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No rescue!

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Rainbow Shabbat, by Judy Chicago.

Rainbow Shabbat, by Judy Chicago (1992). From the Brooklyn Museum: the piece is the last image in a Holocaust project the artist created with her husband, Donald Woodman. 

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Whatever your faith community or theological persuasion, on Easter Sunday let’s be clear: The world is unredeemed. No amount of “redeemed and not yet” theological hocus pocus will do.

Rituals have a hard time with reality. Theology is the easy way out.

Theology is patriotism without a national flag. Though, if you’ve noticed in our churches and synagogues, flags have a way of slipping in. Check out the pastor with the American flag by his side. Not to be outdone, the rabbi has Israel’s flag by his side, too.

Quite a patriotic scene.

But if we’re going to be clear about out unredeemed/unliberated world, we need to add the obvious: What we do and don’t do in the face of injustice defines our faith or lack thereof. Simple as that.

Easter and Passover place us in a bind. How can Christians celebrate Easter with their own history of Holocaust, previous events of atrocity – shall we speak of the aftermath of 1492 in the Americas? – and the injustice that well-meaning Christians perpetrate today? How can Jews celebrate Passover while the oppression of Palestinians becomes permanent?

The “no rescue” prophets aren’t going anywhere near this religious – and political – charade.

Where do the “no rescue” prophets go? Some Christians remain Christian in a radical mode. Some Jews remain Jews in a radical mode. The difference is one of expressed faith. Radical Christians deepen their faith to survive the exile that awaits them. Radical Jews leave Judaism behind as a form of irredeemable hypocrisy.

Or maybe exile is the Jewish way of embodying faith. Thank God, Hosanna to the Highest isn’t the Jewish way. Can Christians learn a thing or two about their faith by exploring this Jewish exile embodiment and holding back on their endless and triumphal resurrection proclamations?

The Christian religious/secular Jewish twain shall meet in exile. When both Jews and Christians realize that there’s no going back, something interesting is going to happen. Hold on to your hats.

The Jewish prophets today are decolonizing the Biblical prophetic – in order to set the prophetic tradition free.

Christians of Conscience are trying to pry themselves away from Constantinian Christianity – to set Jesus free.

Being seen at the Passover Seder and church on Easter Sunday to show everyone how Jewish and Christian you are can’t continue – can it?

The troubling question remains: Does doing Easter and Passover the “right” way set us free? Or no matter the intention, does it deepen our Constantinian entanglement?

We’ve had the innovative Easters and Passovers for a long time now. Everything is the same – and getting worse. Time for something different?

The “no rescue” prophets aren’t much help as yet another Passover/Easter season comes to close. They aren’t going to provide a rescue ritual to cover over injustice.

No rituals until there is justice?

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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25 Responses

  1. Citizen on April 20, 2014, 2:29 pm

    Justice is a symmetry of rights corresponding with obligations. That’s why Justice is depicted blind. The EU calls on Israel to reverse its expansionist plans: http://www.veteranstoday.com/2014/04/19/eu-calls-on-israel-to-reverse-expansionist-plans/
    Meanwhile Israel Firsters in Congress and AIPAC call for more deadly hypocrisy, all the while wrapping themselves in the American flag and Jewish star flag.

  2. Walid on April 20, 2014, 3:17 pm

    “Christians of Conscience are trying to pry themselves away from Constantinian Christianity – to set Jesus free.”

    About 40% of American Christians that are keeping Israel out of jail, are heading in the opposite direction by getting their state to continue sponsoring and even increasing its help of Israel, not to set Jesus free but to tie him down and provoke his return for the final coming and battle with the devil. To fulfil this vocation, those Christians are helping the Zionists rid Jerusalem of its non-Jewish inhabitants, a primary condition for the second return to happen. Marc is again forcefully dragging all the Christians on the Jews’ Palestinian joy ride. Can’t figure out why.

    Flags in synagogues and churches have nothing to do with religion, they are simply a political statement that have no business being there. Marc is needlessly stretching in relating Christianity’s 1492 to what the Jews have been doing to the Palestinians. He didn’t need to go that far back; not that long ago, Stalin’s genocide of the Ukrainians was as bad as the Zionists’ genocide of the Palestinians.

    • W.Jones on April 20, 2014, 3:27 pm

      In some ways the famine was worse, in some ways better. Ukrainians had a higher body count, but they were not expelled from their land, which retained its boundaries and even grew in size. Plus, I doubt Stalin singled out Ukrainians because Russians were affected too across the border in large numbers.

      • Walid on April 21, 2014, 12:50 am

        W. Jones, the number that Stain did on the Ukrainians eliminated about 20% of their population; the number the Zionists did on the Palestinian Arabs vanished about 80% of them. Absolutely no contest between the Zionists and Stalin.

      • jon s on April 21, 2014, 3:53 am

        In the Ukrainian genocidal famine caused by Stalin, it’s estimated that 10 million died:
        http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/ukraine_famine.htm

        On the other hand, Walid, the Palestinians certainly did not “vanish”. Many Palestinians lost their homes, but noone killed millions, and the Palestinian population is growing nicely. So let’s not make absurd comparisons.

      • W.Jones on April 21, 2014, 11:17 am

        I think the 10 million figure is exaggerated.

        In some ways the IP situation is worse, in some ways it is better. Why use one suffering to downplay another?

        Did Stalin plan for millions of Ukrainians to die? There has been no evidence where he directly said this. There was a famine and it stretched into Russian land where Russians died at a comparable rate. Ukraine relied on agriculture and so a famine hit them harder than other areas. So one can doubt that the famine was a planned killing directed against Ukrainians in particular.

        The expulsion of 70-80% of Palestinians however was discussed by Israeli nationalists under the topic of “transfer”. Unlike Ukrainians, Palestinians have been deprived of having a state, or even one where they are full citizens. Further, the power in charge of the Holy Land proposes that the millions of refugees be permanently banned from their homeland forever, and is enforcing this ethnic cleansing.

    • seafoid on April 20, 2014, 3:54 pm

      None of the religions are ready for the end of oil and climate change.
      Israel was a neat idea made possible by oil. It has no hope of surviving without oil.

      • Walid on April 20, 2014, 4:16 pm

        Unless I’m wrong, Europe is to be practically off the oil in another 6 or 7 years with the US not long after that. I don’t have the correct target dates but from what you are saying, Israel as it’s known now doesn’t have much time left. Most probably Arab despots will be in the same boat.

      • puppies on April 20, 2014, 4:35 pm

        @seafoid – If this is also a neat idea god save us from neatness. You or I have no idea what role oil is going to play. Resistance is safer.

    • Walid on April 20, 2014, 4:17 pm

      BTW, by the “Zionists’ genocide”, I meant ethnic cleansing.

      • puppies on April 20, 2014, 4:31 pm

        @Walid – It is within the acts listed in the Convention against Genocide –ask Hostage if unsure. Didn’t deserve a correction.

  3. W.Jones on April 20, 2014, 3:25 pm

    Hello, Marc.

    You wrote:
    Whatever your faith community or theological persuasion, on Easter Sunday let’s be clear: The world is unredeemed.

    Rabbi Maimonides, the Rambam considered Isaiah 43:4 Messianic and also thought it meant the Messiah would be killed. The verse says.
    He shall not fail nor be crushed, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
    Why does it not just say that he will not be crushed, period? Instead, it proposes that isles will be waiting for his law when he does his work. In other words there is a period during the Messianic era when the islands are still in wait for his law. The redemption is not instantly absolute everywhere. I wish it were, of course!!

    • Feathers on April 21, 2014, 10:11 am

      Marc’s use of the phrase hocus pocus was disconcerting and offensive.

  4. RudyM on April 20, 2014, 4:06 pm

    The fundamental mistake here is treating religions that are not primarily about politics or social transformation as though they are.

    It’s hard to shake off my Protestant past in looking at this, but speaking as an ex-Protestant Christian, there is no Biblical basis for expecting the redemption of the world prior to Christ’s return. Period. (That may not be true in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions.) That understanding hasn’t prevented the church from celebrating its rituals over the centuries.

    Your liberation theology decontexualizes Christian social teaching removing its dependence on an expected direct intervention by God. It’s basically humanism dressed up in religious garments, in an attempt to look more authoritative.

    And while Christianity might not be solely about individual salvation, it surely is partly about individual salvation. The resurrection is at the very least about the salvation of individuals from the punishment for sin. Whitewash this and you whitewash core Christian theological beliefs.

    If you want to give it a symbolic humanistic gloss, okay, but don’t expect to be taken seriously. Again, religious liberals want the aura of authority without submitting to the discipline of what the Bible says, or about what the church says.

    I would add that the attempt to impose a concept of collective Christian guilt on all Christians for what any Christians have ever done is going to fall flat.

    • Walid on April 21, 2014, 12:54 am

      “… there is no Biblical basis for expecting the redemption of the world prior to Christ’s return. Period.”

      Rudy, wasn’t the crucifixion supposed to have accomplished that very task? How many times will it have to happen to attain full redemption?

      • RudyM on April 21, 2014, 11:30 am

        wasn’t the crucifixion supposed to have accomplished that very task?

        Not if you look at it in the context of everything else in the New Testament. It’s very clear that post-resurrection, Christians are still left looking to the future in hope. Sorry, I no longer have verses at my fingertips to back that up, but it’s pretty consistent throughout the New Testament.

        Anyway I’m irreligious myself. I just find extreme theological liberalism to almost always be intellectually dishonest. People want to keep the force of the claim to divine revelation but then they want to remake their religion to fit their (generally modern, liberal, humanistic) preferences.

        Maybe I should stay out of it, but I am easily trolled by Marc Ellis.

        (The whole “the Messiah has come, but he went away and will return soon” where that’s still true 2000+ years later–well, only in religion would you get something like that.)

      • RudyM on April 21, 2014, 12:02 pm

        Okay, I will throw out one “proof text” but there are plenty more where this came from. Romans 13:11-12:

        11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

        12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

        Clearly there are “layers” of redemption. Paul would say that believers have been saved from enslavement to sin, but he remains looking forward to a future salvation as well.

        Jesus’ moral teachings are over and over again coupled with the prediction of an imminent overturning of the existing social order that has yet to come true. So whatever the crucifixion and resurrection were, Christians have to accomodate the fact that they have not brought about justice in the world; so they continue to hope for a future redemption, beyond their individual salvation. (I find Bart Ehrman’s account of the historical Jesus and of early Christian teaching quite convincing overall.)

    • Feathers on April 21, 2014, 10:14 am

      Judaism and Christianity have always had political/geopolitical considerations at their core; it’s foolish to pretend otherwise, and wise to recognize the reality.

  5. RudyM on April 20, 2014, 4:14 pm

    Christians who believe that they have been saved from eternal death by Christ’s death and resurrection are not going to stop celebrating Easter.

    Who is your audience for an article like this?

    Christians are to endure in the practice of their faith, not abandon it because justice does not yet rule on planet earth.

    You are either completely out of touch with the main stream of Christianity, or you just don’t care and are quite happy to re-make it any old way to suit your beliefs. But who are you and why should any Christian listen?

    • Ellen on April 21, 2014, 12:36 am

      Mr. Ellis writes yet another confused and confusing post. And superfluous, a bit bizarre. An insult to all Abrahamic religious thought.

      And the Eucharistic prayer is Hossanna IN the highest, not TO the highest. It cannot be to. Hossanna, the Hebrew word(s), an urgent cry to deliver, save….

      And yes, calling for Christians (and others) to explore Jewish Exile and hold back on “endless triumphal resurrections proclamations ” marks Ellis as completely out of touch Christian thought, theology and symbolic metaphor, and perhaps Jewish as well.

      Sanctus et Benedictus
      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WMf_9UjPdaU

  6. puppies on April 21, 2014, 1:23 am

    @Ellen – fully agreed, especially as to the confused and confusing and superfluous and all-around unaware character (obvious even to a total irreligious one).
    [Totally OT now: One little bone to pick, though. Your Hosanna “to” or “in” is not so clear-cut. On the one hand, the Greek counterpart (rather, original) of “Hosanna in excelsis” in two versions (St J Chrysostom and St Basil) has in one line Ὡσαννὰ ὁ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις, which without a doubt cannot ever be translated as “to”; it is clearly “savior [is] the one in the highest place”. As for the Latin version, in an ancient liturgy (the Mozarabic, a pre-Andulus collection as its name does not indicate) the Sanctus has, in an added line “Hosanna filio David” which would be really ambiguous between a “to” and an “in/into” reading, leaning toward “to”. Which may reflect, along with other such uses, that etymology notwithstanding, the foreign word had early received a life of its own –as a form for “Praise! Glory! or somesuch!” instead of a call for help. So a single, firm understanding of the English preposition seems excluded.]

    • Ellen on April 21, 2014, 11:46 am

      @puppies, I cannot pretend to have a real grasp of the etymology of Hosanna — with it’s origins in the Jewish liturgy with a plea “to” to a King, to God for salvation? “Hosanna to the Son of David” recited in the early Jewish feasts of the Tabernacle?

      It was a bit too late for me to get into a thing about in or of or to in the Sanctus. But I found that Ellis revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of Christian (and maybe Jewish) thought by stating Thank God, Hosanna to the Highest isn’t the Jewish way.

      But as the story goes under Christianity, (real or not) when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the humble donkey, he was greeted as a King in the highest, in Exelsis. There was no call to exalt him TO the Highest, Excelsis, as he was being greeted as the King, the Savior already IN the Highest. And of course such pleas and cries by the crowds to humble Jesus — Hosanna IN the Highest — would have been hugely blasphemous. Such joyful pleas were reserved to address only the most high, and even then, not directly.

      So as your explanation above captures so well, this illustrates why for Christians the word must be In and not To. This preposition before Hosanna captures the shism of the Jesus movement from Judaism. And maybe explains why the earliest Christian Greek translations could only be In?

      Sometimes it is important to pick a bone….:)

  7. DICKERSON3870 on April 21, 2014, 3:11 am

    RE: “Whatever your faith community or theological persuasion, on Easter Sunday let’s be clear: The world is unredeemed. No amount of ‘redeemed and not yet’ theological hocus pocus will do.” ~ Marc Ellis

    SOMEWHAT IN THE SAME VEIN: “Revelations Within the Boston Marathon; America’s ‘Exceptional’ Reality”, by Rev. William E. Alberts, Counterpunch.org, 4/18/14
    LINK – http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/18/americas-exceptional-reality/

  8. wes on April 21, 2014, 9:16 am

    Marc ellis says

    “no rituals until there is justice”

    Sounds like constipation,must be the white cardboard with the little dots on it,ken kesey would pour you some koolaid to wash it down……take the trip through parted waters
    in technicolour

  9. Citizen on April 21, 2014, 10:45 am

    What does it mean to identify as being Jewish in USA today? http://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/2014/04/13/meaning-jewish/7682657/

    Same question re being Christian in USA today?

    Or being Muslim in USA today?

    Seems to me it does not matter at all–unless you are Muslim, in which case, you may have a problem with government authorities.

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