Passover: A Reminder of Pastor Saeed's Captivity
Tonight, Jewish people around the world will begin celebrating the holiday of Passover, recalling and reliving the Biblical story of the Israelite salvation from their harsh Egyptian bondage.
The lesson of Passover, however, is not unique to the Jewish people. It is meant to be a universal message; in fact the Talmud declares that there is a special requirement to publicize the miracle. Passover celebrates the important idea that slavery can turn into freedom, and the belief that darkness however dark, can always turn into light.
Sometimes the process is slow, but that does not absolve us from always trying to take the next step forward. Moses, the leader God chose to take His people out of Egypt, did not live to make it into the Promised Land, but he set the wheels in motion so that his disciple, Joshua, could bring the nation home.
The legacy of the Exodus has been part of the American story since the very beginning, inspiring the pursuit of liberty, justice and morality in every generation. When the Continental Congress asked John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to design the Great Seal of the United States, Jefferson’s proposal was an illustration depicting the Jewish exodus in a scene from the Passover story. And in 2007, on a visit to Selma, Alabama, President Barack Obama noted that the civil rights pioneers were the “Moses generation” and that he was part of the “Joshua generation” that would “find our way across the river.”
This year, as always, it is important to remember that the message of freedom is universal, for people of all faiths and for people of no faith; that we need to take every opportunity we can to push it forward; and that any celebration of freedom is not complete while there are others in chains.
In July of 2012, Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American Christian, took a trip back home to Iran to visit his family and continue his work building an orphanage in the city of Rasht. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested him for privately teaching his faith, and while Abedini originally faced the potential of the death penalty, he was eventually sentenced to eight years in prison. The official grounds reported were for having "undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and ... attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.” Since November of 2013, Abedini has been held in Rashai Shahr, a harsh prison for hardened criminals.
Yesterday the President and leaders from several countries celebrated the fact that a “historic framework” for a deal with Iran on nuclear negotiations had been reached. Today, the President released a statement on the holiday of Passover, noting that, ‘like the Israelites who Moses led out of slavery long ago, it is up to us to never lose faith in the better day that lies ahead. In our own country, we can continue our march toward a more perfect union. Around the world, we can seek to extend the miracles of freedom and peace, prosperity and security, to more of God’s creation…’
President Obama has admirably called for Abedini's release on a number of occasions, and in January he met with the family to tell them that freeing their husband and father remains a top priority for his administration. While it has surely been disheartening to have those please fall upon deaf ears, now is the season and the time to keep on trying even harder.
In the spirit of Passover it is important to remember that sometimes the walk to the Promised Land is slow, but that every chance must still be grabbed to take the next step forward. This holiday season may our government use this unique historic opportunity – as we sit across the table from Iran- to spread the light of freedom, and to bring the Pastor and other wrongfully imprisoned Americans home.