’s questions:

“Why is there an orange on the seder plate?”

[The orange is not one of the traditional six items on the seder plate, which normally include maror (bitter herbs), chazeret (lettuce), charoset (apples & cinnamon), a lamb shank bone, parsley, and a hard-boiled egg.]

The answer:

“To remind us that all people have a legitimate place in Jewish life, no less than an orange on the seder plate, regardless or gender or sexual identity…And to teach us, too, how absurd it is to exclude anyone who wants to sit at our table, partake of our meal, and celebrate with us the gift of life and the gift of freedom.”

The Liberated Haggadah also grapples with some of the more neglected questions of Passover. Like why the main event in the formation of the Jewish faith, Moses’ leading the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt, has yet to encounter any historical evidence to back it?

Even the role of the Old-time Hebrew God is all but removed from the narrative. A step even reform Jews may have difficulty with.

Or for those who don’t want any shank bone, there’s Roberta Kalechofsky’s vegetarian haggadah, “Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb“, which reaffirms the traditional Hebrew God, but with an animal-friendly perspective:

“In lovingkindness You instructed Noah to build an ark
and save each kind from among Your creatures.
Neither are we so hardhearted as
to believe that the earth was created
for us alone…
Teach us to live likewise
So that every living creature,
Every beast of the field and fowl of the air
May praise You, and our voice be among them.”

There’s a Haggadah for Poets, a Haggadah for Women. There’s even a Haggadah for Christians.

But regardless of which Haggadah you use, remember, it ain’t a Haggadah if it ain’t got the Frog Song.

Sarajevo Haggadah: Jewish Manuscript Saved by Bosniaks Muslims

Facebook Haggadah: Moses is departing Egypt

In Haggadah de vida, honey
Don’t you know that I love you?
In Haggadah de vida, baby
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true?

— Iron Butterfly

Passover, Part 2

Where we last left off, six plagues had devastated Egypt, dealing mainly with water, animals, and disease.

The third of the three plague trilogies moves to the meteorological arena and has its most damaging effects on agriculture:

#7: Hailstorm of fire.

Described as fiery hail in the Bible, it’s also interpreted to mean lightning and hail. This hailstorm which was said to be so violent it would kill any person or animal left outdoors. The Bible makes an unusual parenthetical here (such as this one) to explain how the early crops of flax and barley were destroyed while the wheat and spelt, which were still in the ground, were unaffected.

#8: Locusts.

To the modern urbanite this sounds to be a plague of inconvenience. Who wants to scrub dead grasshoppers off your windshield every time you get gas? But to an agrarian society whose water, fish, livestock, and half their crops depleted, this was the kiss of death. To give you an idea of the damage locusts can do, a swarm of locusts in Ethiopia in 1958 cost the country 167,000 tons of grain—enough to feed a million people for a year. (The Desert Locust in Africa and Western Asia)

#9: 3 Days of Darkness.

In modern times, explosions from crashing meteors such as Tunguska 1908, and volcanic eruptions such as Tambora 1815, sent out ash particles that covered the earth’s atmosphere for months. (1815 was called the Year Without Summer.) Exodus doesn’t give much to go on, other than the strange weather pattern of the previous two plagues.

All this said there really is no explanation for the deadliest of the plagues, number 10 in which

…I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. — God, Exodus 12

No known plague or disease makes any distinction as to birth order.

One theory is that the “first-borns” that were killed originally referred to the first-born crops, not the people. And that may make sense if, for nothing else, the events in the story of Exodus are not mentioned in any ancient Egyptian text of the supposed time. You would think a massive slave revolt and exodus, unprecedented horrors, plagues, and the killing of the first-born in every house would have at least garnered a footnote on a papyrus scroll. But nope.

The real miracle of Passover may be that it is one of the oldest continuously observed holidays ever. On Passover Jews gather around the table, and the youngest asks the elders “Why is this night different from all other nights.” The story of the Exodus is retold, and Jews continue to follow the instructions laid down in Exodus.

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations…Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread…

Jews eat matzoh during Passover in memory of their ancestors who left Egypt without time to bake their bread, which hardened in the hot sun on their backs.

Though Abraham the monotheist is considered the father of the Judeo-Christian religions, long before Moses walked the earth, the moment the Hebrews left Egypt is considered to be the beginning of codified Judaism as it is recognized today. (Note: It was a Passover meal that Jesus and the disciples observed over a thousand years later during the Last Supper.)

After escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the Jews spent 40 years roaming the desert for their homeland. Proof that even then Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, was a patriarchal society.

No one asked directions.

Memorial of Christ’s Death

April 17, 2011

If you observe one holiday this year…

…you’re probably a Jehovah’s Witness.

While trying to explore a new holiday every day — over 100 so far this year and counting — I’ve found there’s one major religious group that gets left out: Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to observe one holiday all year, and that’s today, the Memorial of Christ’s Death. It’s normally observed at the same time as Passover in the ancient Jewish calendar.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was born sometime around October, but they don’t celebrate his birth, noting that Jesus gave no indication to his followers to do so. For that matter, they don’t celebrate any birthdays, including their own; birthdays, anniversaries, and other annual holidays are seen as glorification of the individual and as stemming from pre-Christian pagan religions.

Nor do Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate Easter with bunny rabbits and colored eggs, both of which are ancient pagan symbols of spring and fertility.

The reason they do memorialize Jesus’s death comes from Luke 22:19. Jesus breaks bread with His disciples at the Last Supper, and commands them,

“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The differences between Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Christians cannot be summed up in one post. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t follow the notion of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is considered the one Son of the Supreme Being Jehovah, but a separate entity; that Jesus was resurrected after his execution, enthroned by Jehovah and “given all authority in heaven and on earth.”

They reject the symbol of the cross, both for its pagan origin and because they believe Christ was executed on a single vertical beam.

And they don’t believe in Hell. When an unbeliever dies, they simply cease to exist, which in part explains the de-emphasis of funerals and why Witnesses, unlike every other religious and cultural group, don’t see the need for memorials other than that of Jesus.

So if you’re wondering about that guy at work who seems nice but who takes off at the first sign of every office party or birthday, it may not be because he’s a snob. It may simply be against his religious practices.

Or because your office parties are boring.

Either way, here’s a straight-forward article on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website. And a summary of Jehovah’s Witnesses Beliefs and Practices.

Mahavira Jayanti

April 16, 2011
March 28, 2010
April 11, 2009

I say with conviction that the doctrine for which the name of Lord Mahavir is glorified nowadays is the doctrine of Ahimsa. If anyone has practiced to the fullest extent and has propagated most the doctrine of Ahimsa, it was Lord Mahavira.

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Mahavira Jayanti, in honor of the birthday of Lord Mahavira, who spread the Jainism religion and philosophy in India in the 6th century B.C. The holy day falls on the 13th day of Chaitra. The date varies in the Gregorian Calendar.

Mahavira was the last of the 24 Tirthankars, or “ford makers,” whose teachings form the basis of Jain Dharma, and he is one of only two for which we have concrete records of their lives.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, influencing both Hindusim and Buddhism. Jainism stresses self-control, non-violence, ascetic living, and the the divine potential in every soul. Jainists are noted for their high level of literacy throughout history. They are also known for their vast libraries going back to antiquity.

Jainism does not revolve around any one prophet or God but around the central tenant that God is an amalgamation of the qualities within each and every soul that are pure and divine.

Mahavira was a title meaning “Great Hero.” Maharvira was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala in the kingdom of ancient Vaishali, in what is now Northeast India. His name, Prince Varhaman (Varhaman meant “increasing”) is believed to refer to how all good things in nature flourished prior to his birth. Of course, if he was born in April, that’s no real shocker.

What was surprising was that at age 30 the wealthy, priveleged Prince suddenly renounced his family, his inheritance, and all his worldly possessions to live an ascetic life and to devote his life to the spiritual and achieving enlightenment, or Keval Gyan.

Throughout the remainder of his life he traveled across India, with no possessions, often without even footwear or clothing, and preached the principles of Jainism to the people of India.

At one point he was said to have amassed nearly half a million followers. His teaching solidified the shape of Jainism that would persist for over 2500 years. He died at the old age of 72, the last of the Jain prophets.

Though far more people practice Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism is still one of the most populous religions of the world, with over 4 million followers.

Vaisakhi

April 13 or 14


In the month of Vaisaakh, how can the bride be patient?  — Guru Granth Sahib p133, Sikh holy book

Vaisakhi has long been celebrated as the New Year by the cultures of Punjab in northwest India and eastern Pakistan. But for Sikhs, Vaisakhi is one of the most important holidays of the year.

Celebrated every year on April 13 or 14, for Sikhs Vaisakhi (also Baisakhi) commemorates the founding of the Khalsa Pantha (Order of the Pure) by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

Guru Gobind Singh, as you may recall, is the last of the ten mortal gurus. He’s worshiped for, among other things, upon his death handing over the title Guru not to a person, but to the Sikh holy book itself, Guru Granth Sahib, a collection of divinely inspired writings by the first ten Gurus.

But he is also known for transforming Sikhs into a family of holy warriors, or soldier saints, known as the Khalsa Pantha.

On this day in 1699, at the Vaisakhi Festival in Anandpur Sahib, Gobind Singh called together some of his most devoted followers outside his tent. In front of a crowd of thousands, he asked who was willing to give their life to Sikh cause. A man volunteered. Gobind Singh took him into the tent and reappeared moments later alone, blood dripping from his sword.

To the crowd’s astonishment Gobind Singh asked again who was willing to give their life. Another man volunteered. Gobind Singh led the man to his tent and again came out alone with his bloody sword. This happened three more times.

Gobind Singh founds the Khalsa, Vaisakhi 1699
Gobind Singh founds the Khalsa, Vaisakhi 1699

After the fifth time Gobind Singh returned to his tent and brought out the five men unharmed, with turbans around their heads. He baptized them with a sacred nectar of immortality called amrit and declared them the Panh Piara, the Five Beloved Ones. These were the first five of the Khalsa, the elite group of holy warriors who would ensure the survival of the Sikh religion over the next three centuries.

Even today, though Sikhs are a minority in India, they still traditionally hold a disproportional number of military posts as commanders and officers.

Vaisakh is the first month in the Nanakshahi calendar. It coincides with April and May. The Vaisakhi festival is celebrated with processions and parades throughout Punjab as well as in Sikh communities throughout the world. The largest Vaisakhi parade outside India is in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“The month of Vaisaakh is beautiful and pleasant, when the Saint causes me to meet the Lord.” — Guru Granth Sahib p134

Khordad Sal – Zarathustra’s Birthday

March 28, 2011, Fasli calendar

Zarathustra

Happy Birthday Zarathustra!

March 26 is celebrated as the birthday of Zarathustra, or as the Greeks called him, Zoroaster, founder of Zoroastrianism.

We don’t really know which millennium Zarathustra was born in, let alone the exact date.

The precise years of the prophet’s life weren’t a big issue in Persia until Alexander the Great’s invasion, after which years began to be numbered since Alexander’s reign. Lacking the necessary record to determine Zarathustra’s life, Zoroastrians turned to the Babylonians.

In “The Traditional date of Zoroaster explained”, Shapur Shabazi theorizes that when Zoroastrian priests tried to nail down the years of Zarathustra, they mistook the great Persian King Cyrus (d. 529 BC) for the first royal convert to Zoroastrianism, Kavi Vistaspa, also a great king, who is mentioned in the Gathas (Zoroastrian sacred texts). Learning from the Babylonians that Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, the ancient historians figured Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander the Great, a date propagated by Western historians into recent times.

Today, many scholars believe that estimate may have been off by as much as 900 years, that Zarathustra lived between 1500 and 1200 BC.

This would make Zarathustra older than the Hebrew Moses, possibly even a contemporary of Abraham, who is considered the first monotheist by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.

Zarathustra is said to have undergone a religious experience when he was 31 years old. He proclaimed that there was one god, Ahura Mazda, who didn’t share the same features and nature as humans, as other religions purported. At that time many worshiped Mithra, the Sun God. Zarathustra said that people had confused the sun for god because the real god that had created the sun could not be seen.

Zarathustra taught that Ahura Mazda gave man three gifts: Good Thoughts, Good Deeds, and Good Words. And that the world was engaged in a battle between Good and Evil.

Today there are only a couple hundred-thousand Zoroastrians. They don’t seek to convert, one must be born into the religion. But the Bahai, who number in the millions, consider Zarathustra one their sacred prophets. And Zarathustra’s influence remains powerful in Islamic Iran, not to mention his influence on Judaism and Christianity.

ahofr99“Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed world-religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith.”

– Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices

Zarathustra – Crystalinks

Early Zoroastrianism

Avesta – Zoroastrian Archives