April 17, 2013
Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; Psalm 22; John 13.1-17,31b-35
+ Normally, on Maundy Thursday I preach the Holy Eucharist.
That would be under normal circumstances.
We are obviously not under normal circumstances.
And to preach about Holy Communion when our congregation can’t gather together to actually eat and drink together at this altar, seems wrong. It doesn’t feel right to preach about that. Not now. Not in this time of pandemic and worldwide illness.
Next year, yes.
But now. No.
Instead, I am going to preach about something I should’ve preached about in the past but have not. I realized recently that I have never fully addressed this issue, at least not from the pulpit.
But Covid-19 has brought some issues to surface that I realize I need to address. There are a lot of issues that Covid brings to the surface. But one in particular ties in to what we are doing during these three holy days leading to Easter Day.
That is the issue of anti-Semitism. Namely, the anti-Semitism that we may perceive from our readings during these three holy day before Easter. Anti-Semitism is something I hoped was in the past. Something we did not need to deal with anymore.
But Covid has brought it up again.
Yes, we hear the old accusations from some extremists who believe that this pandemic was caused by Jews. It seems this happens, historically, every time there is a plaque of some sort. Somehow the Jews always get blamed for such things. And the root of that anti-Semitism is, I hate to say it, based in our Christian beliefs.
In our readings from the New Testament during Holy Week, the Jewish people in Jesus’ time do not come off looking very. There is an obvious bias by the authors of these Gospels toward them. And that is disconcerting.
So, in response, if you are able to access our bulletin for tonight, you will see this statement. It’s an important statement. And if you haven’t read it, I’ll read it right now. The Statement reads:
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism that took time to form and evolve into the institutional Church of today. There were areas of contention and disagreement among the Jews in Jesus’ time, and the leaders of the early Jesus movement did not shy away from hostile rhetoric against their detractors, as evidenced by a number of New Testament passages.
The Greek term usually translated here as “the Jews” varies in meaning and application, alternately referring to the most powerful Jewish religious leaders; Jews of the region of Judea specifically; or to those Jews who had reservations about Paul’s mission among Gentiles. In essence, “the Jews” functions in the New Testament as “the other” against which Christianity came to define itself.
When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion, Christian rhetoric against Jews gained power, and Christian texts inspired anti-Semitism, most notably during the Crusades and the Holocaust. In our modern context, it is important for us to remember that while New Testament writers took issue with Jews who disbelieved in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, these texts do not take issue with anyone’s race or origin. Nor do they prescribe for us, in contradiction with Christ’s central purpose, mistrust or hatred of non-Christians.
(I, by the way, did not write that statement, but found it elsewhere and found it helpful for Holy Week)
This is important for us to hear. And it is important for us, on this night in which we observe and commemorate a very Jewish tradition in which a very Jewish Jesus and his very Jewish followers lived.
This Last Supper Jesus celebrates on the night before he died was a Passover meal. He was observing of that very Jewish feast.
And he, an observant, Torah-keeping, kosher Jew, was doing what was right for he has an observant Jew.
How we tend to forget this as Christians, I do not know. I do not know how any follower of our very Jewish Jesus can still be an anti-Semite.
But I do know this.
We followers of our Jewish Jesus, need to make reparation for anti-Semitic statements made by Christians and even our Gospel writers. We need to stand up and speak out when he hear them or see them. And it seems we are hearing them and seeing them now more than we have in the last five or ten years.
Our Jewish Savior expects nothing less from us than making it a very real mission in our lives to speak out and protest anti-Semitism in this world.
It is uncomfortable then, for those of us who have made this commitment, to read and hear these scriptures in which Jews are spoken of so adversely.
But we need to remember that it wasn’t the Jews who killed Jesus.
It was the Romans who whipped him.
It was the Romans who mocked him.
And It was the Romans who nailed him to the cross and pierced his side with a spear.
And yet, there is no anti-Roman discrimination.
In fact, Rome now is the very center of the Roman Catholic Church!
The fact is, on this Maundy Thursday, unless we are only observing what we hear and commemorate tonight and not acting on what we find wrong in these false understandings of our Jewish sisters and brothers, this is all just empty. And Jesus would rather have us not observe it.
But if we observe the events of tonight and the next several days through a Jewish lens, we find it takes on such significant meaning.
This Jewish Jesus will tomorrow be tortured and then will be nailed to the Cross. He was nailed to that cross in fulfillment of Jewish scriptures and the Jewish expectation of the Messiah and the divine Son of God.
The holy concept of the slain Lamb of God is a reference to the lamb that was slaughtered in the temple in Jerusalem as a sin offering.
So, for Jewish followers of Jesus, his death took on deep, very Jewish meaning.
On that cross Jesus tomorrow will die and be laid in a dark tomb.
On Saturday, it will be there, laid out, broken and destroyed.
But on Sunday, that physical Body will be raised by God out of that darkness. It will rise out of that destroyed state. It will come forth from that broken disgrace and will be fully and completely alive and present.
Jesus himself, this victim of anti-Semitism, will rise above that brokenness and live. To see all of that from a Jewish perspective not only helps us make sense of these incredible and amazing events.
It also helps us to understand that all of these things were planned by God for ages before. And this is a truly holy way to celebrate this holy night.
Yes, we are not able to gather here together to share the Body and Blood of Jesus as we usually do. But we are still sharing in his Body and Blood spiritually. We are spiritually partaking of this Passover meal, this sacrifice of the Lamb of God, this service of Thanksgiving to God. And because we are, we are being spiritually fed. We do come away with a sense that Jesus is present and that he goes with us—each of us—all of us—from this altar and from this church building, into the world.
So, let us gather spiritually around this altar tonight. Let us spiritually share in the Body and Blood of our very Jewish Messiah. Let us humble ourselves in our hearts And in our hearts, let us be truly fed. And let us go from here, humbled and fed, to speak out, the defend those who need defending, to stand up against those who oppress our Jewish sisters and brothers and anyone else who are feeling oppressed. And, in doing so, we too are sharing the holy Presence of Jesus with others.