Why don’t we educate our people to understand our Jewish roots?


Question & Answer

Q: By Rev. Margaret
Am I the only one out here who makes sure my people understand the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion service has its roots in the Passover story and that the words Jesus spoke would have been the motzi and the hagafen? I am part of a noncredal tradition so we don’t recite the Nicene creed anyway and we offer communion to everyone at every worship service, but why don’t we educate our people to understand our Jewish roots?
A: By Rev. Roger Wolsey
Dear Rev. Margaret,
I hear your desire for helping contemporary Christians to feel close connection to the historical Jesus and his early followers. That’s a beautiful inclination. Along these lines, because Jesus and the first disciples washed each other’s feet before the last supper, certain Christian denominations always involve foot-washing as part of how they conduct the sacrament of Holy Communion. And yet most denominations do not do that, though I’m always moved by these opportunities.

I’m not an advocate of Christians seeking to engage in Christian-led seder meals.  “The first reason is historical.   The Seder ritual, as it is practiced today, did not exist at the time of Jesus. It was only fully developed by the rabbis in the years following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., in other words, at least two generations after Jesus. Many assume that Jesus, at the Last Supper, conducted what we now know of as a traditional Passover Seder with the Pesakh (pascal) offering of the lamb, matza, bitter herbs, the telling of the tale of the Exodus from Egypt, and other rituals as found in the Jewish Passover Hagada. This is incorrect. To put it bluntly, Jesus certainly celebrated Passover, but neither he nor his disciples ever attended a Seder, any more than they drove a car or used a cell phone.”

Yet the reason that matters most is seeking to not be offensive to the overwhelming majority of our Jewish friends. Most Jews tend to experience gentile Christians “doing their own seders” as unwelcome cultural appropriation which tends to Christianize their sacred rituals and they experience it as outsiders “playing Jewish” and diminishing the Jewishness of a Jewish tradition. Moreover, the hamotzi prayer is used on a weekly basis by Jews as part of their weekly Shabbat rituals and many Jews feel that this “steals their thunder” – i.e., takes away the specialness of their weekly ritual which is integral to Jewish identity. See these 3 articles: Why Christians Shouldn’t Do Their Own Seder MealsSay No to Christian SedersChristians Shouldn’t Celebrate Seders

And, as the apostle Paul advised (with admitted loose exegesis and proof-texting), “If your brother/sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Romans 14:15 & 21) and “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block“ (1 Corinthians 8:8-9)

That said, it is massively important for gentile Christians to be reminded of the Jewishness of Jesus. Too many western Christians think Jesus was a fellow Christian (though I can posit a case that he was a Christian, in that he attained Christ consciousness and was seeking to help others to experience their own Christ consciousness – but that’s an esoteric, outlier perspective). Consider these resources: 1) “The Jew Named Jesus” by Rebekah Simon-Peter; and 2) “The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine.

Interestingly, I have previously argued that “in some ways progressive Christianity is a re-Judaizing of the faith. By this I mean, however, progressive Christianity embraces a fuller concept of salvation than what it’s been reduced to by evangelicalism (which is wedded to the American ethic of hyper-individualism). Instead of salvation as “believing X, Y, & Z in order to go to heaven when you die,” when Jesus was referring to salvation he was referring to the Hebraic concept of it – meaning “healing, wholeness, fullness, and well-being.” And not just for individual persons, but for the collective. Jewish salvation means well-being and healing of the nation(s), of the peoples. Progressive Christianity calls for a heightened emphasis upon the corporate and collective aspects of salvation which involves embracing the Jewish concept of tikkun olam– “world-repair” involving well-being for all beings which involves social justice and care for the planet.

Moreover, progressive Christianity embraces the Jewish practices, traditions, and perspectives of: reading the Bible as story; not considering it inerrant; not interpreting it literally; allowing for paradox; and embracing midrash – wrestling with the text and on-going reinterpretation of it. 

~ Rev. Roger Wolsey

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Roger Wolsey is a United Methodist pastor who resides in Grand Junction, CO. Roger is author of Kissing Fish: Christianity for people who don’t like Christianity and blogs for Patheos as The Holy Kiss and serves on the Board of Directors of ProgressiveChristianity.Org. Roger became “a Christian on purpose” during his college years and he experienced a call to ordained ministry two years after college. He values the Wesleyan approach to the faith and, as a certified spiritual director, he seeks to help others grow and mature. Roger enjoys yoga; playing trumpet; motorcycling; and camping with his son. He served as the Director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the University of Colorado in Boulder for 14 years, and has served as pastor of churches in Minnesota, Iowa, and currently serves as the pastor of Fruita UMC in Colorado, and also serves as the “CRM” (Congregational Resource Minister/Church Consultant) for the Utah/Western Colorado District of the Mountain Sky Conference.

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