Today many Walla Walla people of faith celebrate Easter and Passover. All of us reflect on our relationship with God the Creator, deepening our memory of how we are connected to that source of life and godliness, and looking ahead to how that memory can strengthen us in the coming months.
It is especially difficult to escape our traditions’ powerful reminder to remember and support our neighbors whose links to that source may be tenuous because they lack basic spiritual or material necessities for a secure existence. Perhaps they may be without food, or without a home.
I have learned that for my Christian sisters and brothers this season is filled with the optimism of new life and new hope, bringing with it a freshness — perhaps a shifting — of perspective, and of being open to new opportunities for bringing God to the world. I have learned that they believe that Jesus taught those who followed him to pray, to demand justice and to actively resist malevolent systems of oppression.
Today’s powerful and hopeful affirmation that “He is risen, He is risen indeed” keeps those teachings in the forefront of many Christians’ minds. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, one of my friends recently told me about how he internalizes this message, saying, “It is impossible to break bread at the altar of the Lord and not work for justice for people who are poor and hungry.”
In my tradition, this week we perform a ritual meal called a Seder, which uses symbols and props to tell the story of how God helped the Jews escape from slavery in Egypt. Among the early passages of this drama we declare: “All who are hungry, let them come and eat.” Passover invites us every year to recall our history, to become attentive to present injustices around us, and to try to be God’s partners in creating a more just world.
As such, in preparation for Passover, it is a Jewish tradition to make contribution toward funds that will allow that everyone who is in need of sustenance has the necessary provisions for the holiday, such as food, matzah and other requirements of the Seder. Many Jews regard this special Passover fund as but a steppingstone to providing wider types of philanthropy to those in need.
Thus, for both traditions, while obviously carrying many differences, I believe it is reasonable to say that the season is about liberation, whether from bondage or from doubt or fear of aloneness. This liberation comes about through a combination of God’s power and our own agency.
Given these links to notions of wholeness and of redemption, it seems appropriate to consider what people of faith can do in Walla Walla to support our neighbors’ liberation from slavery to poverty.
As one possibility, this Wednesday at noon, the Interfaith Coalition on Poverty invites members of all Walla Walla congregations to envision ways that we can join together to carry out those commandments and the call of this season. We hope that readers of this column can join us at the YWCA of Walla Walla to plan how the coming year can provide an opportunity for all of us to carry the power and lessons of this week into our community.
The Coalition is now in its sixth year of activities and we welcome all who are concerned about the challenge of poverty in our midst. Today asks nothing less than this.
Noah Leavitt is a past-president of Congregation Beth Israel, in Walla Walla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org