Passover begins with sundown this evening. I wish all my Jewish friends a very joyous season of grace and blessing. Sadly, I have to admit that anti-Semitism poisons our world even today. I grew up in a church that perniciously tolerated the charge that the Jews killed Jesus. My own parents spoke in a disparaging manner grounded in caricatures and bigotry. Freeing myself from such ignorance and prejudice will take a lifetime.
We have help and hope. Holy Week is a time of conversion and transformation. Perhaps a place to start is with the note left by John Paul II at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on March 12, 2000. It can be read as both a message to the Jewish people as well as a heartfelt prayer:
“We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.””
John Paul was also the first pope known to have made an official papal visit to a synagogue when he visited the Great Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986. There he spoke of the Jews as “our elder brothers.”
On November 17, 1980 the pope addressed the Jews of Berlin in a manner that certainly challenges the mindset of most Christians. In it, John Paul II asserted that God’s “Old Covenant” with the Jewish people was never revoked. He called on the Catholic Church to abandon its mission to proselytize the Jews. The “Old Covenant” is a valid, full and enduring source of salvation for the Jewish people.
Admittedly, this is hard for most of us to get our heads around. Many Christian denominations assert that baptism is a prerequisite of salvation. John Paul’s teaching challenges this attitude as deficient. If nothing else, Holy Week attests to a God who is faithful… a God who is bigger and better, whose love is more expansive and enduring than we can contain.
In grateful acknowledgement of a God who always takes the initiative with us, perhaps we Christians can join our “elder brothers and sisters” in praying the Kiddush opening the Passover Seder:
“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who chose us from all peoples and exalted us from all tongues, and sanctified us with His commandments. And You gave to us, Lord our God, with love appointed times for gladness, festivals and times for joy, the day of this festival of Matzah, the time of our freedom, a holy convocation, a memorial of the exodus from Egypt. For you chose us and sanctified us from all the nations and the festivals of your holiness in gladness and in joy you gave us a heritage. Blessed are You, Adonai, who sanctifies Israel and the seasons.”
Yes, Blessed are You, our God, God of all creation! All is yours and all creation gives you praise and thanksgiving for you are faithful. Free us once again from all that holds us in bondage and prevents us from being your Holy People. Blessed are you, our God, God of Covenant fidelity, God of all creation!