Peace, one and all…
I had an interesting conversation with a colleague recently regarding the symbolic meanings behind the traditional Christian Easter celebrations. My colleague is a lecturer in my department, and he is based primarily in a local Anglican theological college. He is a committed Christian (though I don’t recall off-hand if he is an ordained priest or not).
At any rate, we discussed the meanings and rituals associated with Holy Week in the Anglican communion. Thursday was Maundy Thursday, which according to the Christian tradition, marked Christ’s (alaihi al-salam) final night of decision before the crucifixion. It thus marks a time of prayer and reflection, in which the night in the Garden of Gethsemane is recalled. As I understand it (and forgive me if I am mistaken), members of local communities will often keep a silent prayer vigil during a portion of the night (usually, until midnight I believe).
Good Friday marks the day when Christianity holds that Christ was crucified (alaihi al-salam). On a symbolic level, it thus marks redemption from sin, the paying of debts and I would guess, an overwhelming sense of the magnitude of God’s overflowing love. Saturday, according to our conversation, marks a kind of absence, when Christ (alaihi al-salam) was said to have descended into hell to rescue those held therein. Apparently, this is symbolised by the fact that it is the only day on which the Eucharist is not given (again, apologies if I am mistaken). Easter Sunday represents Jesus’ (alaih al-salam) rising from the dead. In other words, it symbolises God’s triumph over sin, and the deeper separation from God which it portends.
Of course, as a Muslim, my faith has a different understanding of the person, nature, and history (so to speak) of Jesus (known to Muslims as Isa ibn Maryam al-Masih, alaihi al-salam). That said, I honour the sacredness with which Jesus is held (alaihi al-salam), as I honour the deep symbolic meanings behind Easter. I honour the deep sanctity with which many of my Christian brothers and sisters move and act and worship.
Indeed, being aware of our theological differences does not stop me from honouring and respecting them, nor does it stop me from honouring truth. In this regard, it is also interesting to note that Thursday was also the birth of Prophet Muhammad (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam), according to most Sunni reckonings (the Shi`a tradition puts it five days later).
For me, as a Muslim, thinking about the birth of al-Mustapha (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) reminds me of many of the same symbolic truths: the coming of redemption, God’s loving kindness, the arrival of a Messenger of hope and mercy and love. On a personal note, both make me think of fresh starts, that God-given opportunity to begin anew. Given that we are also marking the occasion of the Persian festival of New Year (Naw Ruz), it seems that fresh starts are the order of the day!
I also watched a dramatisation of the life of Maryam (alaihi al-salam) on DM Islam TV last night. Told from a Muslim perspective, the programme focused on Maryam’s life (alaihi al-salam) with Prophet Zakariyya (alaihi al-salam).
May we all take advantage of such opportunities, in whatever tradition we may find ourselves in!
And, at the end of all things, praise be to God who maketh it so.
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