26 September 2006


We're embarking on a new journey at my church. We're diving into the Jewish holidays this year to see what the study of the roots of our faith can teach us about us. We began this past Sunday with Rosh HaShana and we'll continue with Yom Kippur on this Sunday next. We're having to play fast and loose with the dates because we're limited to meeting on Sundays. This feels slightly disingenuous to me, but I'll get over it.

Then, because we're "generous liturgists," we played fast and loose with the themes of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur ... and flipped them too. So this past Sunday we examined the themes of sin, judgement and repentance. Next Sunday we'll examine grace, mercy and forgiveness. It seems to me that in the Jewish tradition things are not so tidy and separate. But they've had about 5,000 years to build these traditions and they take whole days to celebrate. We're doing it in an hour and a half. I still feel like we're cheating.

All of that is to say, I've been think a lot lately about the themes of repentance and grace. Sin and forgiveness. Judgement and mercy. Studying the Jewish traditions has thrown our Christian traditions into bas relief ; like a woodcut almost. I see them in their starkest forms. Being the sort of person I am, I've been busily drawing parallels and links from one tradition to the other; finding the roots of us in them. Much of what I've learned has turned my past knowledge of Jewish tradition on it's ear. It's helped me see Jesus in a new light. It's also causing me to be a more than a little critical of some of our current traditions.

In particular I think we've become grace-abusers in the church today. I think (and I include myself in the word we) we are entirely too flippant about the gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness. I don't think we should spend time becoming ascetics or self-flaggellants, but I think we need to spend more time understanding the full weight of the judgement that has been lifted from us. In part, I've enjoyed the study of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur because I've begun to to come to a greater comprehension of what it means. In the Jewish tradition, they take time each year to engage with that. To wrestle with their own humanity in the face of God's divinity and then to be thankful for the gifts of grace, mercy and forgiveness that He extends to them.

It may be that Easter and Lent were originally meant to fill this role in our tradition. But I think we're missing that proper sense of balance between judgement and mercy, sin and forgiveness, repentance and grace. We're happy to hear the mercy, forgiveness and grace side of the story. But we don't like to examine the judgement, sin and repentance side. It's when we have both in balance that God's work shines in the world. When we can examine ourselves clearly, and see ourselves objectively, we can begin to be the change that we wish to see in the world. I think that until we're willing to do that (and it's unsightly, painful work), we'll just be another group of people talking a good talk and not doing anything.

Father, I ask you now to forgive my sins.
Forgive the sins that I can remember, and also the sins that I have forgotten.
Forgive the wrong actions that I have committed, and the right actions I have ommitted.

Forgive the times I have been weak in the face of temptation, and those when I have been stubborn in the face of correction.
Forgive the times I have been proud of my own achievements, and those when I have failed to boast of Your works.
Forgive the harsh judgements I have made of others, and the leniency I have shown myself.
Forgive the lies I have told to others, and the truths I have avoided.
Forgive me the pain I have caused others, and the indulgences I have shown to myself. I ask in the name of Jesus, your son, Amen. (from Celtic Primer)


Blogger Paddy O. said...

My parents have been attending a Messianic (Jewish Christian)congregation for about 5 or 6 years now.

During the times I've attended I've also found it quite powerful. God gave certain rhythms to humanity to help us wander through this age, feasting and fasting and remembering and honoring. Understanding these rhythms for what they are, and knowing that in doing this you are keeping the very same rhythms Jesus kept through his whole life, is powerful and enlightening indeed.

Passover and Yom Kippur are especially powerful. If you all keep this up it'd be worth finding a Messianic Rabbi in your area to help lead you through a seder.

9/26/2006 11:27:00 PM  

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