This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
Now in the last days of Passover, Easter Sunday appears. Our wonderful progressive Christian brothers and sisters are in full confessional mode.
They should be. Historic anti-Semitism dogs Christians. After all, it’s right there in the New Testament. Easter brings it all up again. The Gospel of John remains: Did the Jews crucify Jesus? From the religion editor at Huffington Post:
I went to a Good Friday service at my progressive church last year… They sang — in beautiful tones, in a lovely sanctuary — the same crucifixion narrative told in the Gospel of John that claims that Jesus was crucified by the Jews, and the blame is upon them.
So Christians are correct in bringing this to the fore on Easter Sunday. However, they are irresponsible – and self-serving – when they make this confession without confronting the parallel confession of what Jews – with Easter’s confessional support – have done and are doing to the Palestinian people.
Of course there’s push back, especially among well-trained, well-placed pastors who interact with our well-trained, well-placed rabbis. You know the ones who plan regular lunches and visit each other’s place of worship so Christians and Jews can get to know each other, feel each other’s pain and share a joint faith-filled hope.
Whose pain? Hope for what?
Pastor Facebook double-speak goes something like this: “Easter Sunday is about ‘our’ faith, not about politics. I deal with the Palestinian ‘issue’ – among other issues – at another time. And why call out Jews in relation to Israel? That’s wrong. Israel is a state with many political opinions and Jews come in many political persuasions. We need to be careful here. When I talk to my rabbinic colleagues they assure me that this is the right position to take.”
It’s difficult to argue with a supposedly progressive Christian pastor who can’t find a place to stand anywhere that has consequences. I think the subconscious fear is that probing too deeply might force our well-trained, well-placed pastor to run and hide.
What does a Christian pastor – or rabbi – become if by telling the truth they’re suddenly no longer well-placed? Do they become wandering, itinerant preachers who have nowhere to lay their heads? God forbid! Especially on Easter and Passover, holy days that model the suffering of displacement for speaking and acting on truth.
So who is this confession for? Does it really have much to do with flesh and blood Jews? Or is it a well-intentioned rescue package for Christianity? And pastors?
Like Jews on Passover who reach out to Palestinians. Is it really about flesh and blood Palestinians? Or a well-intentioned rescue package for Jews? And rabbis?
There’s another realm other than self-interest. It involves sacrifice. It involves confession which isn’t – only – about rescue.
Broadly considered, the place of personal and communal sacrifice is the prophetic, which risks everything, including exile. It seems that Passover and Easter model the prophetic but where, oh where, is this found in contemporary Jewish and Christian life?
You won’t find it in the endless parsing of the Gospel of John.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer thought grace came in two varieties, cheap and costly. On Easter, cheap grace is confessing the sin of anti-Semitism without addressing Jewish abuse of power in the present. Costly grace is a new solidarity with Jews which involves confession and a spoken and active movement toward justice for Palestinians.
This Easter, Palestinians rain on the Christian confessional parade. But that means prophetic Jews do, too.