This month marks a timely convergence of important Jewish and Christian celebrations. Passover begins at sundown on April 12 and continues for a week that includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday.
Passover does not always overlap with the holidays commemorating Christ’s passion but when it does, it raises an important and controversial issue in both the Jewish and Christian communities. Jewish people will celebrate Passover, remembering Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt. Christians observing Maundy Thursday will remember that Jesus’ last supper” was a Passover celebration and that during this Passover observance He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. So, to what extent do the two religious communities share history and heritage? Is there a link that binds us together, enabling Jews and Christians to appreciate one another and affirm each other? Answers to these questions are scattered “all over the map.”
Separate but Equal
Many Jewish and Christian leaders take a “separate but equal” approach. They acknowledge the historical connection between Jews and Christians, between Passover and Easter, but feel that since an historic break has distanced and divided the two religious communities, we should not try to “mix” the two.
Some Jewish leaders see any linkage between Passover with Communion as an attempt to disenfranchise the Jewish community by distorting and co-opting the meaning of the Passover. Likewise some Christian leaders have no interest in any connection between Communion and Passover because they see Passover as irrelevant to those under the New Covenant. I heard one Christian theologian on a radio show discourage pastors from drawing any connection between the Passover and Communion because “it would only lead to confusion among their parishioners.” Jewish and Christian leaders in this camp profess respect for one another based on the agreement that Judaism is Judaism, Christianity is Christianity and never the twain shall meet.
United and Accommodated
A different and increasingly popular position among Jewish and Christian leaders is to come together and accommodate one another’s differences. This appeals to the popular notion of tolerance in our post-modern society. Anything that could lead to disagreement should be minimized or set aside.
Unfortunately, when it comes to affirming spiritual issues that connect our history and heritage, it is Jesus who usually gets minimized or set aside. A pastor might welcome a rabbi into his pulpit to explain the meaning of the Jewish Passover. The rabbi might mention that Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, did indeed celebrate the Passover in that upper room. But he would refrain from drawing any theological implications from what Jesus said that night; nor could he, in good conscience, speak of the parallel between Passover and the Passion when it comes to redemption through the blood of the Lamb. Likewise, should the pastor be invited to speak at the synagogue, he would feel constrained to be very careful to avoid any emphasis on Christ that might offend his Jewish friends.
Such attempts at unity may appear noble and warm-hearted, yet the accommodations required can lead to intellectual dishonesty, ultimately undermining the faith commitments of those participating. After all, if pastors spoke candidly of their views concerning Jesus in synagogues, or rabbis did so in churches, it would threaten the unity they are trying to achieve. Moreover, some Jewish leaders are understandably suspicious of Christian motivations behind these efforts. They wonder if these overtures are attempts at stealth proselytizing. On the other hand, some Christian leaders are so intent on dispelling those suspicions that they foreswear any efforts at proclaiming Christ to their Jewish friends. How can they do this in good conscience unless they dilute their faith to the point where they convince themselves that Jewish people don’t need Jesus?
Distinct but Destined
It seems to me that the most accurate and honest way for Christians to approach this shared history and heritage between Judaism and Christianity is to recognize that each is distinct but each also has a destiny that is entwined in the great eternal purposes of God. We Jews for Jesus have a unique perspective on this because we belong to both communities and are regularly challenged to explain ourselves in light of this issue. We are born Jewish and share many of the commitments and responsibilities of the Jewish people, both historically and culturally. We are spiritually born again into the body of Messiah and belong to the family of God in Him, sharing the same love for and devotion to Jesus as our non-Jewish brothers and sisters. We affirm both our Jewish roots and our Jewish Savior.
Indeed we encourage our Christian brothers and sisters to affirm their Jewish roots and Savior as well. That is one reason why, during this season, our Jews for Jesus missionaries are traveling to speak in hundreds of churches about Christ in the Passover. While Passover is a distinct festival on the Jewish calendar—one that God enjoined upon Israel to celebrate each year—Passover was also destined to be fulfilled in the person of Jesus, who is the Lamb of God. His story does not diminish the significance of the original redemption celebration. However, God wove into the very fabric of Passover the picture of the greatest redemption of all, not just for Israel but for all peoples. Our Jewish roots find their ultimate meaning in our Jewish Savior.
Our commitment to these realities is sometimes misunderstood by our brothers and sisters in Christ and reviled by our kinsmen according to the flesh; still we will continue to insist on the link and affirm our shared history and heritage. I love to see the eyes of my fellow Christians light up as they realize the significance of the Lord’s Supper in light of the beauty of Passover. More than anything, I live to see the eyes of my Jewish people light up when they realize that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, that the most Jewish thing they can do is to embrace their Jewish Savior and join in the destiny of all those who follow Him. I am comforted by the fact that Scripture promises that—despite the conflict and misunderstandings that currently exist between these two distinct communities—one day we will be united in Christ. Our distinctives will not be diminished but our destiny will be shared equally in the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan.