Converging On the House of Prayer

Walking TogetherIn each one of us there is an Egypt and a Pharaoh and a Moses and Freedom in a Promised Land. And every point in time is an opportunity for another Exodus.

Egypt is a place that chains you to who you are, constraining you from growth and change. And Pharaoh is that voice inside that mocks your gambit to escape, saying, “How could you attempt being today something you were not yesterday? Aren’t you good enough just as you are? Don’t you know who you are?”

Moses is the liberator, the infinite force deep within, an impetuous and all-powerful drive to break out from any bondage, to always transcend, to connect with that which has no bounds.

But Freedom and the Promised Land are not static elements that lie in wait. They are your own achievements which you may create at any moment, in any thing that you do, simply by breaking free from whoever you were the day before.

Last Passover you may not have yet begun to light a candle. Or some other mitzvah still waits for you to fulfill its full potential. This year, defy Pharaoh and light up your world. With unbounded light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Inside Story on Passover”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Romans 6:17-18 (ESV)

Speaking of slavery and freedom, I debated a great deal within myself whether or not to continue posting blog meditations for Tuesday and Wednesday, considering that the first two days of Passover are considered Sabbaths of complete rest. After all, I don’t post a meditation on the Saturday Shabbat (although I often write for the following days) in order to honor the Sabbath rest. And yet there is so much going on that, if I don’t write about it now, it will be lost, thanks to my failing middle-age memory.

I had a brief transaction with Derek Leman on this blog about my “adventures:”

Derek: I will be looking for the most interesting blog posts, James, which I expect will come from your Passover-and-also-Easter experience.

James: Thanks, Derek.

It’s interesting because events like this are a natural consequence behind Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David and yet no one seems to talk about them. I’m sure I can’t be the only one and in fact, I would be willing to bet (well, not literally) that there are some Christian/Jewish intermarrieds who have these experiences. You’d think they’d turn up more in the Messianic realm, since it tends to be a haven for many intermarried couples.

In a sense, I walk on both sides of the street, being a “practicing Christian” and being married to a Jewish wife. As you read this, it’s Tuesday morning and my family will have had our Passover Seder last night (it hasn’t happened yet as I’m writing this, but I promise to give you all a full report soon). Next Sunday morning, I’ll be attending sunrise services for Easter at my church. I’ll try not to feel too schizophrenic as a process both experiences inside my one and only brain.

But the reality of my life is that I’m not Jewish. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I believe that the halachah James and the Counsel of Apostles in Jerusalem established for the Gentile disciples of the Master (i.e. Christians) does not obligate us to live our lives in precisely the same manner as the Jewish believers. I suppose if I was more closely connected to the local Jewish population or even if my wife and daughter were more observant, I might interrupt my daily meditations for the sake of the mitzvah of Pesach, but then again, they won’t be observing a full Shabbat’s rest during the festival, and on Wednesday evening, before havdalah to mark the end of the first two days of Passover, I will be meeting with Pastor Randy.

intermarriageWhat is it to be intermarried and to experience the subtle as well as the overt patterns and colors of a life in (for me, anyway) mostly Christianity with some Jewish overtones? What is freedom and what is slavery, or do we simply exchange one master for another as Paul suggests (sin to righteousness)? I’ve already said that there is ample evidence in the Bible of the Messiah’s Gentile disciples being well versed in Passover, so there’s no excuse for me to not observe it in some reasonable fashion.

But then where does that leave Easter? Are Passover and Easter mutually exclusive or can they be complementary? Or in fact, should they both be mandatory?

There’s no “point-blank” commandment to celebrate Easter or “Resurrection Day,” but there is a firm tradition in Christianity to do so. Some Christians reading this may be shocked that I call Easter a tradition, since it is arguably the single most Holy Day on the Christian calendar.

But many Jewish believers probably feel uncomfortable with Easter because historically, after every Passion Play, there’s been a pogrom. To respond to this, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) suggested an alternative to Easter in the Meal of the Messiah. That doesn’t do me any good because the only people I’ll be commemorating Pesach with are my immediate (non-believing) Jewish family, and the only ones I’ll be celebrating the resurrection with are the people at my church.

As I continue to process my experiences, I find that they are less “Messianic” and based more on interfaith and intermarriage issues. They are the result of my being the Gentile head of a Jewish family for nearly thirty-one years (although we’ve only been “religious” for about a third of that time).

At the first seder my father would be brief, in order to eat the afikoman before midnight. On the second night, however, he would expound at length; he began the seder before 9 p.m. and ended at about 3 or 4 in the morning, dwelling at length on the explanation of the Haggada.

The Alter Rebbe declared: The matza of the first evening of Pesach is called the Food of Faith; the matza of the second evening is called the Food of Healing. When healing brings faith (“Thank you, G-d, for healing me”) then clearly there has been illness. When faith brings healing, there is no illness to start with.

“Today’s Day”
Tuesday, Nissan 15 (1st day of chag ha’matzot – Pesach), 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

I included that last quote to shake up any Christians reading this message. I want to remind you all of the unique and special purpose and experience Passover has for the Jewish people. I want to emphasize to you all just how “Jewish” it is. I want to make sure that Christians of any sort don’t think they (we) now “own” Passover and that it is no longer Jewish. In spite of Paul teaching some of the God-fearing Gentile disciples about the Seder, I want to make sure we all understand that especially in today’s world, Christianity and Judaism stand apart, traveling two independent trajectories through history, and that a Christian attending a Seder let alone leading it, is a wonderful but also a strange thing. It would be just as strange as a religious Jew attending Easter services (and I don’t know any who are planning to do that next Sunday).

two-roads-joinI want to make sure everyone understands that we are still in the middle of an incomplete process. As believers, we may be free from sin thanks for the grace of Jesus Christ, but we are still slaves to our humanity and also to the plan of God in that the time for the Gentile disciples to return to our Jewish mentors has not yet come, although many, including me, can see the signs of an impending approach.

Israel was intended to be a light to the world, to attract and gather the people of the nations to God. That light came into the world in the form of a human being who most people call Jesus. He said he was the light of the world (John 8:12) and he has attracted millions to the God of Jacob as Israel’s firstborn Son. The Jewish and Gentile believers were added as differing members of the same Body of Messiah (Romans 12:4-5) and so there were two, parallel streams of people existing within a single, living being, the Son of David.

But then the two streams within a single container became two separate and diverging streams of humanity, growing further apart and more opposed to each other with each passing decade and century, until now, the idea of one believing person celebrating both Passover and Easter doesn’t seem just like a minor anomaly, but actually a strange and discordant event.

Except that the discordance is temporary.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

Romans 11:11-12 (ESV)

Paul tells us how much full inclusion in the body of Messiah will mean to not just the Jewish people, but to all people. It is the completion of a dream, the healing of the horribly painful wound, and gift of the returning King.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Romans 11:25 (ESV)

I can’t summon the future but I can try to preview a tiny portion of it in the present. I can be the Christian leading a Seder in my Jewish family, and I can be the Christian who lives with a Jewish family who also attends a sunrise Easter service. As great a difficulty as intermarriage is for Judaism, perhaps there is a benefit as well. Who else but an intermarried person actually lives in both divergent worlds? And as they slowly draw closer to each other again in Messiah, who else will be able to navigate their currents and negotiate their paths than someone who already walks upon them?

sukkoth-feastLast year for Purim, I wrote Hadassah and the King, a tale of two heroes, the Jewish Queen and Gentile King of an ancient land where only an intermarried couple could save all of the Hebrews from certain destruction.

I’m not heroic but I and those like me have our parts to play out in God’s drama for humanity and his plan for the return of King Messiah. Today, as I write this, the Christian and Jewish worlds exist mainly apart, with just a few tenuous bridges connecting this bit of land and that. But days are coming when we’ll need to have greater fellowship, when we will be expected to attend the celebrations at our Monarch’s throne in Jerusalem, when believing Jew and Gentile will sit together at the Passover Seder, “and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11)

On all other nights we eat while sitting upright, but on this night we eat reclining.

-from the Four Questions

We are limited by the very fact that we have human form. There is no freedom in following our whim, only further slavery to our own limited selves. Freedom can only come by connecting to something infinite and beyond us.

And so Moses was told, “When you take the people out from Egypt, you shall all serve G‑d on this mountain.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Freedom Connection”

…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:7 (ESV)

May we all one day come together and as our own different and unique parts in the body of Messiah, serve our God and celebrate together in the house of prayer of our King.

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