Pastors Larry and Linda Daniels-Block will be co-leading an Interfaith Spiritual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Rabbis Victor and Nadya Gross, March 29 – Apr 12, 2016.
This year the Jewish and Christian calendars bring Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week into convergence. Rabbi Nadya and Rabbi Victor Gross asked if I would write an article about this convergence.
In building and repairing our relationship in the interfaith struggle, looking for commonality, for connections, for similar typologies, as well as divergence, diversity, and the wholly other, we find that we are led often and hopefully to a mutual understanding and connectedness. For me, deep ecumenism builds and leads us beyond the necessary tasks of sharing our understanding of our traditions, our belief system and our doctrines. Using our culture of words, we increase in understanding; but is it possible to go beyond the world and the events of words?
The “aha” event when we comprehend the other, their spirituality, their context is often a “word-event” whereby through our sharing of understanding, explanations, i.e., our culture of words, our minds come into focus. Can deep ecumenism lead us through these word events into a “vision-event”?
My life long search for deeper meaning in human understanding, and particularly in language, beyond the surface and literal meanings, made me open to the introduction of deep ecumenism that Rabbi Nadya and Rabbi Victor led me into as it existed, not simply as an idea or method, but as was personified in them and in Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.
They were “kindred spirits”; it was if I had known them before I existed.
Deep ecumenism: let me tell you a story. In the Christian Gospels the “Pharisees” are often the antagonists of Jesus. In the cultural context of Jesus, that would probably not have stood out. But over time, and as Jewish and Christian cultures separated, the word Pharisee became, I think in an unconscious way, a synonym for opposition to Jesus. As such its use projected meaning that enforced anti-Jewish sentiment, even though it may have been subconscious.
Now the story: Some time before Pastor Linda and I met Rabbis Nadya and Victor, and we began sharing sacred space, I had one of those weird dreams. No action, no weird people or places…just a voice: a clear, authoritative, firm voice that one doesn’t even begin to question. The voice said, “You will no longer use the term “Pharisee” in the reading of the scriptures in worship”.
That was it – the dream. I awoke thinking, “now what??” What was that about? But I began to do as I was told. What should I use in place of “Pharisees”? Well, not knowing a lot — I went with what I had. I thought Pharisees were very religious, they had obviously spent significant time thinking upon the Holy Scriptures. They were learned. I also knew they questioned Jesus about both his words and deeds. Quite frankly, I thought “Pastors” of course. I, as a pastor, was pretty much like that. So I went with it. I did narrow it somewhat by saying, “a group of Lutheran Pastors came to Jesus…..”
Not long after this dream, Rabbi Nadya and Rabbi Victor appeared and our congregations began sharing sacred space, but even more importantly, a journey into deep ecumenism. I use this dream story not as teaching or content, but because to me it reminded me that the language of our stories may create roadblocks to our relationship with folks of various faith traditions.
Our Lenten journey as Christians begins 40 days before our Holy Week. Palm Sunday begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem his final week. On Maundy Thursday he gathers his close disciples and followers including spouses and children in an upper room to celebrate Passover.
The convergence of Jewish Passover with Christian Holy Week happens because of the different calendars. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. But Passover, because of its integral symbolic and religious connection to Maundy Thursday, is in the Christian tradition not movable (i.e. doesn’t follow the Jewish calendar).
If Easter was determined in this way “our Passover” is always on Maundy Thursday. In other words, it was integral to the institution of the Lord’s Last Supper. That takes us into that night. The story of Passover, the Exodus remembrance, forms the spiritual nest for the spirituality of our Holy Communion.
We gather on that night as the Passover begins, as did the disciples. The Lenten journey of repentance, acknowledging our complicity in the brokenness of this world and its people, our sins against God, humanity and the earth itself has led us to this room. In fear and doubt, in pain and recognition, we gather hoping that a new journey into new life will begin. Jesus takes the bread and breaks it…
The Exodus story and its symbolic meaning is present. The oppression, the suffering, our pleas for help and mercy from the Holy One, our longing for spiritual and mental/physical freedom, the plagues, the Emperor/Pharaoh, the angel of death, the blood of the Lamb, the first born saved or condemned. The disciples are there as Jesus takes the bread. They wait in fear. We wait in fear and in doubt….
The Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea to open a way of new life …. manna/bread in the wilderness.
Satan had tempted Jesus in the wilderness with bread. Jesus multiplied the bread to the thousands. The bread of life, the sustenance of life, the bread of Passover. And Jesus broke it….a bond of sharing bread, a sign of a bond with one another and with the Source of all Life, which cannot be overcome, neither through sin nor even death itself. In the bread and in the wine a communion takes place with The Holy One – for us a Holy Communion.
Out of the story of the mighty acts of God in the Exodus comes our Christian central spiritual act — Holy Communion. But in the communion we go beyond the words, the meanings, the language of our culture, — into the presence.
Notice in the above attempt to share with you the nature and spirituality of the Christian practice of communion, and its “convergence” with Passover, I was limited to the world and its culture of language: words, words with meaning, words emoting, words that cause pain, but words that can help find commonality, understanding, respect and even new meaning.
Different religions and traditions in coming together to explore our cultures of words may find a path to work together. This is essential work for any interfaith growth and understanding. This is the surface of ecumenism where we meet. Our words/language can overcome much of our misunderstandings.
But for me, deep ecumenism is when we go beyond the “Word Events”, into the vision event. For me as a Christian, as long as our communion is embedded and constrained in the culture of language, in words, it remains subject to language, and meaning can only be provided by “proper understanding”. Such is the case in Christianity where Holy Communion became one of the primary sectarian/dividing forces for us. Communion has been used to bind membership practices, it has been used to determine who is saved and who is condemned; it has been used to cast out as in excommunication; it has been used to control the grace of God; it has been used to restrict and restrain God’s presence. All because Holy Communion has become a mere Word Event.
Deep Ecumenism helps us to deconstruct our bondage to words and the word events. And the conversation we have in this process creates a vision, takes us into deeper levels of understanding and meaning.
Our vision is reflected in our practice: In our Lutheran liturgy, we sing about a “foretaste of a feast to come” as part of our communion liturgy. Through the act of Holy Communion we participate now in the world to come when God’s reign is realized.
We often commune gathering in a half-circle symbolizing that we join all who have gone before and all who are yet to come — all the saints of God — all who have lived and died and are yet to be born — all people… We sing of victory when all who have been and are being oppressed by the forces of this world will rise and be vindicated. Even the earth itself will be repaired. It is a vision of the realization of God’s plan for all of creation…
As our holy days this year converge, I hope there is a new convergence of spirits as we follow the light through the darkness into the newness we long for.
Larry Block, Pastor