Reverend Susan Auchincloss preaches a sermon on John 20:19 by focusing on the phrase, “the doors were locked in fear of the Jews”. Reverend Auchincloss narrows in on the polemic language of this phrase and offers concrete suggestions on how to affirm Christianity without faulting Judaism.
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John 18:1 – 19:37
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 / Psalm 22: – 21 / Hebrews 10:1 – 25
By The Very Reverend William H. Petersen
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
For the third year in a row I am grateful to find myself once more in worship with you on this most solemn day and yet again as your preacher. The prayer with which I have invoked the Spirit upon us is exactly the same one with which I concluded last year’s Good Friday sermon. It is a contemporary collect composed by Charles Henry Brent, sometime bishop of Rochester and frequenter of this very pulpit. The prayer itself is found in the BCP at the end of Morning Prayer and serves as the set collect for mission on Fridays throughout the year. It is, therefore, an apt one not only for this place but for Good Friday itself.
But more than these considerations, the prayer’s interrelated double focus is of great aid in keeping our eyes appropriately fixed on this middle day, as the poet says, of those “three holy days” that “enfold us now,” the Triduum from Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday, to the Great Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter. But what exactly are those foci as the collect sets them forth? First in any consideration is, of course, the crucifixion; second, our vision simultaneously is encouraged to take in the whole human family.
The primary focus is obvious, but it is wonderfully transformed by Brent’s spirituality. Taken alone, the crucifixion of Jesus on this day could simply be an annual occasion of attending to the grim reality of horrible execution so often depicted in tableaux from “religious art” to cinematic mistakes such as Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” that glorify suffering as such. Good Friday is not about “redemptive suffering”! It is, rather, about “suffering redeemed.” And this is the principal burden of Brent’s prayer as counter to the mis-take. To be sure, the grim reality is there in the phrase “the hard wood of the cross,” but the crucifixion is transformatively qualified as Jesus is addressed as one who “stretched forth your arms in love” on that cross “that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…”
So, then, if our primary focus this day is on the cross, it is by this very prayer also, secondarily, upon the entirety of the human race, past, present, and to come. And the focus is without qualification. Note that it says “everyone,” that is, the whole human family, not just Christians, not just members of a particular ethnic group or citizens of a particular nation, not just kith and kin, but the whole human family – again, without qualification of any such distinctions. This is precisely why our intercessory prayers in the Proper Liturgy of Good Friday are centered upon intercession for the whole human family with great attention to detail.
So, then, here are the leading motifs of our worship on this middle day of the Triduum’s continuous liturgy. Jesus’ crucifixion and the whole human family related to each other as “what” is related to “why.” Yet even so, if these twin foci are not kept clearly before us a problem of immense proportions and, historically considered, tragic results can arise out of this solemn day. This problem, of course, is how we are to hear, take in, and respond to the Passion of the Christ as it is set forth in the Johannine Gospel, the rehearsal that forms so large an element in today’s observance. The potential problem that has manifested itself so often in subsequent history has to do with assessing the cause and the consequence, the brutality and the blame focused in Good Friday as an event central to Christianity.
Even in the face of contemporary secularization, the lingering effects and reappearances of twisted interpretations of the Cross and Christianity make themselves horribly manifest. Our own Holy Week, correspondent with the celebration of the Passover, began this year with the tragic events at the Jewish Centers in Kansas City, in the very heartland of our country. More than that, today’s newspaper headlines screamed “Pogrom” or a prelude to something very like it in eastern Ukraine as Jews leaving synagogue celebrations were handed leaflets reminiscent of the seizure of their property and mass murder under Nazi despotism. We must be ever-mindful, even as we are caught off-guard by such events as these and those of our own immediate time, of how near the surface lingers such terrible misreading of the Gospel. More than this we must be ever ready not only to denounce such events, but actively to counteract them before they occur by setting forth such a culture as is found in our Baptismal Covenant as it calls us not only to serve all persons in Christ, but to respect the dignity of every human being.
Several years ago a large parish in another diocese held a three Sunday symposium in service of promoting better understanding among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In that context, I had the dubious honor of representing the entirety of Christianity as one of three panelists: an elderly Jewish man steeped in the tradition and practice of his religion, a young Muslim woman who was also a medical doctor, and myself, the ordained historian. In the midst of a conversation that was at once polite but profound, civil yet controversial, frank and far-reaching, an inspiration occurred to me on the basis of a pointed question about terrorism asked by a Christian member of the large group assembled in that forum. I said in response, “If your religion tells you it is permissible to murder anyone, whether in word or deed, actually or metaphorically, then one of two things is true: either you’ve got the wrong religion, or you’ve got your religion wrong.” My fellow panelists, Jew and Muslim, concurred with this as we all affirmed that in the latter case, that is, if such things are permissible or encouraged “you’ve got your religion wrong.”
This maxim applied to us Christians, and especially on his day-of-days, comes down to only one result if we consider the question of Good Friday’s cause and consequence, of its brutality and blame. And that conclusion is nowhere so aptly summed up and set forth as in the second verse of the hymn “Ah, holy Jesus” that we sang in preface today to the rehearsal of the Johannine Passion:
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee.”
With that stark and unqualified confession the context for rehearsing the Passion is set and the conclusion as to cause and consequence can be laid upon none other. We have met the enemy, and it is us!
Yet while there is a certain human solidarity in sin that may be perceived in all this, even that is not the central message of Good Friday. It is, rather, the forgiveness to be found in the foci of this day that we find the crucial turning point. We are called out of sin and separation, lifted up out of death and destruction to see the one crucified on the hard wood of the cross extending arms of love to embrace the whole human family. The only question left, then is “What is the middle term that connects this double focus of Brent’s prayer into a single vision?”
We are that middle term! We have invoked the Holy Spirit of the Living God upon us. We have petitioned to be so clothed in that Spirit that we uniting ourselves with Christ may stretch forth our hands in love to the whole human family as it is desperately in need of renewal and reconciliation. If “the whole human family” seems to large a thing, it is well to remember that this great family is met each day among those with whom we live and in the communities that shape our being and form the context of our lives. When this connection is made and its conditions met, then the picture of this Friday is complete and we may confidently, that is, with faith, call it Good….looking forward, then, to that resurrection which will accomplish the Triduum and call us to participation in the risen life.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
By: Sister Maureena Fritz
A strategic theological evolution occurred at the Second Vatican Council with its publication of Nostra Aetate (1965). Prof John Palikowski wrote:
Nostra Aetate … represents one of the most decided shifts in Catholic thinking emerging from the Council. […] In making their argument for a total reversal in Catholic thinking on Jews and Judaism, the bishops of the Council bypassed almost all the teachings about Jews and Judaism in Christian thought prior to Vatican II.
The following two sets of images illustrate this “total reversal” in Catholic thinking
The Former teaching is represented in these two statues, one of the Church and the one of the Synagogue, which stand at the double portal of the south entrance to the cathedral at Strasbourg (around 1230). Both figures are of noble character but the Church has supplanted the Synagogue. The Church is depicted as triumphant with crown and imperial robe on her shoulders, with staff and chalice in her hands, symbolizing her divine authority. She looks ahead to the new age. The Synagogue is an event of the past. She is defeated, her staff broken more than once, the Torah is slipping from her hands, a veil is covering her eyes and her head is bowed.
According to this teaching the synagogue did not recognize her messiah when he came and killed him. Because of its blindness the Church has superseded the synagogue as the new Israel.
The New Teaching: Figure 2 that follows, represents the new teaching of the relationship of the Church and the Jewish people. In this image the two figures represent the Church and the Synagogue as partners in God’s design. Both stand tall as representatives of their communities. One is not superior to the other. The relationship expresses the words spoken by Pope John Paul II on November 17, 1980 and repeated in Notes, 1985, No. I.3: God’s covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked.
This Copernican revolution in ecclesial thinking affects the way we read and interpret the gospel narratives.
The Passion Narratives
Let us recall:
1. That the time in which Jesus and his disciples lived was an oral society. Widespread knowledge of the Torah was gained by people hearing the Torah read to them rather than by reading it themselves.
Likewise, traditions about Jesus were carried orally rather than through written texts. The editors of the gospels knew these stories and used them as they wrote their gospel but it wasn’t a neutral writing. The gospels reflect the point of view of the editor and the needs of the church for which they were written. They give us not only a portrait of Jesus but some understanding of the communities who gathered in his name. The conflict expressed in the gospels between Jesus and the Jews is more a reflection of the conflict that occurred between the young church and the synagogue at the time each Gospel was written. According to Church teaching:
“The Gospels are the outcome of long and complicated editorial work…The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explicating some things in view of the situation of the Churches, and preserving the form of proclamation. Hence it cannot be ruled out that some references hostile or less than favorable to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community. Certain controversies reflect Christian-Jewish-relations long after the time of Jesus. To establish this is of capital importance if we wish to bring out the meaning of certain Gospel texts for the Christians of today” (1985 Notes IV.IA).
2. The four gospels were compiled at different times, one to two generations after the death of Jesus and the death of all those who knew him personally. The approximate dates at the beginning of the Common Era (CE/AD) for the final redaction of each of the gospels is as follows: Mark—72; Matthew—85; Luke—94; John—100. The place of composition is disputed but a general consensus is: Mark in Rome, Matthew in Antioch, Luke in Greece and John in Ephesus. Mark is considered to be the first Gospel written. Matthew and Luke, though different in many ways, repeat much of the same material in Mark. Hence these three gospels are called the synoptic gospels meaning they can be set out in parallel and looked at together, synoptically, “seen together”. The Gospel according to John is of a very different genre.
3. An accepted method of writing was for an author to give prestige to his work by attributing it to a well-known personality. The Zohar, a 13th century Jewish mystical work by Moses de Leon was attributed to Simeon ben Yohai who lived in the second century. John in his Gospel felt free to attribute to Jesus words and sentiments that Jesus himself probably never uttered while on earth
4) A place name could be used to indicate who the person was. Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah by putting his birth in Bethlehem, for Bethlehem was said to be the birthplace of the Messiah (John 7.41-42). While it is a theological statement it may not be an historical fact!
5) Before the Passion, Jesus is the beloved of the Jewish people. People flock to him to hear him, to touch him, to be healed. Crowds follow him wherever he went. When he arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, he is joyfully welcomed as a hero. In his first two or three days in Jerusalem large crowds come to hear him. His popularity with the people prevents the priestly authorities from immediately capturing him.
Hence, in order to find the authentic Jesus within the Gospels one has to distinguish between what Jesus could have said and done from that which comes from the theological stance of the author and the purpose for which the gospel was written and the audience for which it was addressed. The writers and their method of writing create a mystery where real history lurks and the authentic Jesus can be found. But reading them requires detective work.
Examining the Passion Narrative in John 18.1-19.42.
Let us begin by noticing some of the differences between John’s account of the Passion and that of the Synoptics:
1. The Last Supper
All four gospels tell of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. Matthew, Mark and Luke present the Last Supper of Jesus as a Passover meal. The day is spent in preparing for it. After sunset at the start of 15 Nisan, they are all gathered together to celebrate what has come to be known at the Seder meal, which recalls the Exodus from Egypt. During the meal, in the ritual surrounding the eating of the unleavened bread and drinking of wine, Jesus is said to have used words, later understood as the institution of the Eucharist. At some stage Judas leaves and the group completes the ceremony by singing a hymn, probably the last of the Halleluiah psalms (113-18).
A crucial difference of 24 hours exists between John’s account and that of the synoptic writers. The last supper for John is not a Passover meal. It takes place before the feast of Passover, probably the eve of the 14 of Nisan. In his account there is no mention of the institution of the Eucharist. John puts words into the mouth of Jesus that Jesus probably never uttered (see number 3 above). These are long speeches on love of neighbor, on Jesus as the way to the Father, on the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ humility in washing the disciples’ feet (John 13-17).
2. The Trial of Jesus: There is no Jewish trial in John. There are no Jewish witnesses, no Jewish judges pronounce sentence against Jesus. In John, Jesus was taken to, and interrogated by Annas, who then sent him to Caiaphas, and Caiaphas in turn sent him to Pilate. The only tribunal before which Jesus appeared was that of the Roman governor of Judaea. The arrest and the questioning took place the day before Passover.
In the Synoptics, the Sanhedrin (the ancient Jewish court system) under the power of Caiaphas tries Jesus. The Synoptic version of the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin and on Passover night (in the morning of Passover according to Luke) is most unlikely. Jewish law forbad such proceedings on a holy day of obligation: “Trials involving the death penalty may not be held on the even of Sabbath or on the eve of a feast day” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4.1).
Because of these differences the passion narratives cannot be read as literally true. They are a mystery where real history lurks and the authentic Jesus can be found.
John’s Gospel and the Jews
Though many facts in the Gospel according to John seem to be true (e.g., the timing of the Last Supper and the trial by Rome and Roman appointees) this Gospel has been a source of Jew hatred. The word “Jews” throughout John’s Gospel, 21 times throughout the Passion narrative, is mostly used in a negative manner, for example:
If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews (18.36);
After he had said this, he (Pilate) went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him…” (18.38); They (the Jews) shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (18.40);
Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews (19.38).
From what we have said above, John’s references to “Jews” reflects not the time of Jesus’ sojourn on earth but the tension that existed in the young Church between the Jewish followers of Jesus and the large influx of gentile followers of Jesus. Jesus himself was a Jew and remained a beloved member of his own race.
A Suggested Stance during these Holy Days
As we participate in our liturgical celebrations of Holy week, especially on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, let us remember the 3 R’s: Recall, Remember, Redeem:
1. Remember that we honor Jesus when we honor his people. We honor his people when we remember that God’s covenant with them is everlasting.
2. We Redeem Jesus’ name through our unconditional acceptance of the “other”. We all have slivers of truth and only see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13.12).
3. Recall that Jesus is alive. When the disciples sat at their Seder table the day after Jesus’ death, Jesus was not physically present yet, it can be said, they sensed his presence among them (multiple accounts exist of people sensing the presence of their loved ones after death). Kierkegaard summed up what for him was the essence of Christianity—to become “contemporaneous with Christ—to become contemporary with him.”
No, Jesus’ presence here on earth never becomes a bygone event, and never becomes more and more bygone—so long as there is a believer, such a one must, in order to become such, have been, and as a believer must continue to be, just as contemporary with his presence on earth as were those first contemporaries.”
 John T. Pawlikowski, “The Search for a New Paradigm for the Christian-Jewish Relationship: A Response to Michael Signer”, 25-48 in John T. Pawlikowski & Hayim Goren Perelmuter (eds.),
Reinterpreting Revelation and Tradition: Jews and Christians in Conversation (Franklin: Sheed &Ward, 2000), 25.
 Sculpture by Paula Mary Turnball
 Ecclesial Documents: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, par. 4, 1965 (referred to as, Nostra Aetate); Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing Nostra Aetate, No. 4, 1975 (referred to as, Guidelines, 1975); Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church, 1985 (Referred to as, Notes, 1985).
 Noes, 1985, No. III.20-21
 Soren Kierkegaard, trans., W. Lowrie, Training in Christianity. Vintage Spiritual Classics (no date given). .
By: Reverend John Pawlikowski
Isaiah 52: 13 – 15:12 / Hebrews 4:14 -16 5:7-9 / John 18:1-19, 42
Today’s liturgy confronts us in a special way as Christian believers with the reality of the cross. Death, desolation, separation, exile, sin are all part of that reality as we learn from the readings, the music and the prevailing mood of the day.
The church calls us to strip ourselves bare for a moment, to shed the ordinary masks that so often hide the continuing presence of sin in our lives and deflect us from genuine encounter with forces of death and destruction around us. Yet a note of hope and triumph remain for us. While darkness abounds, it is not ultimately the dominate reality.
The reality that stands starkly before us on Good Friday in a way it does on no other day of the liturgical year is in the end only a rite of passage like death. This is the certainty of our Christian faith born out of the incarnation and resurrection. As difficult, as challenging as the Good Friday liturgy with its focus on the cross can be for sensitive Christians who participate in it with full intensity, in the end it strikes a positive chord.
No so, my brothers and sisters, with some others who likewise share in our covenant faith. I speak of the Jewish community. For many of them the cross has become a symbol of alienation.
Father Edward Flannery, one of the American Catholic pioneers in Christian-Jewish reconciliation, describes this sense of Jewish apprehension in the introduction to his classic book on anti-Semitism, The Anguish of the Jews. The genesis of the volume, he tells us, goes back to an experience he had in the streets fo New York on Christmas season while in the company of Jewish friends. They chanced upon a skyscraper with a huge illuminated cross upon it. Glancing over her shoulder, one of his friends, ordinarily well-disposed towards Christians, suddenly declared: “That cross makes me shudder. It is like an evil presence.” Flannery was profoundly moved by her spontaneous reaction. He was forced to ask himself, as he says, “How did the cross, the supreme symbol of universal love, become a sign of fear, of evil for this young Jewess?”
Father Flannery’s question is one we need to reflect on in a special way ourselves this Good Friday. Recent Catholic teachings, including strong statements from Pope John Paul II, have challenged every Catholic to reexamine how Jesus’ profoundly Jewish doctrine of love and fundamental human respect to which he remained unalterably committed – even to the ultimate sacrifice of his life which we commemorate in this liturgy – became perverted into what has been call the “teacher of contempt.” As a result of this Christian anti-Semitic teaching, millions of Jews were persecuted and even put to death at the hands of baptized people. It is a legacy we must painfully acknowledge as a Christian community.
Pop John Paul II, in a 1982 address at the Vatican, urged us to put aside this legacy of “misunderstandings, errors and insults” towards the Jewish community. There is need, he insisted, for us to overcome the past through a new emphasis on understanding, peace and mutual esteem. “The terrible persecutions suffered by the Jews in various periods of history,” he said, “have finally opened many eyes and disturbed many hearts. Thus Christians are on the right path, that of justice and brotherhood, when they seek, with respect and perseverance, to gather with their Semitic brethren around the common heritage which is a treasure to us all.”
What better time for each of us to begin this conversation, this reconciliation, than in this time of Passover from darkness to light! This is a process that must involve each one of us. It is a task not only for the church’s leadership and teachers. Christians everywhere must begin to see the cross of Good Friday as a mark of deep bonding between themselves and the Jewish people rather than as a sword of division as we have for so long a time.
This is not impossible. The prominent Lutheran theologian, Franklin Sherman, calls us to the reality of the cross as the symbol of an agonizing God. He says, “It is tragic that this symbol should have become a symbol of division between Jews and Christians, for the reality to which it points is a Jewish reality as well, the reality of suffering and martyrdom.”
John’s account of the passion which we have heard today must be integrated into the history of Jewish suffering and martyrdom. What brought Jesus to his passion and death were traditional Jewish biblical values, strongly espoused by the prophets, which were being given new force and meaning at that time by the Pharisees with whom, as the Vatican Notes on Judaism tells us, Jesus shared so much in common. So often in the Lenten season and especially during this sacred week, Christians have asked themselves who put Jesus to death. And so often they have wrongly and tragically answered, “the Jews. Even the author of the gospel just read answered this way.” Though many may have gone on to add that the Romans were responsible as well, the Jewish community of the period were still considered the concrete historical agents of his death.
My friends, that can no longer be our main question. It must be replaced with the question, “What crucified Jesus?” What crucified Jesus was domination, tyranny, power and disregard for life. Such domination, such disregard for life was always opposed by the Jewish tradition. For example, in Jesus’ time, it was the tyranny of the Romans who were in the league with certain corrupt elements of the Jewish high priestly class. These collaborating priests were despised by most of the Jews of the time. Jesus’ stance was unique in a number of crucial areas of religious teaching, but his criticism of the spiritual/political leadership of his time was shared by many of his Jewish brothers and sisters. It was the criticism which brought him to death on Calvary.
Imagine again what happened. See a picture in which Jesus stands not as an isolated prophet over against the entirety of the Jewish community of the time, but as a person within the progressive movements in Judaism. Along with the Pharisees he put himself against the Roman authorities and that small group of collaborationist Jews associated with them. The passion narrative of John, more than any of the others, makes the point quite strongly that the Romans rather than the Jews arrested Jesus, conducted his decisive trial and sentenced him to die for actions they considered “political crimes.” These were actions Jesus saw as fundamental to love and human dignity at the center of Jewish Torah – and this he never repudiated. Until we recaptured his authentic spirit of Good Friday, our yearly commemoration of it will retain the potential for anti-Semitism.
This legacy of anti-Semitism, flowing from a false theology of the cross, has been a sword striking deeply against Jews. It has struck the Christian church as well. For it has tended to cut us off from a profoundly enriching source of Jesus’ own spirituality – his Jewish roots. May those roots begin to grow in us again this Good Friday as we reflect on the martyrdom of our Jewish brother Jesus – and on the martyrdom of Jewish people throughout history.
Theologian Kendall Soulen points out that because Christianity is concerned with the God of the Hebrew Bible and because Jesus was a faithful Jew, ‘the question has never been whether Christians should speak and act with reference to the Jewish people. Rather the question has been how they should do so, and how what they would say and do would affect the existence of the Jewish people.’1
A Rabbi friend when first confronted with the passage in John’s Gospel, ‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews,’2 reflected ‘How ironic, as for most of the last 2,000 years it has been Jews who have been hiding behind locked doors for fear of Christians’. The truth of Christian – Jewish relations for much of the church’s life has been a story of oppression and violence inflicted by Christians upon Jews. This violence was located within the very self -understanding of Christians in relation to their Jewish neighbours. It was built upon a theology of supersessionism that saw Christianity as having displaced the Jewish people in their covenant with God. This interpretation of Christianity is still widely preached in our churches.
Soulen outlines three types of supersessionism that have dominated the church’s theology – punitive, economic and structural.3 The first argues that the Jewish people rejected Jesus and are therefore being punished for this rejection, God has abrogated the covenant made with the Jewish people and has replaced Israel with the ‘New Israel’ of the Church, the Jews became a wandering people who in their homelessness witnessed to the consequences of disobedience to God. In the second version sometimes aligned to the first but not always, Israel is merely the preparation for the coming of Christ. Israel’s relationship with God based on ‘worldly’ limitations such as a specific people, land and way of life is replaced by a ‘superior’ more ‘universal and spiritual’ salvation brought in Christ. Finally, structural supersessionism is perhaps the most deeply ingrained in the Christian consciousness – it is the way we often read the biblical story in prayers, liturgy, lectionaries and preaching. Soulen calls it the Standard Canonical Narrative – a story in four movements -The creation, the fall, Christ’s redemption and the future consummation. All other characters and events of the diverse and complex biblical narrative are co-opted (or ignored) to fit this overarching narrative.
All these ways of reading our relationship with the Jewish people represent attempts to assert the superiority of Christianity. We tend to see the church as growing out of a moribund and degenerate second temple Judaism. The truth was quite different4. The Jesus movement was one of a number of movements associated with the diversity of Judaism in the 1st century of the Common Era (CE) – a pluralistic tradition that sought to survive and continue to stay true to the God of the covenant under the heel of a vicious Roman occupation of their land. Following the destruction of the temple in 70 CE and the later failed Jewish revolts it was the quietist siblings of the Jesus Movement and the embryonic Rabbis that survived the further brutal oppression of empire. In the events that followed these two movements developed different trajectories: the Rabbinical movement resourced the Jewish people – renewing the tradition after temple destruction and led to the Judaism we have today. On the other hand the Jesus Movement increasingly orientated itself as a missionary movement taking the God of Israel into the gentile world and became the Church. Where the two movements met there was theological conflict and the echoes of this often acrimonious intra Jewish debate can be heard in the gospels and the epistles. But when these largely Jewish texts became the Scripture of an exclusively gentile movement the nature of the conflict changed. An eventually powerful gentile church, allied to empire, sought to shame or destroy its weaker sibling and supersessionism became the theological rationale for the dismissal of the Jewish people and the preaching of contempt the norm. It was this continual message of contempt in varying degrees, with very few exceptions that filled the preaching of the early church fathers, the medieval church, the reformers, the 19th century liberal Protestants and their later neo-orthodox detractors alike. This contributed to the rise of Nazi ideology in a culturally Christian Germany and the murder of 6 million Jews. So deeply rooted was the theology of supersessionism that the church stood by at best and joined in the Nazi obscenity at worst. The small organised Christian resistance to the Nazis was not because of their treatment of the Jews but because they sought to interfere with the Church. 5
The reality of the Shoah6 has led to a re-examination of the theology of supersessionism in the churches of Europe and North America particularly. But despite many Church statements supersessionism remains embedded in the consciousness of Christians and is often at the heart of much of our preaching and worship. To challenge this we must continually ask ourselves the questions posed by Soulen above: How are we speaking of the people who gave us Jesus and whose scriptures we share and what are the implications of our speaking for the Jewish people today? As one group of Christians has argued it is A Sacred Obligation.7
1 R. Kendall Soulen The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Fortress Press 1996) p1
2 John 20:19 (NRSV)
3 Op Cit pp29-33
4 See for instance Mary C Boys Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self Understanding (Paulist Press 2000) pp83- 85
5 Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel Betrayal – The German Churches and the Holocaust (Fortress Press 1999)
6 Shoah which is Hebrew for ‘catastrophe’ is often preferred by Jewish commentators to ‘Holocaust’ as a term for the Nazis murder of over 6 million Jews
7. See A SACRED OBLIGATION Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People A Statement by the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations
September 1, 2002 at http://www.jcrelations.net/A+Sacred+Obligation+-+Rethinking+Christian+Faith+in+Relation+to+Judaism+and+the+Jewish+People.2372.0.html?L=3 Last accessed 22/04/14