On Tuesday at Jewish class, my classmates and teachers were abuzz with their preparations for Passover, which begins at sundown on Friday – specifically the need to clean the house to banish all leaven (“chametz”), especially in the kitchen. This project includes cleaning out the pantry and wiping down shelves, even vacuuming under and behind the refrigerator as well as beneath couch cushions! With the Easter Triduum falling so coincident with Passover this year, I went home feeling like I should begin scouring my kitchen to prepare.
I did not, however! But I have been thinking about the significance of such a cleaning process. In the exodus story, the Hebrew people were instructed to make unleavened bread, accomplished much more quickly than yeast loaves, to be ready for their journey. According to a strand of Judaism called Chasidic philosophy, bread and chametz symbolize the egotism and haughtiness within each of us. Chametz puffs up like a haughty person’s chest, swells like an egotistical person’s head, while the flat, crisp matzoh cracker eaten at Passover, on the other hand, is low and humble. Its bland flavor even attests to its modesty.
It finally dawned on me that the whole season of Lent is a “clean up.” We fast, pray and give alms to clear out our spiritual cupboards and open up to new life. As with many things, the process is more important than the result, so the Triduum becomes a time of savoring as we encounter dying and rising in such a striking manner. Like an athlete approaching a race or match, our preparation time concludes and a different mindset is appropriate to the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Whatever we did or didn’t “accomplish” in Lent, it’s time to set our sights on Jerusalem.