New Friends, Old Story

Saturday night my wife, daughter, and I attended a community seder meal at B'nai Yehuda Beth Sholom. It has been a long time desire for us to take part in this incredible tradition that celebrates the Passover story found in Exodus 12. However, we found out that it is much more. Our wild card in this whole thing was bringing our four-year-old who tends to speak whatever comes to mind and we have given her a pretty rich Jesus-centered understanding of who we are and what we believe. We wanted her to know there were differences between us and the people we were about to (in her words) "have church with" but that it wasn't any reason to think differently of them or less of them.

I should have known that since food was involved she would become completely distracted. That kid can put away some matzah.

We entered the room and found ourselves surrounded by people at least 20 years our senior. It makes sense - Passover is typically a family affair and most of these folks had children who had grown up and moved away and were celebrating with their own families. It was a community within a community, celebrating in a way that they had been handed from the previous generations all the way back to their initial family origin. In the cases of those we talked with, they could tell you exactly where they came from - Poland, Israel, Germany, and Czechoslovakia - showing that this was not simply a religious event but a personal, family tie to history.

And we prayed.

I had somehow drawn the chair with the book assigned with a post-it to LEAD the opening prayer, and it was obvious that I was one of the only Gentiles in the room but that was of no matter to those around us.  We prayed that God would remind us of the story of when His people cried out and He freed them through Moshe to run to the Promised Land. Our table mates were helpful, keeping me from acting like a Gentile and helping us understand why they said/did each part of the Haggadah. Such brilliant rhythm, and yet it was a completely free-flowing family affair, with questions and laughter when we butchered the Hebrew in unison. Anyone expecting a formal, pomp-and-circumstance event would have been either pleasantly surprised or sorely disappointed.

We poured wine.

We mourned the Holocaust.

We ate parsley dipped in salt water representing the tears of suffering throughout the generations of Jews.

We symbolically mourned the hunger and injustice throughout the world but praised the God of the Exodus who brings injustice to cease.

Then we ate. Fish and matzah soup, turkey and kugel, broccoli and salad.

The room sang with hospitality and we talked of our traditions, Christian and Jewish, and as much as they explained to me I was able to explain to them. We held out hope together in bread and wine, which felt incredibly right for both faiths, and though we had to leave early (3 hours of seder is about all a kid can really take) I believe I actually felt them pray "Next year in Jerusalem!" as they prayed with expectation for the Messiah to come and restore Israel.

Then, I awoke Sunday morning to proclaim with our folks at Parkview that their prayer had already been answered in the Crucified One, the resurrected Messiah Jesus.

Now, with the taste of matzah kugel still lingering along with the sounds of the Hallel sung by brilliant, compassionate, and deeply rooted Jews, I bring my own hope to the forefront:

May the God of the Exoduses - that which brought Israel out of slavery through Moses and that which once and for all set us free through Jesus - unite us all together in Him, next year in the Kingdom of God restored.