I’ve Been Dreading Easter

Sad to say, but true. Well, not exactly sad. On the other hand, maybe.

I mean, I’ve had a lot to say about Easter over the years. The last time I went to Easter, or rather “Resurrection Sunday” services, I hurt my Jewish wife so much, I swore I’d never go again. It wasn’t something she said, but the morning I was about to walk out the door to go to church, the look of hurt in her eyes was absolutely profound and devastating. Ultimately, it’s part of why I walked away from church.

I would have kept my promise, too.

But then, last May, my wife and I convinced my Mom to move from Southwestern Utah up to near where we live in Idaho. Dad died a few years back, and with Mom’s progressing dementia, we weren’t able to easily meet her needs, especially nearness to family, across a nine-and-a-half hour drive one way between Boise and St. George.

One of the things I promised Mom if she’d move up here is that I’d find a nice Lutheran Church nearby and take her to services every Sunday.

And I did.

I managed to survive Christmas somehow, but as Spring approached, I realized that my promise to Mom would conflict with my (unspoken) promise to my wife.

Then COVID-19 happened (thanks, China). Now Mom is pretty much a prisoner in her room at her independent living home. Her meals are delivered to her, but between macular degeneration and dementia, she has nothing else to do but watch television. She doesn’t have a computer (and couldn’t operate one if she had it), so no video conferencing. All we can do is phone her.

So, with the churches closed (and some local governments making it illegal to even have drive-in Easter services), I don’t have to take Mom to Easter services. With her memory deficits, I don’t know if she even realizes today is Easter Sunday.

More’s the pity.

Look, I’m sure my wife would understand if I took Mom to Easter services. Heck, the one Sunday I was pushing a (paid) writing deadline, she even volunteered to take Mom to church (which is supposed to be a no-no for a religious Jew). Although, I wouldn’t get the same benefits from Easter services (I still prefer Passover, although my wife hasn’t elected to have a Seder in our home for years), my Mom would, which is why I’d go with her.

No, I can’t and she can’t.

With the above-mentioned draconian limitations on Christian worship, and people being buried in mass graves in New York City, it’s beginning to look more and more like another Holocaust.

I realize now that with the virus being used as an excuse reason for severely erasing limiting civil liberties, that, my personal discomfort with Easter services aside (after every Passion Play, there’s a pogrom), it’s still a privilege to celebrate the resurrection.

In the shadow of approaching totalitarianism in America (is that too dramatic?), we must still believe that He is Risen, He is Risen indeed.


12 thoughts on “I’ve Been Dreading Easter”

  1. I have a question for you James. I’m looking through your blog and find it interesting (and don’t believe the Catholic Church as as disconnected from Judaism as pwrhaps you may think, though that is a LOOOOOOOOONG discussion):

    What exactly does it mean to be a gentile believer in Christ under the theology you follow. I am looking through your blog and can’t really find a clear answer. What is supposed to be my role at the end of the age?

    I confess to being kind of confused, I suppose.

    1. I don’t think James will mind if I as a Jew offer an answer to your question, malcolm. You may find a portion of your answer in the olive-tree analogy that Rav Shaul presented in chapter 11 of his letter to the Roman assemblies of gentile disciples of haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef. There he likened gentile disciples to wild olive branches grafted contrary to their nature onto a cultivated olive tree to share in its nourishment. He told them that their presence on that tree depended upon their faith. Let me clarify that in this case the term “faith” means “faithfulness” to godly principles and behavior rather than “belief” in some set of doctrines. He offered thereby a warning to each such branch not to be arrogant against any of the other branches, that is, not to judge or condemn them (or even to presume anything about their ultimate status or destiny). His warning was intended to induce humility and gratitude in each such branch that it could have any place at all on this tree of faithful branches, because a lack of fathfulness on their part would break them off from the tree. In other words, unfaithfullness is an indicator that the individual in question doesn’t fit the criteria or qualifications which define this “tree”. Let me clarify further that this is not an analogy about “salvation”, though one might relate it in some manner to the notion of what is sometimes called “sanctification”.

      Thus the role of any would-be disciple from among the non-Jewish nations is not fundamentally any different at the end of the age than in any other time, though conditions in any given era may affect how one proceeds to pursue the “godly principles and behavior” I cited above. But the generic admonition to “do justice”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly with God”, offered by the prophet Micah (6:8), is still valid — just as Rav Yeshua declared even the finest “jot and tittle” details of the Torah and Prophets to remain valid as long as the present heavens-and-earth endure. Of course, the apostles clarified in their halachic decision that was recorded in Acts 15 that gentile disciples are not obligated to perform all the elements of those fine details which pertain to the Jewish covenant, but only to a subset of them that are applicable to all humanity. This is why I generalized them above merely as “godly principles and behavior” without specifying further. If you consider the present time to be included with “the end of the age” that you cited, these principles should lead not only to general moral actions but also to actions that support HaShem’s purposes at this time to restore the nation of Israel and to regather Jews after their long exile to live again in that land in accordance with the ways of His Torah as it has been preserved by generations of His people the Jews.

      Does that help to relieve your sense of confusion, malcolm?

      1. Somewhat, though not entirely. I suppose what I am asking is, what is the relevance of following the Christ? Is there any reason for Jews to follow Christ? Or gentiles? Why is it the right thing to do?

        I am aware that Jews, generally, have no concept of Hell as understood in mainstream Christian theology, but I just want to get a clear idea of what this theology entails. I hope that makes sense.

      2. OK, Malcolm – if I take an encompassing view of your last post, I would have to suspect that you are afflicted by some degree of the view that “following the Christ” is like some sort of fire insurance – against hellfire, in this case. In order to answer you, I suppose I should begin by discussing the definition(s) of “Hell”.

        Those definitions include the literal linguistic one as a place of hidden-ness and darkness. English borrowed from its Germanic roots the notion of a “heller” or “cellar”, where things are hidden away underground in darkness and cold. Metaphorically, this combines the Jewish notion of Sheol, the abode of the dead awaiting a final judgment, and perhaps the notion of being “cast into outer darkness” — cut off from the Presence of HaShem as represented with light and life (and sometimes with warmth ranging from a comforting level up to a destructive burning and consuming fire). That latter takes us to another concept of wrathful judgment, however, even so far as to invoke Yohanan’s apocalyptic vision of an ultimate destruction in a “lake of fire”. The destructive motif is reflected also in the notion of Gehinom, where the “fire” is more chemical and biological in nature, and the destruction includes images of being consumed by undying worms and by the corrosion of biological decomposition, in addition to the notion of having been thrown out or discarded as refuse. Obviously Hellenistic proto-Christians borrowed from these notions as well as from the Greek Hades. So, while there are perhaps different levels involved in this collection of unpleasant consequences, they have a common theme of HaShem’s displeasure as something to be vigorously avoided. One difference between traditional Christian and Jewish views is that Judaism holds to a more liberal view that repentance can mitigate or reverse this condition. Jews also place much less emphasis on such negative consequences as a deterrent, and focus almost exclusively on exhortation to pursue life within a positive perspective. We also see that the rabbi Shaul held a view that almost renders the issue moot for Jews, because, as he wrote in Rom.11:26, all Jews will be saved – though he doesn’t specify how HaShem may intend to accomplish that result. The closest analog offered to gentile disciples is a statement of HaShem’s intent or desire that all humanity may be saved (viz: 1Tim.2:3-6) – indicating that no one really needs to be cast out or otherwise denied HaShem’s Presence. It is their choice whether to pursue righteousness for all its benefits.

        Having dealt with the unpleasant question, let us now consider what is meant by “following the Christ”. The notion of “following” may be likened to the biblical Jewish notion of “walking” uprightly in HaShem’s righteous ways. Where, then, does “the Christ” fit, or how does he contribute? Allow me to emphasize, here, that the Greek term “Christos” was merely an attempt to translate the Hebrew notion of an anointed one or “messiah”. Specifically, it was a reference to two characters mooted in Jewish thought and derived from Isaiah’s writings. One character’s “anointing” was to render him as a conquering king who would rescue Israel from her enemies. This was later dubbed the Ben-David messiah. The other character’s “anointing” was to render him as a suffering servant who would die on behalf of Israel in a redemptive effort. This was later dubbed the Ben-Yosef messiah. Jews, especially from the time of the Rambam onward, focus almost exclusively on the Ben-David role when they envision the messiah. There are several historical reasons why little attention is paid to the Ben-Yosef role, owing in no small degree to the manner in which Roman Imperial Christians appropriated haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef as a symbol whereby to denigrate and persecute Jews. Nonetheless, Rav Yeshua is, in fact, the best candidate Israel has ever produced to fit the role and functions of the ben-Yosef messiah. Following the teachings of this messiah is extremely relevant to both Jews and gentiles who wish to pursue the righteousness that I cited in my previous post. Further, the metaphor of his martyrdom, as a symbolic sacrifice that supports and ratifies a continuing practice of repentance, carries an effectiveness applicable to the notion of an eternal, incorruptible heavenly sanctuary where such a sacrifice enables atonement and rapprochement with HaShem. Of course, for it to be effective, it helps if one understands how the ancient sacrifices worked to effect a change in the psycho-spiritual outlook and condition of those who brought them to the temple to be offered before HaShem the ultimate Judge and Redeemer. In an era when the Jerusalem temple is not offering the sacrificial function, due to it having been destroyed 20 centuries ago, such a metaphorical yet psychologically-functional sacrifice is particularly relevant, wouldn’t you agree, Malcolm?

        I will, however, add the note that the Roman Catholic emulation of such sacrifice is a usurpation that is actually contrary to those of ancient Judaism, not unlike the sacrifices in pagan temples. Neither one honors the principle of HaShem and His appointment of Israel as the caretaker of the house of prayer which shall be for all peoples. Christian supersessionism is effectively a denial of and rebellion against HaShem and His anointed ones (note the plural).

      3. I didn’t read the whole thing yet – and thank you for this – but to be clear NO, I do not take “Following the Christ” as fire insurance. What I am doing is trying to get at the significance of following Christ under this theology. What does it mean? I suppose I am trying to get at his role.

        Now I shall read the rest of your comment.

      4. Thank you for the longer response. I have my own opinions on the Catholic end of the spectrum but I will push them aside as I am only trying to properly understand this perspective.

        Is the significance of Jesus – Yeshua, as you are translating it – that we are to follow his teachings and use his life as an example for how we should live?

        So what I was getting at in my question earlier is, what does it mean for Jesus to die on behalf of Israel in a redemptive effort? And how does this redemptive effort affect the gentiles, if at all?

        I wasn’t trying to say that belief in Christ was a get-out-of-Hell free card, just trying to understand what his sacrifice meant as you, and those who agree with your theological perspective, understand it.

      5. If one follows the teachings of Rav Yeshua, Malcolm, one is not following his example only, but the examples and teachings of a host of other righteous Jews throughout the Tenach, as well as pursuing the theoretical goals of righteousness outlined in the Torah and elaborated by the Prophets of Israel – at the same time learning to avoid the kinds of errors and shortcomings illustrated by some not-so-righteous examples.

        The appropriation of the symbolic sacrifice represented in his martyrdom is redemptive for anyone who does so, as it affects their psycho-spiritual state to enable them to reconnect with HaShem after their repentance, and to pursue what might be called a form of ongoing self-improvement. The specific praxis of Jews and gentiles will be different, but the Torah-informed righteous principles illustrated in their lives may be expected to be quite similar.

        The story is told of a gentile who approached Rabbi Hillel, demanding that he teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot (i.e., briefly). The rabbi told him that whatever actions he deemed hateful, that he would not want done to him, he should not do to anyone else; and that this was a fundamental representation of all the Torah and Prophets – therefore he should go and study them.

        About a century later, Rav Yeshua elaborated this answer to respond to a similar challenge by summarizing the Torah and Prophets similarly with a pair of statements: to love HaShem fully and to love one’s neighbor as one’s own self. Answering the question of how to do so requires similar study to elaborate the meaning of such pithy summaries. Thus one learns about such notions as repentance and righteousness, and how to pursue them to accomplish a restoration of positive values into one’s life and outlook, which is what it means to re-deem one’s life after it has been devalued by the actions of sin or even outright deliberate wickedness and self-destructiveness.

        Some of these terms are unpopular and not used in modern forms of speech. They were devalued and dismissed in part because they had been misused and therefore they were not properly understood as valuable to interpret human behavior and psychology. When properly reinterpreted, they are quite useful – but that is rather another realm of study.

  2. Allow me to re-post a portion of an essay that I posted to a WhatsApp chat of my synagogue in Jerusalem. A number of chat-participants cited the same traditional “he is risen” meme as you did, and I thought it deserved some discussion:

    I’ve seen here today some enthusiastic expressions regarding resurrection, which invoke the recollection of more than one historical event — too many of them associated with pogroms and Jewish deaths rather than one particular Jewish life which is worth celebrating. The historical reality of 20 centuries ago was that HaShem demonstrated a sample of the resurrection that He will accomplish in a time yet to come — though that time is much closer to us now than it was to those who witnessed the results of bringing back to life our master teacher of righteousness haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef. Regrettably, that was only for a very short time, only another forty days, after which he was seen also to depart skyward beyond the line of their sight and obscured behind clouds; reminiscent of Eliyahu’s departure in a tornado except that no storm was involved for Rav Yeshua’s departure.

    However, when next we see him, so the disciples who witnessed his departure were told, he’ll be returning to the same location from which he left. Rav Shaul added further clarification that he will come with an entourage that includes armies from heaven, including those who have already experienced a similar resurrection (viz: 1Cor.15 and 1Thes.4). While that invasion sounds rather threatening, we’re also told that it also should be encouraging — at least for those who have prepared themselves to participate in it.

    Therefore I encourage Rav Yeshua’s modern disciples, both Jewish and non-Jewish ones, not to focus only on the one event but rather to consider the entire picture. Imperial Roman Christians were mistaken in their focus and their approach to these events, and their mistakes led to horrible atrocities throughout the subsequent centuries, particularly against Jews and Judaism. Indeed, because of them Jewish disciples were all but stamped out by the sixth century CE. Only in the nineteenth century did we begin to re-emerge; and even then we were sorely constrained and contaminated by Christian missionary efforts and doctrines. If any Jewish disciples of haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef existed at all during those thirteen intervening centuries, they were either completely hidden or they were traitorous Jewish Christians who endangered our people and contributed to their persecution. Have we learned anything from their horrible example, that we may avoid repeating any of their crimes? Have we learned to repent of assimilating mistaken Christian doctrines from subsequent missionaries?

    Have we, in fact, returned to our people and our land and the religion of our ancestors with an appropriate repentance that allows HaShem to rebuild our hearts and our religious civilization? Have we appropriated the teachings of our ancient master rabbi Yeshua, who never intended to destroy or denigrate the Torah, and who commanded his disciples to obey thoroughly the righteous teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, that thus we could become great in the kingdom of heaven? Have we allowed his words to turn our hearts, as HaShem’s children, to the ways of our forefathers, and to return to us the hearts of our forefathers who at Mount Sinai promised to listen and to obey and to learn and to keep all the words of HaShem’s Torah? Are we dedicated to pursue all this while we await the day of our own resurrection (or the “catching away” that immediately follows it)?

    Like the ancient Pharisees, we do look forward to our future resurrection — and like Rav Shaul who defended himself to Roman legal authorities by referring to belief in that very event as a reason for his having been dragged before them — therefore let us encourage one another in this Passover season to recall the wonders that HaShem has done for us already and those that He will yet accomplish to complete the redemption of all Israel, that the world may know and turn to His ways. And then we will most certainly sing “Dayeinu”.

  3. When I saw all of the activity in the comments section, I wasn’t aware that it was just two people. I created this blog some years ago, in part, to invite differences of opinion to be expressed within civil discourse. It hasn’t always worked out that way, but I’m still encouraged.

    I’m also aware that a lot of the time, conversations here will come down to “agree to disagree”. I’m acutely aware of the divergent trajectories Judaism and Gentile Christianity have taken over the past 20 centuries or so, and since that initial schism, many other branches have sprung forth from those two primary paths. Here in the 21st century, that sometimes makes it difficult for a Jew in Messiah and a Gentile in Christ to even have a quiet talk about their common faith in Moshiach.

    Someday, after the return of the King, I hope we will all sit down at a banquet table, break bread, and in His teaching, learn to understand who we all are in Him.

    1. That’s OK, James — Malcolm and I have been having a lovely discussion, despite the absence of a table or any banquet. But maybe we’ve shared a bit of metaphorical bread, and we haven’t even indulged in any of the fine “whine” that could accompany this sort of meal. His initial post was actually a question posed to you in response to your essay, so really you should jump into the discussion to add your own two-cents worth. I was just filling-in, meanwhile, some useful information and perspectives of the sort we’ve discussed during the past several years together in this blog.

  4. Malcolm, I would recommend you read under the selection of CHRISTIAN ANTI-SEMITISM linked to from the home page of elijahnet[dot]net [yes, “net” is used twice in the site address] for these matters of historical detail especially:

    Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History
    Origen’s System of Interpretation
    Eusebius and the Millenium
    Passover Controversy

    (The high level of relevance can be seen as emphasized within this present blog topic [by James] having to do with dreading “Easter” [an aspect of replacement, i.e., inappropriateness].)

    At the time Dan Gruber wrote the book from which the writing under those headings has also been found, he still used the word “church” as meaning the body of believers in Y’shua. He stopped doing that, subsequently. I, likewise, don’t use such terminology that way.

    I also heartily point you to marknanos.com, from which I have, during the years of his old website, benefitted very much (and whose lectures I have attended on a few occasions, besides enjoying a couple of his earlier books and a number of his papers). One of his recommended readings (of other writers), at least in the past — while I don’t know if it is mentioned within his new website design — that I suggest considering is Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished
    by Brigitte Kahl
    {From the beginning of a GoodReads review —
    Kahl brings to this insightful reading of Galatians a deep knowledge of the classical world and especially of Roman imperial ideology.

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