Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why This Seder?

Tomorrow, Christians around the world observe one of the tradition's holiest days.  We call it "Maundy Thursday" or "Holy Thursday"--traditionally remembered as the day Jesus shared a 'last' supper with his disciples and friends.  The "MAUNDY" derives from the Latin word "mandare"--meaning to command.  Traditionally, we remember Jesus' commandment that we love one another in all the ways he loved. 

Strangely, our congregation will spend the evening remembering not Jesus' supper, but the Passover of his people, their dramatic and divinely inspired journey out of Egypt and into a precarious and vulnerable freedom.  We're deliberately leaving Jesus 'out' of this particular Seder--because it's a particularly Jewish event. 

We recognize that Jesus' final days were shaped by his own observance of the Passover.  He too was devoted to the Liberating God, the One who called Moses to act up and announce his people's freedom to Pharaoh.  His faith was steeped in the language of that freedom and the songs of Israelites on the move; and he practiced with his friends the radical traditions of equity and faithfulness Israel learned in the desert.  But the Passover tradition stands on its own: as an inspired witness to the graciousness of God and God's particular passion for freedom from oppression and narrowness.  Jesus honored it; he didn't dismantle it.

So we're interested in honoring that great tradition and its generative role in contemporary Judaism.  And we're interested in making honest connections between our Jewish friends' faith and our own yearning for justice and freedom.  Always, always, always, we're looking for common ground--and the promise of collaboration and solidarity. 

Tomorrow night then, at Peace United Church, we'll gather with our friend, Rabbi Eli Cohen, and others from Chadeish Yameinu (the Jewish Renewal Community in Santa Cruz).  We'll enjoy Rabbi Eli's own delight and cherish his stories.  And we'll follow with him a 'haggadah' which his own community (Chadeish Yameinu) prepared for its Seder celebrations each spring.  (Seder, by the way, means quite simply 'order.'  It's an orderly presentation of the story, in such a way that participants enter into its themes and traditions.)

The Bible is a text of many traditions.  Its complexity is obvious, really, a conversation unfolding over centuries and generations.  A vigorous consideration, sometimes, of competing traditions.  There are rigidly orthodox traditions in its pages.  There are also liberating traditions in its pages.  There are traditions comfortable with empire and the consolidation of power; and there are traditions advocating the jubilee and the redistribution of wealth and power.  I believe that Jesus consciously chose the tradition of the Hebrew prophets as his own faith tradition, as his own way in the world.  He found in that tradition a mystical heart, a gracious spirit, a forgiving mandate; and he found there a relentless critique of organized power and a passion for the powerless and poor.

Rabbi Eli's Seder brings to us that prophetic tradition, a thoroughly Jewish tradition rooted in a story that sings with passion, freedom, grace and hope.  I hope many will join us for an important reminder of who we are, the One who calls us forward, and the responsibilities we share.