Passover and Easter are fast approaching, and I am still immersed in speaking and traveling in support of my book, Being Both. So I am reposting some essays from the archives. This one dates from the spring of 2010. Enjoy!
-Susan Katz Miller
“Passover: Three Generations of Interfaith Family”
On Being Both
The “collision” of Easter and Passover is hitting me particularly hard this year. Last year I “celebrated” both. I put that word in quotes because I had the traditional Passover seder in my home as I do every year, but for the first time in over a decade, I went to the “Resurrection Sunday” (they don’t call it “Easter”) service at the church I currently attend.
I remember that Sunday morning as I was leaving for services. It was too late to do anything about it and since I’d been going to church for months, I didn’t think my wife would mind. But as I was getting up to leave, the hurt I saw in her eyes was almost tangible. It was too late to stop and as I drove away from our house, I realized that this was probably the worst thing I could have done…attend an Easter service while being married to a Jew.
In the history of the Church how many passion plays were immediately followed by a pogrom?
I remember quite some number of years ago attending Shabbat services at our local Conservative/Reform synagogue. Everyone was talking about the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ (2004) which had just been released. All of the Jewish people in the room were absolutely terrified.
In the history of the Church how many passion plays were immediately followed by a pogrom?
I’ve never seen “Passion” and I never will. I realize Evangelical Christians won’t understand my reasoning, but I know the film would just make me angry and I know bringing the DVD into my home would be insulting to my Jewish family.
Passover this year begins the evening of Monday, April 14th and concludes the evening of Tuesday, April 22nd. Easter Sunday is on April 20th. I’ve never really connected to Palm Sunday or Good Friday, so I’m pretty detached from the whole sequence of Easter related events. And yet, especially this year, Easter and Passover seem heavily intertwined.
This coming Sunday, the church service will be quite different from normal. Not only will Pastor be speaking about Passover, but the entire service will be geared around Pesach. No, I don’t mean they will be conducting a seder, but there will be “Passover related” music such as “My Passover Things,” “The Ballad of the Four Sons,” and “Don’t Sit on the Afikomen.” The program does include a couple of more traditional pieces of music such as “Dayeinu” and Hallel,” but when I first saw this in the church bulletin last week, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend or not. Also, and this is the heavy punctuation to the event, they will also be conducting a communion service. I don’t begin to know how to wrap my brain around a matzah-communion wafer mashup.
Normally, communion is only offered in the evening service at this church, perhaps as an inducement to get people to attend both morning and evening services. I haven’t taken an actual communion since first coming to faith as a Christian. I’ve always practiced ”Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24) as part of my Passover observance. Communion, to me, seemed at least redundant if not a skewed path away from this additional meaning Messiah attached to the Pesach meal.
The problem of whether or not to attend became moot when I was asked to help a family move to their new home this coming weekend. This is a friend of my wife’s, a Jewish woman, a single mother with three sons, all with some degree of disability. I’ve helped out this family in small ways before and long-planned to be part of the “grunt labor” when it was time for them to move.
My wife is slowly winding things up for our Pesach seder this year. She ordered the matzah for the meal from some place in Vermont that processes the matzah from the growing of the wheat through baking, packaging, and shipping the matzah. For the rest of the week of unleavened bread, we’ll be eating more local fare (although we’ve already opened a box and have started munching).
But while people like Susan Katz Miller can celebrate interfaith families and (apparently) not encounter significant dissonance between Christian and Jewish worlds, there are points in my life experience where I can’t avoid them. One point I faced was last year on Easter, uh…excuse me, Resurrection Sunday, as I was about to walk out the door and looked one more time at the expression on my Jewish wife’s face. I don’t think I can take seeing that hurt and feeling that guilt again.
But there’s another less personal but still important reason.
Imagine this alternate prophetic scenario, which I believe accords far better with the Jewish prophets than the New Testament’s version of the future, where the glorious multinational Church and Jesus are reunited. This is not a version of future events where Jews belatedly accept and worship the messiah they “murdered” two thousand years ago, and finally join the Church, feeling very sorry for not recognizing Jesus all along. The unfolding events looks (sic) decidedly different than what the authors of the gospels, Paul and the author of Revelation would have their readers believe. This is my reading of the Jewish prophets. I took some liberties with filling in the blanks.
“The future of Israel, Messiah and the World (the Jewish version)”
Gene has made it something of a mission to try to educate Christians, including Hebrew Roots Christians and Messianic Gentiles, of the error of our ways, and how the Bible does not really presuppose “the Church” in any form, but still allows the people of the nations to join with Israel in the worship of the God of Israel. But the people of the nations, including (especially) Christians, are much less Israel-friendly in his scenario.
The real Jewish messiah appears on the scene. He’s not Jesus, but a virtuous and devout Jewish man who is able to unite all Jews. While he knows full well the tradition of Davidic lineage of his family, he does not find it significant when it comes to himself, at least not at this time. After all, many Jews today are able to do the same. Coming from a deeply devout family which nevertheless identified with Jews of all walks of life and participated in the national life of Israel, he is both a scholar and experienced military leader. Humble and wise, he is respected by all sections of the Jewish society. He doesn’t call himself a messiah. In fact, just like his ancient predecessor, Moses, he doesn’t even know that he too one day will help lead Israel – only G-d does. Neither has he been anointed – this is still to come. Still, the nations of the world hate and oppose him and work against him, as they’ve done to every Jewish leader in Israel‘s history. Some already derogatorily speak of this Jewish leader as a false messiah, scorning and ridiculing the fact that he’s so respected by the Jewish people while Jesus has been rejected.
Indeed, he’s nothing what they expected to see in a messiah as Christianity long portrayed him – not the glorious all-powerful heavenly god-man coming back for his beloved Church. It does not take long for this leader of the Jewish nation to branded as the “antichrist”. Preachers preach fiery sermons in their churches against him and against the Jews who fell “under his spell just as Jesus, Paul and John predicted”. No Christian may believe in him or support him in any way, or they risk losing their salvation. Christian tourism to Israel dries up as do other forms of Christian support, with many Christians denominations joining the boycott of the Jewish nation. Jews are ridiculed for their “folly” and the New Testament is held up as having already predicted everything the Jews will do. Muslims, who along with Christians likewise believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that no one else fits the bill, also reject the leadership of the real Jewish Messiah and join with the Western world in their opposition to him and the nation of Israel.
This is the more traditional Jewish viewpoint of the Messiah, the last battle, and the ultimate victory of Israel over her enemies. Gene’s last mention of Jesus will seem particularly difficult for most Christians:
The idols of the nations which do not save (including Jesus) are destroyed, are put away for good and are remembered no more. All false prophets and idol worshipers will be ashamed – they will all realize that they inherited nothing but lies from their forefathers.
While I consider Gene to be my friend, I am more than conscious of the gulf that lies between us, it’s incredible width, it’s gaping depth, because while I believe (unlike most Christians) in the primacy of Israel and that it will not be replaced by “the Church” as God’s central focus of devotion, love, and the receiver of all the covenant promises, our perception of not only the identity of Messiah, but of his very nature, character, role, and mission as Israel’s King are dramatically different and tremendously at odds.
And as Gene knows quite well, having personally experienced persecution as a Jew in his native Russia, after every passion play, there is a pogrom.
We don’t have pogroms as such in America in the 21st century, but the very act of celebrating Easter is bound to send out some sort of spiritual tremor into the atmosphere that is keenly felt by many Jews. Certainly in interfaith families, it is unavoidable. A collision of Easter and Passover.
My own answer this year will be to not attend Easter or Resurrection Day services. I’m not even sure that Jesus intended to add Easter to the calendar of religious moedim and I’m sure he didn’t intend for Easter to actually replace Passover.
Today, churches all over the U.S. pay some sort of attention to Passover. It’s usually the one festival of Judaism Christians know something about, thanks to the “Last Supper” of Jesus. One of the Jewish Christians at the church I attend will be holding a Passover seder and is inviting anyone in the church who wants to attend. Church and the Passover. It almost seems like an oxymoron.
What will Passover be like in the Messianic Age? My guess is that, from Gene’s point of view, “reformed Christians” will not be attending, at least to eat the Pascal meal, since only men who are circumcised may eat of the sacrifice in the Messiah-built temple. From the Church’s point of view, while some Christians believe there will be a third temple, many more believe that since “Christ is our sacrifice,” the actual sacrificial system will not be reinitiated, and therefore, there will be no Passover sacrifice.
If anyone celebrates Passover, it will be as a memorial of Christ’s Last Supper. Probably the expectation is that since Communion seems to have replaced Passover, that will be the more significant event.
Even from my point of view, one that holds the belief in a third temple, in the return of the sacrifices, and the continued commemoration of all of the moadim, including Passover, I can’t see how I, an uncircumcised male, would be able to eat of the Pascal offering with my Jewish family (assuming they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pesach) or even sit at the same table with them, lest my presence render the offering tamei (unclean).
I know Christians and Hebrew Roots Gentiles will say that I’m rebuilding the dividing wall between Gentiles and Jews, but the Bible is the Bible. I can’t simply ignore certain parts of God’s Word because it’s inconvenient to Christian theology. I must not allow myself to stand in the way of God’s special, chosen people, the Jewish people. I believe there are personal sacrifices all believing Gentiles must make for the sake of Israel.
Only God can heal the nations after the terrible wars against Israel that will occur in the future. Only God can heal the rift between believing Gentiles and the Jewish people. For Gene, that healing comes at the price of our faith in Jesus as the Messiah. From my point of view, it comes at the price of Christian arrogant presumption that they (we) are the center of God’s universe and that the Jews either mean nothing at all, or at least have been reduced to “shield carriers” standing silently in the background of our tragic play.
Only God can heal how distant I feel from Him sometimes, and how distant I can feel from Jewish people, even in my own family, because of my faith.
Only God can heal us…