It seems oddly fitting that in the year 2014, which is unfolding in a strange and portentous manner, Easter falls on the weekend of the 19th and 20th of April. (Passover started on 14 April and will end on the 22nd.)
If these days don’t live in infamy, they ought to. Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889. The Columbine “massacre” – the shootings at Columbine High school in which 13 people were killed – occurred on 20 April 1999. At least one of the two shooters was obsessed with Hitler and Nazism. Alexander Nazaryan at the New York Daily News lists other atrocities and catastrophes that occurred on 20 April over the last century.
But 19 April has had its share of awful events too. In 1993, the federal assault at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas killed 76 people (including 26 children). Two years later, Timothy McVeigh, thought to be motivated partly by anger at the outcome in Waco, drove a truck bomb up to the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and killed 168.
Of course, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first of the Revolutionary War, were launched on 19 April 1775. And interestingly, in 1836, on 21 April, Texans won their independence from Mexico in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Back at the opposite end of the spectrum, and on the other side of the world, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the ensuing massacre of thousands of Polish Jews, began on 19 April 1943, when Nazi forces were sent to “liquidate” the ghetto Jews who had shown organized resistance to being peacefully “deported” to the death camps. Many of them fought to their death under horrific circumstances.
That date was the eve of Passover in 1943, which started on 20 April that year. Easter fell on 25 April. The season of Passover and Easter was often, in the troubled 20th century, a reminder of how present woes may be mixed with celebrations of joy and the remembrance of divine provision.
This new century is shaping up to be much the same. It won’t let us forget woe in favor of joy – or vice versa. We will wish for peace, and find war. Yet we will also expect despair, and find hope. We mustn’t lose sight of what a peaceful Easter morning in America looks like, though some of the Easters to come may be set in seasons of turmoil.
There have been many Easters and Passovers for America and the world. We don’t know how many more there will be. Here is a random walk through just a few from our past.
A painting depicting George Washington attending the Easter service at Christ Church, Alexandria, VA, in 1795. The artist is Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.
Troops from the Union Army of the Cumberland are depicted attending an Easter service in 1864, during the Atlanta campaign.
Jewish troops of the American Expeditionary Forces in Paris attend a Passover Seder give by the Jewish Welfare Board in 1919. Passover began on 16 April that year.
Residents of the Warsaw Ghetto sit down to a Passover meal in April 1940.
Soldiers of the 182nd Infantry Regiment attend Easter mass on Bougainville Island, in the South Pacific, in April 1944.
Children participate in a Passover Seder in Tel Aviv, Israel, in April 1949.
More than 3,400 airborne troops of the 187th Regimental Combat Team drop into Munsan-ni on Easter weekend in March 1951. Operation Tomahawk was the second-largest airborne operation in the Korean War.
Ronald Reagan delivers an Easter and Passover message in his weekly radio address from 2 April 1983.
Americans attend a sunrise Easter service at Coligny Beach, Hilton Head, South Carolina in 2009.
Syrian Christians smile for the camera, in spite of a terrible civil war, at Easter of 2013.
Jews and non-Jews attend a Passover Seder hosted at the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland, March, 2013.
Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) attend a sunrise Easter service on the flight deck, on Easter 2013 in the Persian Gulf.
Ukrainians are accorded a break in their emerging domestic conflict to receive a blessing on Easter 2014, a rare year in which the Orthodox Church and other Christians all celebrate Easter on the same day.
Finally, to round out the day of celebration, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings “He is Risen!” Long a favorite, this hymn’s modern lyrics were written in 1846 by Cecil Francis Alexander. The hymn is sung to a tune composed by Joachim Neander of Bremen in 1680.
A happy and blessed Easter to all who celebrate it, and to those who celebrate Passover: Chag Pesach sameach.