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Excuse Me?

Hands holding young olive tree (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Inspired by Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, in which the Apostle writes, “And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in,” (11:17 NLT), we would like to share our new column titled “Grafted INsights,” a series of Christian reflections from Fellowship friends. The first is by Fellowship CEO George Mamo.

“Excuse me” is something I hear a lot in Chicago. Sadly, I never hear it from the person who cuts in front of me at the train or the person who bumps into me on the sidewalk. More often than not, “Excuse me” is followed by a plea for money. Money to buy a train ticket, a meal, or a warm room for the night.

Today, the “excuse me” came from a short kid in a huge black hat. When I stopped and turned towards him, he added “Are you Jewish?”  That’s when I saw that he and the other “black hatters” were handing out Haggadahs (technically, Haggadot) — the book that sets forth the order of the Passover meal (the seder). Unlike Christian missionaries, who broadcast their invitation over megaphones to anyone who will listen, this young man and his friends were targeting only people who “looked Jewish” — people who should be preparing for Passover.

I smiled and said, “No I’m not” and continued my hustle from lunch to my next appointment — a call with one of our generous Fellowship supporters. As I walked away, I thought about what I should have said. (Do you ever do that?) I should have said, “I’m not Jewish halachically” (according to Jewish law). Then I should have said “But, I’ve been told many times I have a Jewish heart”. But I didn’t. I just hustled on. I shouldn’t have! Why didn’t I listen to my Jewish heart and turn around? Of all the weeks in 2019, this is the one where the Christian and Jewish calendars most overlap! 

You see, this week Jews and Christians are both preparing for important religious holidays; while at my house we’re realizing we have (again) waited too long to get a reservation for Easter brunch, my Jewish friends are finding new creative recipes for matzah and matzah flour. Why matzah recipes? For observant Jews, Passover is the time when their homes must be free of leaven. The Bible tells us that eating unleavened bread, “the bread of affliction,” (Deuteronomy 16:3) commemorates the bread the Israelites ate as they fled slavery in Egypt. At a deeper level — particularly in the Christian Bible — leaven also represents the corruption of sin. On Friday as Jews celebrate the Passover miracle, matzah (unleavened bread) reminds them of God’s miraculous deliverance. At the same time, many Christians will end the 40-day season of Lent, when we have removed the “leaven” in our lives by abstaining from bad habits or adopting new, good ones.

As Jews gather to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance, they will use a book like the one that black-hatted boy wanted to give to every Jewish passerby. They will read how their forbearers marked their homes with the blood of a lamb to signal the angel of death to pass over them. They will eat the bitter herb to remind them of the bitter days of slavery. They will remember the plagues, recite the story of deliverance, and after remembering each of God’s miracles, declare “dayenu!” — which means, “It would have been enough”.  

And this weekend, as Christian liturgy transitions from the sadness of Jesus’ death to the promise of his resurrection, many will read the Gospel account of the Last Supper – which was a Passover seder (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:16, Luke 22:8, John 13:1). We will read how Jesus blessed the wine and the bread and spoke of the covenant. For Christians, Jesus imbued the already ancient seder with new meaning. Those of us who appreciate and respect the Jewish roots of Christianity see a beautiful symmetry: Passover reminds Jews of God’s deliverance from slavery, Easter reminds Christians of our deliverance from sin.

For both Jew and Christian, this weekend is about God’s deliverance. Whether you gather at a Passover table or a Communion table, let us together remember God’s miracles in our own lives and declare, “DAYENU!”

Learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Tags: Grafted INsights

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