BY RABBI DR. GERALD MEISTER, TRAVELUJAH—
In the liturgical narrative of the Seder of Passover night, we are solemnly instructed that “in every generation each must regard himself as though personally coming out of Egypt.” The exodus from Egypt, the Passover, is not a one- time event, but the beginning of a continuing process even until our day. The exodus event depends on a future event, that of entry into the land of the Covenant.
The scripture in Exodus signals four words indicative of Jewish Passover – I shall take out, I shall rescue, I shall redeem and I shall take you unto me. There is the fifth scriptural promise – I will bring you to the land – that signals the divine promise made to Abraham in the Covenant of Pieces. The first four expressions are remembered in continuing presence in consumption of the four cups of wine. The fifth cup called the Cup of Elijah represents the culmination of the exodus event insofar as it tells us of the point of it all – the entry into the land promised in the Covenants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Joshua’s entry into the land was the first, but not last entry. In the many exiles of Israel’s history, which were Divine punishment for sin, the Covenant was never abrogated. The prophet Samuel reminds Israel’s King Saul that God does not repent of His gifts – the eternity of Israel will not lie (1 Samuel 15:29). Therefore, the anticipation of returning to the land remained central to the collective Jewish consciousness and hope (hope is best defined as a remembrance of things yet to be). The process of redemption is ongoing even unto Auschwitz (the passion of the Jewish people) and the reborn state of Israel (the resurrection of the Jewish sovereign state). The prophet Ezekiel reminds us of this point – I saw you debased in your bloods and say to you in your bloods live (Ezekiel 16:16).
The Mystery of the Jews in their historical suffering and renewal is the fundamental element in trying to fathom Jewish history. It makes no sense without seeing the elements of Divine election, Covenant, Promise and history in which the Jewish people is the Divine surrogate for the Lord of history.
Even the secular is garbed in the sacred in Judaism. Because God is the source of everything that occurs within the process of salvation history, the seemingly secular and profane events take on the mantle of the sacred because of the divine purpose attributed to them by God’s revealed truth. This can be seen in the biblical episode of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, but culminating in the line articulated by Joseph – For God has sent me before you that I might sustain you (Genesis 45:7). In a similar vein, in Christian scripture, the evil intent of the crucifixion is turned on its head by Christian understanding that the act and purpose of the Cross is salvation.
The Eucharist as understood by Catholics and Orthodox Christians begins in the Covenant with the promise of redemption and salvation. The act of Jesus that began the night before the sacrifice on the cross stresses the ongoingness of that sacrificial event not as a memorial, but a continuing ontological event mystically present through the words of consecration by one commissioned to celebrate the liturgy. This is known in the Greek as Anamnesis. This is an ontological reality – independently present regardless of whether one is capable of recognizing or acknowledging it. Each church must conclude according to its own understanding of what the sacrifice on the cross means – whether it is an ongoing or beginning event.
The continuing exodus for the Jews and continuing sacrifice of Jesus for Christians are attestations to the truth of Divine redemption by God’s presence. Each respective community of believers is impelled by the mystery of redemption and salvation. Each community is first separated from each other, but in God’s own time they will come together as stated in our shared scripture – my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7). Parallel lines converge in the infinity of God.
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Reprinted with permission from the CJCUC. Rabbi Dr. Gerald M. Meister served as the adviser for Israel-Christian affairs in the Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York and is a CJCUC lecturer.