So: the Protestant Church has much to learn from her Jewish ancestors and neighbors. This I learned in a class entitled 'Modern Jewish Culture' at Gordon College, and I am forever indebted to the professor who opened my eyes and heart to embrace the Jewish roots of Christianity. I continue to learn and grow to love the Jewish people and traditions more deeply, and my time at JUC has reinforced that so far.
So what does the Church need to learn -- or, perhaps, re-learn? A lot of things, I think -- one of which is how to celebrate. This morning I was leaving the Old City with two friends, and as we approached Zion Gate -- our route out of the city -- we heard a great commotion of voices and clapping, and, as we drew nearer, saw a fantastic crowd of people shuffling along, holding up a cloth canopy and playing trumpets. When we saw the young boy sporting a yamaca under the canopy, we knew it was a bar mitzvah. They were probably headed to the Western Wall, a popular venue for bar mitzvahs. We moved to the side to let the procession through, and clapped along in time with their upbeat music. "Hevenu shalom aleichem, hevenu shalom aleichem, hevenu shalom aleichem, hevenu shalom, shalom, shalom aleichem!" they sang -- we bring you peace, we bring you peace... As they passed by, a woman tossed small wrapped candies into the air, and when she passed in front of us, she held out her bag for me to take one! I laughed and told her todah rabbah -- 'thanks very much' in modern Hebrew -- and felt honored to be included in a little part of their celebration.
Now, I'm not suggesting that the Church needs to imitate this or that it should necessarily institute some sort of coming-of-age communal celebration for its youth. But I am suggesting that sometimes Christian thought and culture gets so caught up in looking toward the future that we forget how to -- or even to -- celebrate the sanctity of life here on earth. We casually throw around phrases like, "This world is not my home -- I'm just a-passing through," or talk so much of heaven that we are shy of discussing celebrating our lives here on earth. There is a teaching in rabbinic literature, I learned, which says that in the world to come (the Jewish way of referring to the afterlife in general), one will be punished not only for the things that he enjoyed that he shouldn't have (i.e. sin), but also the things that he didn't enjoy that he should have (i.e. the gifts of God)! God created our world and called it good, and since every bit of life is sacred because he created it, I suppose we had better celebrate our blessings in genuine gratitude. It's true that not all of life is pleasurable or beautiful -- the Jews will always be among the first to recognize that, I believe -- but I do believe there is much to celebrate.
Nor I am saying that we should let the pendulum swing to the other extreme and allow ourselves to become absorbed solely in our lives here on earth -- of course not. But I think that, as is the case in so many other areas of life, we need a balance, and the ideals of Judaism do a good job of reminding us of that.