Maundy Thursday in the Age of Trump
Most recently, it was White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who claimed that Hitler “didn’t even use chemical weapons…on his own people.”
It’s not an isolated moment of anti-Semetic rhetoric: the recent spike in incidents hostile to the Jewish people has a regrettably long list.
In January, Jewish Community Centers became the target of violent threats.
In February, gravestones in Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philly, and Rochester began to be desecrated.
In March, swastikas started to appear at yet one more school, this time in California, shaking the community and involving the school board and police. It’s hardly the only school to suffer anti-Semitic slurs and threats.
Since January, since Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center notes a sharp increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes.
Sebastian Gorka, a man with proven Nazi sympathies, now serves on President Trump’s Deputy Assistant, even wearing the emblem of a far-right Hungarian Nationalist group, of which he is a member, to Trump’s inauguration. (He claims that the pin was in honor of his father, to which this author asks, “…but really, now: Didn’t Dad leave a tie? How many of us wear Nazi-sympathetic medals to remember our parents?”)
On Holocaust Rememberance Day, Trump didn’t mention the genocide of the Jews. When questioned about it at a press conference, Sean Spicer retorted that the representative from the Anne Frank (yes, that Anne Frank) Center for Mutual Respect should have voiced their appreciation of the President instead.
This year, Maundy Thursday takes on new heft.
It is almost customary for Christians to believe that at the Last Supper, Jesus was celebrating the Seder, the traditional Jewish meal which recounts the history of God’s saving hand in rescuing the Israelites from Egypt during the Exodus.
The elements of the meal are similar, the timing of the celebrations gel, and the words Jesus uses seem to hearken back to the customs of the celebration of Passover.
However, more and more scholars are saying it isn’t so.
Jonathan Klawans writes a brilliant piece for the Biblical Archeological Review which calls pretty much every tenet of this argument into question. Most interestingly, the concept of celebrating the Seder ritual seems to not have been even in place until after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E.
It’s a timely question, as it seems as if with each passing year, more and more Christians celebrate the Seder meal, either within their Christian community or by invitation from Jewish families or communities, as part of their Holy Week festivals.
There is much debate about whether Christians have any business participating in the Passover Meal at all.
Rev. Ann Fontaine offers her thoughts about the matter in this thorough and nuanced blog. In it, she spells out an array of pros and cons, the essential points boiling down to the Yes: the Exodus is part of Christian history too; and the No: Christians have no more business appropriating/mis-appropriating the Seder Meal than Jews do presiding over a Eucharist.
It is not just a theological question these days, but a regrettably pressing one given the distressing rise of anti-Semitic acts, not least of all by those professing to be Christians (the irony, of course, is that they and all Christians are indelibly Jewish: Jesus was, after all, a Jew).
Given that even within the Jewish Community, there is no clear consensus about the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of Christians celebrating the Seder Meal, it’s difficult to know how best as Christians to respect and honor the desires of the Jewish people.
Still, in these days during the rise and rule of Trump, and precisely during and beyond these our Holiest of Three Days, Christians have an especially clear responsibility, a mandate, to attend to the history and the earned fears of Jews, their justified deep apprehension due to the long history of hateful actions by those who identify as Christian.
Two thoughts, then, on the Eve of Maundy Thursday:
One: As is often the case, this year the Christian Holy Week falls at the same time as the Jewish Passover.
Exactly becauase of the increased incidents and toleration of anti-Semitic actions, as our Holy Week and Passover are entwined again, this year all more so we Christians are called to manifestly reject any and all evidence of anti-Jewish bigotry.
Because of Thought Two: We call the day Maundy Thursday because of the etymological root of the word related to “mandate,” as in “Commandment.”
During this Last Supper, Jesus gave two commandments: to love one another as he has loved us; and to hold the meal together, namely to give Thanksgiving over bread and wine together, in remembrance of him.
In these two Commandments, Christians learn about our identity and our mission: we are to be the tangible presence of the loving reign of God in the world.
Fed with the promise, we are to be the promise: the promise being, of course, that death doesn’t win–even the death, threatened or real, caused by religious bigotry, not least of all that which is implicitly and explicitly condoned by Trump, and fostered across the nation by his rhetoric and political recruits.
While it may or may not be appropriate for Christians to celebrate the Seder, it is nothing but appropriate for us to remember that Jesus was a Jew; that God never forsakes God’s people, of whom the people of Israel were the first, whom God brought out of the land of slavery; that religious bigotry and hate still enslave us; and that God’s history of love and promise to those who suffer still shows us a way (‘odos) out (ex), an ex-‘odus, an exodus.
That, of course, is worthy of giving thanks (Eu, good, and charis, grace, or thanks), not least of all at the celebration of, and the living out of, the Christian meal, the Eucharist, the first celebration of which we recall on Maundy Thursday.