Commentary: Religious week coincides with Earth Day

Apr 22, 2011

Santa Fe, NM – Making the Connections:
Passover, Holy Week, and Earth Day

Three celebrations of remembrance and new life happen this week (April 17 to April 24). On Monday evening, Jews began Passover with the sharing of the Seder, a meal that reminds them of God's deliverance when they were slaves in Egypt, through the Red Sea waters to new life.

At the same time Christians celebrate Holy Week, a story that takes them into the back streets of Jerusalem to the killing fields of the Empire and finally to a new dawn. Like the Passover journey of their Jewish brothers and sisters, the pilgrimage of Easter is one through death to new life.

And Good Friday is Earth Day, another remembrance of the gift of life, all life.
For the past forty years, Earth Day has been a time to clean up rivers, plant trees, pick up trash, and recommit ourselves to caring for the earth that gives us life.

It's also been a time to consider how well we are doing with that care. The record is mixed. There have been significant gains in both awareness and legislation, such as the Clean Air and Clean Waters Acts. Yet since l970, more species have become extinct, more land goes under development, and more human-made "natural" disasters like the BP oil explosion and the nuclear plants in Japan are happening.

In Phoenix, Arizona, an acre of desert is scraped clear for strip malls and subdivisions every hour. Such development isn't limited to other states. As Santa Fe builds more roads with more lights for more cars, I wonder how long our crystalline blue skies and brilliant starry nights will last as well.

Care for the earth may seem like an odd concern for a Christian pastor. The United Church of Christ, like other Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish traditions, has always been concerned with issues like racial equality, civil rights, and economic justice. Yet that commitment to justice has generally been limited to people, not the planet. Moreover, the Judeo-Christian tradition has often been used as an excuse to have "dominion over creation," a convenient rationale for over-development and more dams.

Nothing could be further from the truth of either Jewish or Christian traditions, as the stories of both Passover and Easter illustrate. The Exodus, celebrated in Passover, is a reminder of God's continuing gift of new life and the responsibility that comes with freedom. The Hebrew psalms resound with the praise of creation as a sign of God's power, imagination and love. For the Hebrew Prophets, the renewal of the earth was a symbol of God's gift of new life after exile.

Similarly for Christians, the life of Jesus Christ is proof-positive that God takes creation--this incarnation--seriously. One of the most famous passages in Christian scripture from the Gospel of John affirms that "God so loved the world." Not people of one nation, not even just human beings, but the whole world. The Greek word in the original text translated as "world" actually means "cosmos, arrangement, or beauty"--not unlike the Navajo understanding of "hozhoni," balance or beauty. The Covenant of the congregation I serve affirms "we endeavor to live in harmony with all creation as stewards of the earth."

As a Christian pastor, I am often indebted to the wisdom of traditions other than my own. Especially in environmental issues, Native American understandings offer an important perspective on the right relationship between human creatures and the rest of creation. Personally and as a pastor, they have helped me learn how to live in greater harmony in this creation.

At the same time, when it comes to caring for the earth, I have also learned the value of claiming the wisdom of my own tradition and that of my Jewish brothers and sisters--and recognizing its claim on me. This Good Friday, the United Church is living into that connection between the story of our faith and our responsibility to this earth with a "Caring for Creation Pilgrimage" on the morning of Good Friday. We'll walk down a trail behind the church, stopping to give thanks for all creation and picking up trash along the way. Our noontime Good Friday Service incorporates a litany for the earth and also a sermon by environmental ethicist Dr. Larry Rasmussen.

Given the global and local environmental issues we face as a human family, perhaps it's not coincidental that these times of remembrance--Passover, Holy Week, and Earth Day--all fall in the same week this year. All three remind of our dependency on a mystery of life that's greater than ourselves. And all three remind us of the continuing gift we've been given to enjoy and to care for in this good earth.