Arguments for Easter: Parallel paths that can run together: In the first of a series of articles for Holy Week, Rabbi Albert Friedlander analyses why Easter brings Christians and Jewish people closer together and at the same time drives them apart.

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The Independent Online
I BELIEVE in the presence of a Suffering God in this world. In the days between Passover and Easter, I find myself closer to Christians than at any other time - and I also find myself more remote from them. Both of us celebrate a festival which moves from degradation to exultation, from slavery to a celebration of rebirth. Both of us discover ourselves experiencing events which happened almost two millennia ago - in my case, I can even speak of three millennia.

We draw our inspiration from the Bible, a sacred text which has survived the intemperate attacks of secularists and the spurious scholarship of contemporary cynics. Our differing communities of believers have carried these texts through the centuries and these texts have shaped us even as we have shaped them through our commentaries, practices, and prayer-books.

A warm and golden glow fills our sanctuaries and our households, and even those whose faith is riddled with doubts and uncertainties are reluctant to abandon symbols and practices which they then redefine as aspects of our culture to which they are entitled. But Passover and Easter remain pathways which lead a suffering humanity towards a Suffering God.

The paths are parallel but not identical. And that is what tears us apart in this season of belief. When I sit down at the Seder table on the evening of Passover, I lift up my matzo, my unleavened bread, and the cup of wine which celebrates our freedom. I assert my belief - more, my certain knowledge - that these symbols proclaim God's entering into history and freeing not only a people but me, personally. I believe that God went alongside the people Israel, out of Egyptian slavery, and that God led us towards freedom.

The Haggada, the Passover Eve home prayerbook, contains one curious omission which many celebrants do not even notice: the name of Moses is not mentioned. Moses, the leader of the Exodus is not named, so that we should always be aware it was God who delivered the people, God who entered history: 'I am the Eternal One, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage' is the beginning of the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus. We experienced freedom with God who accompanied Israel through the desert, into the Promised Land. And we experienced pain and suffering with God who went into exile with Israel as the Shechinah, the indwelling Presence of God who weeps for the people and suffers with them.

My Christian friends have a similar experience, and enter into a Holy Week which re-enacts a Divine Passion for them in which they are drawn towards the Suffering God. But the events are described in terms of Jewish history, and the stars of Jerusalem hover over the Last Supper, which may well have been played out over a Seder Table. The very symbols I use at my table - the wafer of unleavened bread and the cup of wine - are given new interpretations within the Christian tradition. And suddenly we are in the midst of a confrontation.

I can and do respect the symbols of Christianity: but I feel pain and grief when they overlay my matzo and my cup of wine with strange interpretations which go far beyond the Gospel text. For some, the broken matzo of my feast becomes the broken body of the Jew of Nazareth, and the attempt to understand Divine suffering becomes a fanatical attack upon the Jews of then and now.

It is unbelievable what many Christians have done with the figure of one of the disciples: Judas. They think of Judas as the only Jew who was present on that occasion - and forget that everyone at that table was Jewish.

There are so many problems which emerge during this season. I want to see Christianity at its finest when it stands at the mountain top of its faith, exulting in the joy of Easter. I do not want to see its dark side, its striking out at its traditional scapegoats in a way which only reveals deep inner conflicts and flaws within Christianity. In the same way, I want to see Judaism at its best, spilling drops of wine from its cup of joy because our own joy is diminished when we look at the suffering of the Egyptians in the plagues and in the death which visits a community dominated by a stubborn ruler.

Passover is not a time of rejoicing over enemies: it is the sudden discovery of freedom which is constantly lost in the changes and chances of time. All too soon, the Promised Land is lost, the Temple is burned, and the Jewish people wander into exile (galut).

The fact that God accompanies us and thus suffers with us is not necessarily a consolation: but it brings us back to the belief that both traditions must understand the intertwining of humanity and God in the fields of

suffering.

Many years ago, at a world conference on religion in Los Angeles, I met a great Christian scholar, Raimundo Panikkar. We discussed our faith, and without rancour. Raimundo believed in what he called 'the imparative method' - a way of imparting knowledge and faith to others. Imparare - to learn from one another - is always possible. That is what should be happening between Jews and Christians at this time.

Trapped in the midst of the human imperfections which create war, poverty, and suffering, we understand enough about the nature of our enterprise to recognise that there is no solution independent of dialogue with our neighbours, that religions must live alongside other beliefs.

When we start upon such a conversation, during our Holy Weeks, we realise that beyond such a dialogue there exists a conversation between us and God, stormy and imperfect, anguished and joyful, which is ingrained within all human beings.

The Rev Marcus Braybrooke has written: 'My picture of God as suffering love has changed my attitude to war and peace and to penal policy, as well as purifying my understanding of prayer and giving me a terrifying sense of our human responsibilities for the future. The Shoah makes clear the evil consequences that flow from a false picture of God. The substitutes put in the place of the true God, legitimise greed, cruelty and destruction.' Precisely.

This Holy Week should not lead us into confrontation. Sharing its grief and joy, we should draw closer to each other, respect one another, and give that comfort to God which we expect to receive from God's divine

compassion.

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