Each of April’s devotions will focus on stories of Holy Week, the name Christians give to the last week of Jesus’ life on Earth.
One of my dear friends in high school was Shelly. We sang together in choir and ate lunch together in the cafeteria. Shelly was Jewish. One year, about this time of year, Shelly’s mom said to me, “Why don’t you come over to our house for Passover? You can eat the meal with us, and you and Shelly can have a sleepover afterward. I think you’d enjoy it and learn something, too.”
I was delighted. I knew of the Passover, of course, from the stories in what I called the Old Testament, what Shelly and her family called the Torah. I had never observed the Passover though, because, well, I wasn’t Jewish. When that Friday night came to go to Shelly’s house, I was curious and nervous and excited all at once.
A big table was set out in the dining room with enough seats for eight. Four in Shelly’s family, plus me, plus Shelly’s mom’s two coworkers made seven. Who else was coming, I asked? Shelly’s mom explained that it was tradition to make up an extra seat so there would be room for any unexpected guests. More than a decade later, I think about that extra chair and wonder how often I really make space for unexpected guests to arrive for worship.
Because it really was worship. It seemed sort of strange to me for worship to happen around a dining table in a home with a family and friends, but I learned that many of the Jewish festivals are family affairs. Worship happens at home as well as in a synagogue, I learned.
As we ate and drank in the patterns of the Passover, our meal would pause to hear a story from the Bible or sing a psalm. We ate parsley dipped in salt water to remind us of the tears shed in Egypt. We prayed for God’s blessings. Again and again, we were reminded of God’s faithfulness in delivering the people of Israel out of slavery into freedom. The meal ended with a prayer for God to come and reveal the Messiah. For a Christian, Jesus was and is the Messiah, but the Jews believe the Messiah has not yet come. That’s why every Passover ends with the hope for a Messiah.
Passover, or Pesach as it is also called, is different now than it was when Jesus was alive. Jesus and his disciples probably did not eat parsley dipped in salt water, but they would have eaten lamb, which was absent from Shelly’s family Passover. It’s also quite different from the Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper. When Christians gather around the table to eat the bread and drink the cup, we do so believing that Jesus, our Messiah, is already present with us, even in the bread and cup.
I am so grateful that I was invited to Shelly’s house for Passover. It was truly an invitation– Passover was not my festival to celebrate. It is a Jewish holiday, just as Holy Communion is a Christian observance. I wasn’t pretending to be Jewish; instead, I was learning and sharing in a tradition with neighbors who knew God differently than I did. It was a gift to me.
Holy Week is a good time to learn about our Jewish neighbors. Sometimes in the history of Christianity, Christians have harassed or hurt their Jewish neighbors during Holy Week in a misguided attempt to take revenge for the death of Jesus. This should not be. We can work to make peace by getting to understand Jewish traditions and getting to know Jewish people.
God of all people, thank you for revealing yourself in many ways to many people. Help me love and understand my neighbors, even those who see you differently, in Jesus’ name. Amen.