Friday, April 14, 2023


A minister and a rabbi walk into the pulpit…

If I added a priest there might be the beginning of a minister, priest, rabbi joke.  But - - no joke.  It may be a first for our small congregation for a Christian minister and  a Jewish Rabbi to share the pulpit on Sunday morning.  Long past overdue.

The pulpit sharing comes in response to the challenging words in this week’s gospel text, five little words in particular. The first verse of the Christian lectionary reads: "When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, the doors of the house where the disciples were staying were locked for fear of the Jews… (John 20:19 - 31)

Throughout the Lenten season, the preaching commitment has been to examine and tell the Christian story responsibly.  So words like “…for fear of the Jews” demand attention.  What was going on here?  The disciples in the locked room were all Jews.  There were no Christians in the room in this hyper-charged moment, there was no “church,” just a small group of Jewish  men who had had the adventure, the challenge, the inspiration and, eventually, the great sorrow that came with accompanying Jesus through his teaching and preaching and healing ministry.  We have to ask “what did this language mean?”

But those words cannot be considered by Christians alone.  They need to be considered in dialogue with Jews.  The tragic history that the presence of those words in our sacred texts unleashed is there in that locked room and, in a sense, keeps us confined in a narrow, locked space.

Carried beyond the context of the 1st century struggles for religious identity under Roman oppression, the gospel’s words would become “texts of terror” for later generations of Jews as the epithet “Christ killer” became useful in rallying crusades, expulsions, forced conversions, property theft, pogroms - eventuating in the horror of the holocaust and in the up-tick of anti-semitism we are witnessing in the world today.  It is hard to come to terms with the shadow side of our own scriptures, but the words are there and cannot be denied.

Relationships between Jews and Christians are still burdened by fear and suspicion, by guilt and lack of understanding.  The terrible consequences of portions of our own scriptures are still waiting to be healed.

So - - a minister and a rabbi walk into the pulpit to have a conversation together about the texts in our traditions that wound.  We will talk about how Jews have heard these words “for fear of the Jews” from the gospel over the centuries, about the pain of being scapegoated and persecuted for over 2000 years as perpetrators of sins against Christianity.  We will talk about texts that have been used and are used to condemn and discriminate against LGBTQ+ human beings.  We will talk about human willingness to adhere to a vengeful god and the willingness to ignore the high calling to holiness, to love the Holy with all our heart and soul and strength, to practice hospitality toward the stranger, generosity toward those who are poor, compassion toward those who suffer.

Jews and Christians hold these high values in common.  Those values were present too, in that locked room, although the fear described in such a way -  - “for fear of the Jews” - - became a dominating force as history unfolded.

But there was another message - - The Presence of Wholeness and Healing entered the room offering peace, offering the breath of inspiration and power and holiness, offering the power and possibility of forgiveness as the small band moved forward.

Our ancient texts are like a vast ocean on which the competing waves of fear and peace undulate.  In the scriptures familiar to Jesus and his disciples, the central metaphor is the story of the movement of Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  Modern Jewish families around the world celebrated and remembered this story in their Pesach seders during the week Christians call Holy.  The Hebrew word  for Egypt is “mitzrayim” - - it carries the meaning of a narrow or constricted place.  Through the prophetic voice of Moses, Israel heard God’s call to emerge - - to come out of mitzrayim - - the slavery that limited and constricted them in every way.   It was a terrifying journey, fraught with thirst and hunger and a good amount of complaining, but they did it!

The metaphor of mitzrayim is in our spiritual DNA. We tend to constrict or contract in the face of the unknown and the unfamiliar.

But Holiness desires for us a life of freedom from fear and constriction and narrowness of being.The faith stories of Lent and the Passover season contain themes of transformation and renewal, of emerging from the narrow spaces that constrict us, keep us from being whole and vibrant and free and reconciled with one another.  

So - - a rabbi and a minister will walk into the pulpit.* It will be a spacious place. There will be no locked door.  There may be discomfort, but there will be no fear.  There will be lovingkindness and trust. There will be listening and hearing. There will be compassionate  and generous recognition of what binds us together as people of the Holy One.  There will be movement out of the narrowness that constricts as we take a few more steps toward understanding and healing.

Vicky Hanjian

*Rabbi Caryn Broitman and Rev. Cathlin Baker


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