Preaching during Holy Week

Last year, we offered some reflections on the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. This year, we pass along to you a call for “Mindful Sermons of Holy Week.”

From the webpage of the American Interfaith Institute:

For many years, legions of religious scholars and members of the clergy have expressed concern over the various New Testament readings in the Christian Lectionary which convey antagonistic feelings toward people of the Jewish faith. These readings, as they are the word of G-d, are taken literally by church-attending Christians who may not be aware of the complicated historical context within which these verses were written. Thus, they easily lead to a misinterpreted understanding of the passage. These types of misinterpretations have generated terrible violence and discriminatory perspectives against Jews and the Jewish faith for countless years.

The American Interfaith Institute, in collaboration with Sermons without Prejudice, is putting out a call for “Mindful Sermons of Holy Week,” a campaign which focuses on strengthening intellectual honesty and faithful religious practice. We invite you, as a pivotal member of your community, to address the polemic language found in the Good Friday or Palm Sunday readings to your congregation during Holy Week in a manner which you deem most appropriate. The language found in these specific texts is known to be the most polemic and has led to countless terrorizing acts and perceptions against the Jewish people. If not explained within context, these specific texts may continue to perpetuate similar anti-Judaic thoughts and behavior and may counter much of the effort made to strengthen the relationship between Christianity and Judaism thus far. Addressing the polemics in the Holy Week readings is one of the most momentous steps Christian leaders can take in solidifying the relationship between G-d’s children.

Sermons will be reviewed by our advisory board, comprised of religious leaders and scholars from around the world, and a monetary prize of $500 will awarded for the selected entry for the purpose of helping you continue this important mission. Additionally, all participants will be acknowledged on the American Interfaith Institute website which reaches a large network of individuals who have a sincere interest in this subject.

For additional questions, please contact lora@americaninterfaith.org. Please consider visiting our website www.AmericanInterfaith.org for additional information and to become a member of our powerful network of scholars and religious leaders.

Christian Anti-Judaism

In connection with the anti-Judaism project of the SCLM, we have invited the Rev. Susan Auchincloss to contribute an article for our blog.  Susan has an excellent blog on Jewish/Christian issues which is read widely in the Episcopal Church:  faithnotfault.org.   Readers of this SCLM blog may have noticed that I have not accomplished my goal of posting materials on this subject at regular intervals.  The problem is that I have been dealing with medical issues for the past few months, and this has dominated my life to a substantial degree.  So I welcome with great enthusiasm Susan’s willingness to allow us to post this article for our readers.  – Louis Weil

Christian Anti-Judaism by Rev. Susan Auchincloss

How can we correct a mistake if we cannot see that we are making it?  Anti-Judaism runs so deep in the Christian faith that we honestly do not hear ourselves when we spread it.  We need more than vigilance; we need education and above all we need others to call us on false preaching.

Barbara Brown Taylor speaks to this still-current concern in the “Faith Matters” column in the August 24, 2004, issue of the Christian Century.  Titled, “Teaching Contempt,” she writes:

Last month I received a letter from a doctor in California who had recently listened to some of my sermons on tape. He had borrowed one set from the rector of his Episcopal church, he wrote, and had liked it well enough to order an older set. The difference between the two made him want to share a few thoughts with me.

“I think you’ve come a long way,” he wrote, adding that he knew that sounded presumptuous but asking me to let him explain. “I’m a Jew,” he said, “and although my core identity is still as a Jew, in other ways I’m a happy convert.” Active at every level of parish leadership, he also actively pursues friendship with Jesus. “Still,” he wrote, “when I listened to the earlier set of tapes, there were times when I cringed to hear echoes of the old ‘teaching of contempt.’ It seemed like you looked underneath the surface of everyone in the gospel stories, showing complex motivations and spiritual struggles—yet your portrayal of Jesus’ opponents and the Pharisees seemed one-dimensional and lacking in sympathy.”

As graciously as this was couched, it was like hearing that I had been caught strangling kittens while walking in my sleep. Me? Engaging in the teaching of contempt?

I set down the letter and went to find the sermons in question. Before I had read two pages, I was staring at a dead cat. In a sermon on the “easy yoke” passage from Matthew 11, I had helped Jesus make his case by nailing the Pharisees as self-righteous prigs. Reducing them to cardboard cutouts of everything I found despicable in religious people, I was not only able to blow them away handily. I was also able to congratulate myself for doing so.

All these years later, it is clear that I did Jesus no favors by lampooning his opponents. His ministry involved engaging real people with real concerns, not defeating cartoon characters. It is even clearer that I maligned observant Jews everywhere by painting those who love Torah with the same old scorn-full brush. While my California correspondent was kind enough to note some progress in my preaching, my penance has involved trying to figure out what I was thinking in 1990 as well as why my thinking has changed.

Fourteen years ago, I believed that the New Testament told me the whole truth about Pharisaic Judaism. Nothing in my church or seminary education led me to believe otherwise. None of the commentaries I used to prepare my sermons challenged the traditional story of Christian origins. I do not remember whether it was Jack Spong or Marcus Borg who first raised serious questions about that story for me, but they led me to Jewish teachers such as Jacob Neusner and Paula Fredriksen (as well as Christian ones such as E. P. Sanders and Mary Boys), who have enriched my reading of the New Testament by helping me recognize the nature of its polemics.

Simply to find those teachers changed the way I preached about Torah, Talmud and Judaism. Then a man in my congregation married a Jewish woman who sometimes came with him to church. When she did, I heard the slurs in familiar passages. I tasted the razor blades in beloved hymns. Before long, she had changed my sermons even when she was not there. If what I said did not sound like good news to her, I decided, then it was not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In an essay on Mel Gibson’s movie earlier this year, Rabbi Michael Lerner said that if Christians have not confronted anti-Judaism as effectively as they have tackled other “isms,” then that is because doing so requires them to question the historical truth of their own scriptures. I believe he is right. Yet even without such questioning, those same scriptures call me to love my neighbor, and in that I find no room for the teaching of contempt.

This article pleases me for many reasons.  First, Barbara Brown Taylor’s story parallels my own.  A parishioner of mine married a Jew, and when he joined her in church one Sunday I listened to the readings for that day with his ears… and squirmed.

I, too, thought I knew about Judaism from reading the Old Testament; and like Taylor, nothing I had learned in seminary, church, or biblical commentaries caused me to question that.  James Carroll launched my quest for better understanding when I read his Constantine’s Sword.  That was a few years ago.  Now I have a shelf of helpful books, including Preaching Without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism, by Marilyn J. Salmon.  Others are listed on my web site, http://www.faithnotfault.org, under “Resources.”

The best aspect of this article comes from recognizing the author.  Barbara Brown Taylor’s books have brought new life to my faith.  I feel unqualified respect for her; and yet even she did not hear what she was doing.  That helps me feel less callow.

Above all, it shows how subtly the threads of anti-Judaism are woven into our faith.  We are like fish in water, too immersed to perceive it.  As a consequence, we must acknowledge our need for each other, for calling each other to account.

Self-education about the roots and fertilization of Christian anti-Judaism should be the number one topic of adult education forums.  Along the way we will learn a proper respect for another great religion and that will, in turn, add to the richness of our own faith.

Perspectives on Anti-Jewish Elements in Christian Scriptures and Liturgy

SOME PERSPECTIVES ON THE QUESTION

OF ANTI-JEWISH ELEMENTS IN CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES AND LITURGY

FROM JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN WRITERS

A Collection of Quotations

prepared by Louis Weil

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music [SCLM] was authorized at the 2009 General Convention “to collect, develop and disseminate materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.” 

As one element toward the accomplishing of that mandate, the commission members have authorized the placement from time to time of quotations from a variety of both Jewish and Christian writers which address this issue.  This is our first contribution to that aspect of our work.  We offer here a collection of such quotations in order to acquaint readers with these writers’ views in the belief that they provide valuable orientations to the problem of anti-Judaism in the liturgy. At the same time, these quotations offer bibliographical information for those readers who may want to go further in their reflection on this subject.   The quotations can also serve as a resource for parish programs of adult formation in which issues of anti-Judaism are explored.

1.  Charlotte E. Fonrobert: “Judaizers, Jewish Christians, and Others,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, ed. Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Z. Brettler (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 554-5.

“In recent years the so-called parting of the ways question—when and how did ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’ turn into two distinct and separate phenomena—has been approached in new ways.  We have learned to recognize more clearly how Christian and Jewish authorities were trying to secure clearer boundaries between the two traditions.  We have also learned to differentiate the official position from how the people whom they were addressing may have behaved and believed.  For instance, as late as 386 CE John Chrysostom, the Christian bishop and author of Adversus Judaeos (sermons “Against the Jews”), can thunder at his audience about the dangers of attending synagogues and succumbing to “the evils” of the Jewish holiday observances.  This vitriolic attack is a clear indication that people in his Christian communities in Antioch on the Orontes were attracted to and frequented Jewish synagogues.  While Chrysostom would have liked his flock to consider this as a dangerous blurring of boundaries, his audience—for all we know—may have considered attendance at synagogues as perfectly compatible with their Christian beliefs.

“The more careful reading of the ancient texts has moved the supposed date of the actual separation between Judaism and Christianity from its initial dating at the end of the first century CE to the current one that places it at the end of Late Antiquity (ca. 200-700 CE), or later.  Not even the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century signals the end of Jewish and Christian enmeshing, since the Christianization of the empire and the institutional boundaries that this produced took centuries longer.”

2.  Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Z. Brettler:  “The Editors’ Preface,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. xii.

“Many Jews are unfamiliar with, or even afraid of reading, the New Testament.  Its content and genres are foreign, and they need notes to guide their reading.  Other Jews may think that the New Testament writings  are irrelevant to their lives, or that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion.  This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion.  Our intention is not to convert, whether to convert Jews to Christianity, or to convert Christians away from their own churches.  Rather, this book is designed to allow all readers to understand what the texts of the New Testament meant within their own social, historical, and religious context;  some essays then describe the impact that the New Testament has had on Jewish—Christian relations.  Moreover, we strongly believe that Jews should understand the Christian Bible—what is called from the Christian perspective the Old Testament and New Testament—because it is Scripture for most English-speaking people:  it is difficult for Jews to understand their neighbors, and the broader society of which Jewish citizens are a part, without familiarity with the New Testament.  Just as we as Jews wish our neighbors to understand our texts, beliefs, and practices, we should understand the basics of Christianity.”

3.  Clark M. Williamson & Ronald J. Allen: Interpreting Difficult Texts.  (London: SCM Press, 1989), pp. 6-7.

“Out of character with the gospel”

 “What is Christian preaching and why is anti-Judaism inappropriate to it?  When we preach, we are teaching the Christian faith, making the Christian witness and telling the Christian story.  As we do this, we need to see to it that the witness which we bear or the story which we tell is appropriate to the Christian tradition, that it makes sense, and that it is moral.  We need to ask ourselves whether we are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ or an ideology; whether it is the Word of God or some other word that we are setting forth;  whether we have the story straight.

“The first reason why it is imperative to eliminate anti-Judaism from Christian preaching is that anti-Judaism contradicts the good news which it is the preacher’s task to re-present to the congregation.  That good news is about the radical grace of God, God’s unbounded love, the witness of God’s mercy that is extended freely to absolutely everybody, even us.  Anti-Judaism is an exclusivism, an us-them, insider-outsider point of view that makes being one of us the condition for gaining access to God’s love and grace.  It is a works-righteousness, with all the demonstrated deadliness in Christian history that works-righteousness always brings in its wake.”

4.  Marilyn J. Salmon:  Preaching without Contempt:  Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), pp. 9-10.

 “The Ethics of Preaching after the Holocaust”

 “Christians are not responsible for the Holocaust. Nazis are responsible for first denying Jews the rights of other citizens, taking away their livelihood and property, putting them in ghettoes, then concentration camps, and conceiving the Final Solution.  Nazis are liable for the murder of six million Jews in addition to countless homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped, and political resisters.  Certainly there were Christians who were Nazis, but Christianity itself is not responsible for the holocaust.

“Christianity is culpable, however, for creating the environment that made the Holocaust possible.  For centuries, since Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the religion of the Roman Empire, Christians have oppressed, persecuted, and murdered Jews in the name of Christianity.  They were incited against Jews by the preaching of contempt they heard in their churches.  Jews were charged with deicide, with rejecting God’s Messiah, disobedience against God for rejecting the truth of their own Scriptures.  That was how the church interpreted its Scriptures.  Sadly, that is our history with respect to Judaism.

The church has a long history of anti-Judaism, that is, a prejudice against the religion of the Jews.  In theory, at least, if a Jews were baptized and converted to Christianity, he or she would no longer be the object of contempt.  Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, is racial bigotry.  The Third Reich created a pseudo-scientific racial profile of Jews and sought to exterminate Jews as a race.  But again, Christian anti-Judaism is the context in which anti-Semitism emerged.  In the Western world, Christian culture classified Jews as inferior, limited their participation in society, and at times persecuted and murdered them.  It is a small step from Christian anti-Judaism to the anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Third Reich.  To put it bluntly, anti-Judaism made anti-Semitism possible.  So while Christianity alone is not responsible for the Holocaust, neither is it absolved from all guilt.”

5.  Jacob Neusner:  Judaism in the Matrix of Christianity (Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1986), pp. 139-140.

“Both Judaism and Christianity claim to be the heirs and products of the Hebrew Scriptures—Tanakh to the Jews, Old Testament to the Christians.  Yet both great religious traditions derive indirectly from the authority of those Scriptures as that authority has been mediated through other holy books.  The New Testament is the prism through which the light of the Old comes to Christianity.  The canon of rabbinical writings is the star that guides Jews to the revelation of Sinai, the Torah.  The claim of these two great religious traditions in all their rich variety is for the veracity not merely of Scriptures, but also of Scriptures as interpreted by the New Testament or the Talmud and associated rabbinical writings.”

Anti-Judaism Issues in the Scriptures for Holy Week by Louis Weil

One of the consequences of Jewish-Christian dialogue in recent decades has been a growing awareness of the role played by the New Testament lectionary readings for Holy Week.   Consciously or unconsciously, interpretations of these readings in the preaching of Christian pastors have fostered anti-Jewish attitudes among Christians over many centuries.  Preachers have propagated the idea, from the earliest times and continuing into our own day, that the Jews as a people bear responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Although this effect was at times unintended, we have explicit evidence of preaching in which the Jews were demonized from the pulpits of Europe.[1]  We find this especially in the preaching which took place during Holy Week, and most particularly in the intense focus on the death of Jesus on Good Friday.  Preachers did not hesitate to remind their hearers of the guilt of all Jews for the death of the Lord, with the consequence that quite commonly on Good Friday Jewish families would remain hidden in their homes in order to avoid abuse and even death.[2]

This history places an enormous responsibility upon preachers today to remain alert for any comment in their preaching which might give renewed support to this anti-Jewish prejudice which was often communicated by parents to their children from their earliest years.  The hearing of the Scriptures and the interpretations offered by preachers had a determinative effect in the shaping of anti-Jewish attitudes as characteristic of a Christian identity.  A potent example of this is the use of the term “the Jews” as a factor in the shaping of anti-Jewish attitudes within a congregation as being appropriate for people of Christian faith.  Such preaching shaped an identity in which these anti-Jewish attitudes might become embodied in words and actions against one’s Jewish neighbors.

Our goal in this commentary for Holy Week 2013 is to focus on certain ‘difficult’ issues which emerge from a consideration of the Holy Week readings.  Since we are in Year C of our lectionary cycle, our initial attention must be given to the Gospel of Luke which plays a primary role in this year’s cycle.

 

The Sunday of the Passion:  Palm Sunday.

The proclamation of the Passion holds primary place on this Sunday.  This tradition predates the introduction of what we know as Holy Week, including the Liturgy of the Palms, which was introduced in the fourth-century in Jerusalem.  The normal day for the assembly of Christians was Sunday, the Day of the Lord, and so the Sunday one week prior to Easter was the day on which the Passion would be read, being the last day of assembly prior to that on the Day of the Resurrection.

The Liturgy of the Palms was a later addition at the time of the historicizing in the liturgy of the events prior to the death of Jesus.  This development took place quite naturally in Jerusalem since that is where the events occurred.  It was from there that the Holy Week rites spread to other parts of the world.  In Jerusalem, the Liturgy of the Palms was not attached to the reading of the Passion at the Eucharist, but rather became the first part of the evening liturgy of Vespers, thus quite separate from the proclamation of the Passion.  The people gathered on the Mount of Olives in the late afternoon and from there moved in procession into the city.  The Palm liturgy thus began the “second layer” — the weekday sequence — commemorating the daily sequence of events leading up to the Sacred Triuduum, the Three Days which took as their focus the final meal, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Easter Vigil and first celebration of the Eucharist of the Resurrection.

The proclamation of the Passion in cycle C, being drawn from the Gospel of Luke, immediately faces us with the significant distinction between the Passion in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the Passion of John.  In the synoptics, the death of Jesus has the appearance of defeat — he is, as it were, a martyr, and the Jews are given the blame.  In Luke, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent and is prepared to release him, but in the end submits to the Jewish leaders and the crowd by authorizing the execution.  But the preacher must make clear that by the time of the writing of Luke’s Gospel, the hostility between the Christian disciples (most of whom were themselves Jewish) and the Jewish leaders had become acrimonious.  It is likely that this hostility affected the way in which the recounting of the events of the Passion were presented.

It is not special pleading to suggest that the account in Luke may exaggerate the culpability of the Jewish leaders for its own polemic purpose.  At the very least, the presentation of the Jewish leaders and of Judaism in general is complex.  The early part of the Gospel dealing with the events around the conception and birth of Jesus, his circumcision, and his presentation at the Temple all place his life in the context of a faithful Jewish community, which sets these chapters in sharp contrast to the harsh descriptions of the Pharisees in later chapters.  New Testament scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Luke was the work of a Gentile writer and was addressed to Gentile readers, and so looks at the events, as it were, from ‘outside’ Jewish religious experience.

 

Maundy Thursday.

The lectionary of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, offered Luke 22:14—30, as an alternative to John 13:1—15.  The Revised Common Lectionary does not offer the Lucan alternative, but expands the Johannine reading:  John 13:1—17, 31b—35.  This expansion articulates the particular perspective in John that the crucifixion of Jesus is his glorification:  the Cross is the sign of victory, as in the ancient hymn Vexilla regis (Hymnal 161), “God is reigning from the tree.”  Thus the Gospel reading for Maundy Thursday links us to the proclamation of the Passion of John on Good Friday.

This supports the claim that the liturgies of the Triduum are actually one great liturgy in three ‘parts’ which are celebrated over that number of days.  This understanding is further supported by the rites themselves in that there is no dismissal given in the prayer book for either the Maundy Thursday or the Good Friday liturgies.

Another dimension of the Maundy Thursday rite which invites an exploration of the common heritage of Jews and Christians is the presumed character of the Last Supper as a Passover seder, as it is presented in the Gospel reading.  Many Christians have had the experience of participating in the Passover meal with Jewish friends.[3]  For me, this experience has been much more rewarding than that of a so-called ‘Christian seder’.  It is worth remembering that in 1979, the Standing Liturgical Commission issued a document in which such Christianization of the Jewish rite was strongly discouraged as a presumptuous use of a Jewish ritual that removes it from its appropriate context.[4]  When I last attended the Passover with Jewish friends, I was profoundly moved by the many moments in the ritual when within me the connection of the Passover to our Lord’s final meal was made real in its own terms.  If a preacher on this day chooses to talk about the Last Supper, it offers an occasion to again emphasize the common heritage in which both Jews and Christians are rooted.

 

Good Friday.

Finally we turn to what is in many ways, along with Passion Sunday, a rite that offers particular challenges to the preacher.  Albeit allowing for differences of emphasis, it is in both of these rites that the Passion is proclaimed, and thus where anti-Judaic attitudes have most been nurtured.  It is with regard to the Gospel of John in particular that commentators have raised the question of anti-Judaism.  That is, of course, an important question for us, and perhaps particularly for those who preach on Good Friday.

Throughout the Gospel of John there are comments about “the Jews” which have confirmed in the minds of many people that the Gospel is itself anti-Jewish.  But is this claim justified?  In the Gospel of John, who were “the Jews”?  The term appears over seventy times in this Gospel, far more frequently than in the other three.  Whereas the Synoptic Gospels generally refer to specific Jewish groups such as the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, John generally refers indiscriminately to “the Jews.”  We have been conditioned to hear those words as applying to the opponents of Jesus, and thus as pejorative.

Commentators have noted, however, that the term is used with various meanings in John.  “The Jews” can refer to the people who live in Judea (John 7:1—18), or it can refer to a sub-group within the synagogue (John 9:22).  At other places, the term is used in reference to people who are clearly friends, like those who comfort Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus has died (John 11:31f.), or in reference to “the festivals of the Jews.”[5]  We need always to remember that all of the people in the Gospel narrative were Jews, therefore the preacher must avoid any hint of seeing “the Jews” in caricature.

The problem for us is that, although we may assert that the Gospel of John is not anti-Jewish, it seems that it often sounds that way to our ears.  For this reason, it is imperative that preachers — generally, of course, but especially when preaching on the Passion — be very attentive to their choice of words.  Unless we are careful about this, our hearers may not hear what we intend.  In this regard, it is helpful to read a variety of translations of the pericopes assigned for Holy Week in the lectionary.  Every translation offers, of course, an interpretation, and if we are attentive to a variety of voices offering to us nuanced distinctions, we shall be more prepared to meet this challenge, and to proclaim the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord with words that embody the Gospel in its integrity.

SUPPLEMENT

Statement By The Standing Liturgical Commission:

Why a Seder is not appropriate on Maundy Thursday

26 February 1979

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in celebrating a Passover Seder on Maundy Thursday. Sometimes the meal is thinly Christianized; sometimes a traditional Jewish Seder is used without any change. (The word seder means order). Although this practice grows out of an understandable desire to reproduce the circumstances of the Last Supper, and so to participate more vividly and intimately in one of the central events of Holy Week, it is a questionable practice for several reasons:

  1. There is a serious disagreement within the New Testament itself as to whether the Last Supper was in fact a Passover Meal. The first three Gospels clearly describe it as such; but the Fourth Gospel declares that the crucifixion occurred on the “day of Preparation” (John 19. 31), and thus the Last Supper fell on the night before the Passover.
  2. For another thing, a true Passover Seder is a highly festive occasion, inappropriate during the Lenten fast.
  3. But most important, every aspect of the Jewish religion has been transformed for Christians by the death and resurrection of Christ. Even Maundy Thursday is not simply a historical reconstruction of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Although our attention on Maundy Thursday is fixed on the scene in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, nevertheless our primary act of worship on that day is a full Christian Eucharist, during which we proclaim, as we do throughout the year,

“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Thus, even on Maundy Thursday, Christians worship in the power of the resurrection. On the Passover, Jews remember their deliverance from Egypt, and thereafter from all the enemies of their historical existence. But Christians, in their worship, remember their deliverance from “the last enemies”, sin and death. We say “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” because we believe that Christ, through his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter, has brought the fulfilment of God’s promised deliverance. It is the death and resurrection of Christ, rather than the Last Supper, which most nearly correspond to the Exodus from Egypt; and thus the Great Vigil of Easter which most nearly corresponds to the Passover Seder of the Jews.

Christians who celebrate a Jewish Passover on Maundy Thursday are not truly respecting the integrity of Jewish Passover expectancy, for Christians believe that Jewish expectations have already been fulfilled in Christ. (Christians can truly worship only by expressing that conviction, as in the Eucharist. For them to participate in Jewish worship requires a degree of mental reservation: a temporary setting aside of their distinctive Christian identity. ) Also, they are failing to recognize that the fulfilment of those Jewish expectations in Christ is through the whole paschal mystery, through his death and resurrection, rather than in the Last Supper, which was a preliminary anticipation of that hope.

It is a right instinct to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection at this time of the year in a more intimate and familial way than usual. The holding of agape meals during Holy Week, especially on Maundy Thursday after the celebration of the Eucharist, is to be encouraged. But these meals should be simple, even austere, in keeping with Lenten fast. They should point forward to the great paschal fast, which begins after the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, is intensified on Good Friday, continues through Holy Saturday, and is concluded by the reception of Easter communion.

Part of the pressure for observing a Passover Seder may arise, even unconsciously, from our desire to experience transition or passage to a new life. Of course, it is the celebration of Holy Baptism within the Great Vigil, and the Lenten preparation for it, which constitutes for Christians our passage to new life, our “Exodus.” When Christian initiation is better understood, and its practice becomes a dramatic part of our celebration of the Easter mystery, the desire for a Christian observance of a Passover Seder may pass away.

http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/ENS/ENSpress_release.pl?pr_number=79055


[1] See Devils, Women, and Jews by Joan Young Gregg (Albany, NY:  State University of New York Press, 1997.  This book gives examples of medieval sermons in which evil is attributed by nature not only to the devil, but also to women and to Jews.

[2] We must remember, however, that such anti-Jewish preaching was by no means limited to the liturgies of Holy Week.  Anti-Judaism was fostered in devotional literature as well.

[3] It is important to note that the seder as we have come to know it probably does not follow the same ritual which Jesus and his disciples would have used.  The pattern now familiar to contemporary Jews did not appear until several centuries after the time of Christ.

[4] The text of the Statement from 1979 is being added as a supplement to this commentary.

[5] See the discussion of this question in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (eds. Levine & Brettler), NY:  Oxford University Press, 2011,

pp. 155-6.

Confronting Anti-Judaism in the Liturgy by Louis Weil

In the Spring of 2012, I placed an article on the BLOG of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in which I discussed a proposal for addressing a resolution of the 2009 General Convention which called upon the SCLM to prepare “materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.”  The SCLM asked that this project be extended into the new triennium (2013-’15).

As hoped, that extension was authorized by the 2012 General Convention.

A note was included with that first article which discussed the terms ‘anti-Judaism’ and ‘anti-Semitism’.  Since this first article and the note are still available on the SCLM BLOG, what was said there will not be repeated here.  We have now arrived at the time for this project to take form in offering to the Church commentary materials intended as a resource for clergy and laity who may be preaching in Holy Week this year (March 24-31), using the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the current Cycle C.  In other words, this commentary will focus on what are regarded as the most problematic texts linked to the sometimes unintended anti-Judaism which these texts have nourished in Christian liturgy.  In general, these are texts which have encouraged a supersessionist understanding of the Church as “the new Israel” — the new people of God in distinction to the Jews.

In its extreme forms, this supersessionist attitude renders Judaism as obsolete spiritually.  At the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church took a firm stand against this view, and numerous theologians and biblical scholars have likewise called for a much deeper reflection on the part of Christians in general on this important issue.  Yet anti-Judaism remains deeply entrenched among many Christians who consider themselves faithful to Jesus the Jew.  Increasingly it is seen that this painful issue requires confrontation.

Anti-Judaism was planted in both subtle as well as blatant ways for centuries as, for example, Christians learned the anti-Judaism taught from pulpits during the Middle Ages as well as from the time of the Reformation.  To some degree, all Christian traditions have been affected by the belief that was taught among Christians that the Jews are a people who have been rejected by God for their failure to accept Jesus as the expected Messiah.  This belief was reinforced generation upon generation as it was affirmed again and again by Church leaders.

Since this belief was often supported by what the people heard preached, may we hope that our liturgical preaching might be a means by which anti-Judaism may be confronted effectively in our own time?  With that hope, in early March a commentary will be placed on this BLOG dealing with the texts that are generally considered the most problematic.

That commentary, focused on Holy Week this year, will be followed in due course by other commentaries on texts which occur elsewhere during the course of the liturgical year.

Some Words about the Anti-Judaism Resolution

At the General Convention of 2009, it was resolved that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music be directed “to collect, develop and disseminate materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.”  It was further resolved that the Commission in union with the Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations should prepare “a statement defining anti-Judaism and why it demands our attention.”  [Resolution 2009-A089]  On several occasions during this triennium, the SCLM members have discussed how we might best fulfill this Resolution.  I had offered to chair this project because of my particular commitment to this subject.

From the occasion of our first meeting, I found myself with questions and doubts about how this work might be accomplished most effectively.  Although the 2009 Convention had suggested the preparation of a pamphlet as well as age-appropriate educational materials for children, I acknowledged my doubts about the long term effectiveness of such materials.  It is too easy for such materials, of a type often produced in the past by the national Church, simply to be pushed aside as new concerns and issues arise.

In our meeting late in 2011, the members of the SCLM supported my suggestion that the most appropriate place in which to focus our proposals on this important issue would be in the context of our public worship, and more specifically in the context of liturgical preaching on those occasions when the most problematic texts arise during the course of the liturgical year.  To accomplish this, we believe that commentary should be made available for our clergy as a resource for those times when the lectionary will call them to preach on what are seen as “the difficult texts.”  Many such resources already exist, but often written by Christian authors who are quite committed to this concern but for whom the normative context for preaching is not with reference to an authorized lectionary.

Given that we are now quite near the time of the next General Convention, we have asked that this Convention authorize the extension of this project into the coming triennium (2013—2015), and that during that period, as an aid to preaching on the texts generally viewed as central to this issue, the SCLM would make available in its BLOG, appropriate commentary which would, it is hoped, cast a stronger light upon these texts and aid our clergy in a common effort to address the problem of anti-Judaism in their preaching.

Many of the most difficult texts occur, not surprisingly, during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, and also during Eastertide.  It is our plan that appropriate commentary would be made available well in advance so that it could be used as a substantial resource in our liturgical preaching.

* * * * * * * * * *

A CONCLUDING NOTE:

ANTI-JUDAISM OR ANTI-SEMITISM

At the request of the SCLM, Professor Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski prepared a study document which he presented at a meeting of the Commission at its meeting in October 2010, in Concord, NH.  In this paper, Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski noted that the focus on this issue in the Episcopal Church has been on liturgical language, and that the more fundamental issue which needs to be addressed is our theology of covenant.  He comments that the concern must lie with anti-Judaism rather than anti-Semitism because the prejudice “is not aimed at a race but at religious and theological categories that denigrate Judaism.”

He notes further that liturgical language is the symptom “of the underlying theological problem of supersessionism and its expression in Christian life and thought.  Only once the problem of supersessionism has been addressed and resolved can the specific issue of liturgical language be fully remedied.”

With his permission, I wish to quote part of Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski’s essay.  He has summed up the issue which faces the church, and offers an excellent point of departure for the plan of the SCLM to offer commentary on the problematic passages in Scripture as they come up in the lectionary in the course of the liturgical year.

He writes, “Central to Christian anti-Judaism is a theological position that marginalizes Judaism as a lived expression of belief and culture rooted in an eternal covenant between the people of Israel and God. (See also his essay, “ ‘Moses Received the Torah at Sinai and Handed It On’ [Mishnah Avot 1:10]:  The Relevance of the Written and Oral Torah for Christians,” Anglican Theological Review 91:3 [2009]:  pp. 444-5.) Supersessionism  is commonly defined as the belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people.  Three core elements comprise supersessionist theology.  First is the understanding that Judaism is an obsolete, spiritually arid religion.  Second, the church has fulfilled the spiritual longings of Israel by entering into full relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ.  As a corollary, the historical people of the Israel of the Old Testament are no longer necessary for the implementation of God’s plan of salvation.  Third, since the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and were willing actors in the events leading to his crucifixion, God has ended the covenant with the historical people of Israel.  Evidence for the abrogation of the covenant by God is found in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. by the Romans and the subsequent expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel.”

Obviously all of these supersessionist ideas require intense reflection on the part of all Christians since often they have inherited such views, even in a subliminal way, through what they have heard from childhood in the anti-Jewish attitudes which are often  assimilated quite uncritically.

Growing up, as I did, as a Jewish kid in New Orleans, I experienced from the time I entered school the anti-Judaism which was bred into the bone of many of my classmates.  This became so serious that my parents decided to put me into a private school which had been founded early in the 20thcentury to offer a safe place for Jewish children to get an education.  The children who had persecuted me (and that is not too strong a word) all came from Christian families and had learned there, as one classmate said to me, that “you killed our Christ.”  Such anti-Judaism remains in American society, but it is our hope that in this project the Episcopal Church will confront its presence among our own members and begin to reclaim the important theological and spiritual ties which link our hope in God to that of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Louis Weil
Hodges-Haynes Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Member, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music
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