Khatera, 4, poses for a photograph during celebrations of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. AP
Most humanitarians, secularists and people of faith, regardless of theology or philosophy, embrace the belief that how we welcome the stranger, the sick, the tired, the refugee, the thirsty, hungry and naked, the prisoner – how we treat each other regardless of color, creed or ethnicity – is how we ourselves are to be judged.
In part, this is the message we elevate and embrace as we celebrate, in houses of worship and in each other’s homes, holidays unique to various faith traditions that, gathered together in our public spaces, connect us to a common humanity.
Each Spring, holidays roll across our communities and, with the exception of the random nor’easter or two that disrupts our plans, herald, in the Northern Hemisphere, a change of seasons, of light and warmth. While religious, national and personal holidays vary year long by tradition and geography, Spring seems special.
Nowruz comes first.
Nowruz is the Persian New Year, celebrated worldwide by Iranians and many others in 17 different countries. For over 3,000 years it’s been celebrated in Western and Central Asia, throughout the Caucasus and the Black Sea Basin and in the Balkans.
It’s a holy day for Zoroastrians, secular for most others.
Nowruz marks the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Many begin celebrating at the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day.
Today, the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz, in heralding the coming of the brighter light of Spring and all that accompanies it, reminds us:
“Spring and all its flowers now joyously break their vow of silence.
It is time for celebration, not for lying low;
You too – weed out those roots of sadness from your heart.”
This year, Palm Sunday – today – follows Nowruz.
On Palm Sunday, seated astride a donkey, Jesus entered Jerusalem following a path of palm fronds laid before him in welcome by believers: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15nrsv)
As he entered Jerusalem people asked, “Who is this?” The crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11 nrsv)
Next week, on Friday, March 30, the eight-day celebration of Passover will begin at sunset – in Jerusalem and around the world – commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. Passover is connected to spring through the offering of the first grain to ripen and be harvested in the Land of Israel, the “first-fruits of the barley.”
I am told that at Passover, rabbis teach that, “In every generation, each person must regard himself or herself as if he or she had come out of Egypt,” and that “the more one expands on the telling of the departure from Egypt, the more praiseworthy the person.”
Western Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox and next Sunday they will celebrate – in Jerusalem and around the world – their belief in Jesus’s resurrection from the dead after his crucifixion on what is today called Good Friday.
On Sunday, the doors to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Old City’s Christian Quarter, will be opened, as they are every day, by one of the two families who are the custodians of the keys to the church.
According to tradition the church marks the place both where Jesus was crucified and the place of Jesus’s empty tomb. As control of the Church complex has been contested by Latin, Greek and Armenian Christian sects over the centuries the keys to the Church are controlled by two Muslim families, the Nuseibehs and the Al Joudehs, a tradition dating back to the second Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab.
The story is told that Caliph Umar, upon capturing Jerusalem in 637 C.E., was being given a tour of the Holy City by Patriarch Sephronius and that they were inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when it was time for the Muslim noon prayer.
Rather than pray inside the church, as invited by the Patriarch, Umar turned away and prayed outside, fearing that future generations would misinterpret his act and use it as a pretext to turn the church into a mosque.
All have made a journey from Egypt. We open each other’s doors. We wipe each other’s tears, shelter our brothers and sisters, share each other’s meals and dreams. As the earth warms, we sow our crops and harvest barley. Whether nourished by the fresh green herbs of Nowruz, Matzeh or Eucharist we are together sustained by each other’s faith, beliefs and traditions.
Today, I believe – even if many have yet to acknowledge it – we are as one.
Today, the 13th century Persian poet Rumi tells us:
“Alas, don’t tell me the Christians are lost.
Don’t tell me the Jews are lost.
Don’t tell me the infidels are lost.
Alas, my brother, you are lost,
That is why everyone else seems lost.”
(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at [email protected] His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)
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