Last month, I wrote about the Lutheran-Catholic Common Prayer services which are being held around the world. The joint recognition of the Reformation by Catholics and Lutherans, in a spirit that acknowledges both the injurious and celebrative aspects of that watershed event, is itself an important milestone in the histories of our churches.
Beyond ecumenism lies the matter of interfaith relationships, and a profound, localized example of this landed on my desk in the form of an Easter weekend Wall Street Journal article that Jim Geringer clipped out for my benefit. It was entitled “The Christian Passover”, written by a theologian and journal editor named R.R. Reno. He has been married to a practicing Jewish woman for over 30 years, and so has formed some keen first-hand observations about the coinciding celebrations of Passover and Easter. Christians have focused on the blood of the lamb with which the Israelites were commanded to mark their doorposts in order that the Angel of Death would pass over them. The New Testament applies this blood-of-the-lamb imagery to Jesus, taking cues from both the Last Supper and the crucifixion. But Reno finds that there is a greater parallel than that which has been drawn between the Passover and the crucifixion. The greater parallel is between Passover and resurrection. Reno notes that in many languages the word for Easter is not “Easter”, but “Passover”!
The Passover meal symbolizes and celebrates the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army. As slaves and exiles, the Hebrew people experienced a collective death. Their deliverance by passage through the Red Sea was a resurrection to new life. Reno notes that Christians have long gathered well before dawn to celebrate the Easter Vigil service in darkened sanctuaries. The traditional Easter Vigil proclamation is intoned in a lengthy prayer which contains these verses: This is the night, when once you led our forbearers, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea. . . this is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld. Having experienced both the Christian and Jewish liturgical years for so long, R. R. Reno has found common ground. Next year, many of his readers (self included), will connect Passover not only with Good Friday, but with Easter.
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Today we live in a time of extraordinary polarization. Yet a healthy society needs a large and active middle ground where common interests are assumed, where some humility and self-criticism are in evidence, where ideas can be respectfully exchanged, compromises achieved, and from which constructive action plans can be implemented. This vital middle ground has been gradually eroding for some time, in our country and elsewhere. What we’re getting in its place might be likened to a narrow, depopulated, demilitarized zone. One who dares to enter this zone risks being picked off by those who hold their own opposing viewpoints with absolute rigidity, who regard flexibility as weakness.
When church bodies testify that their differences are less important than their commonly held beliefs, and when persons of different faiths testify that their sacred stories and rituals intersect, then our witness just might impact all of society.
Pastor Wes Aardahl
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