Christians and Jews in Holy Week

Over the last few years I’ve become much more aware of the things in the life of the Christian church which cause trouble for other people. Specifically, I took part in an interesting symposium a couple of years ago on how Christian preaching relates to Judaism. I learned a lot by listening to people there – a mixed group of Christian and Jewish folk.

I was particularly struck by the assertion that liberal Christians in particular sometimes preach sermons which might be considered to be anti-Semitic. It was entirely fascinating hearing one’s tradition spoken of by those outside of it. At first I was puzzled but the more I heard, the more I realised that there was something that needed to be taken note of. Some of the claims that sometimes get made about Jesus coming to “set people free” from the law, for example. As though people were not living liberated lives within Judaism for centuries before Jesus and for the centuries since. Also sermons which seem to imply that there’s one Jewish opinion that is trounced by the sudden appearance of Jesus. As if, several people said to me, as if there’s ever only one Jewish opinion. Going to this symposium made me much more aware of supersessionism than I had ever been before. (Supersessionism is a belief that Christianity is the fulfilment of Biblical Judaism, and therefore that Jews who deny that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah fall short of their calling as God’s Chosen people). It made me very wary of Christians passing themselves off as the new chosen people using things like “Christian Seder” rituals which quite often get used at this time of year. My own view is that there’s a bit of a problem with non Jews taking the Seder and doing what they want with it to make it represent something that might well be misunderstood or be offensive to those for whom it is a treasure and a joy. (I’d leap at the chance to go to an actual Seder if I was invited though…).

It all made me listen more carefully to my own preaching and that of others.

I also learned more than I previously knew about Holy Week being a time when violence has often been meted out to Jewish people in the name of Christianity by ignorant thugs.

And recently, I’ve been hearing of the Jewish communities in Scotland expressing fears for their own safety.

All of this is just by way of suggesting that this is a good week to be aware, to become more aware and to take care with words.

I learned astonishingly little about modern Judaism when I was a student. I’ve learned more since, but there’s still a lot to learn.

Recognising that the Jewish communities in Scotland don’t currently feel as secure as they should do, the retiring collection on Good Friday afternoon at St Mary’s will go to support the work of the West of Scotland Branch of the Council of Christians and Jews.


  1. FakePete says

    Very good piece. Often we overlook the fact that so much anti-Semitism comes from liberals and the left.

    • I’ve moved in left-wing circles for a long time and I don’t think I’ve encountered much by way of anti-Semitism. Not saying there isn’t any but I don’t recognise your “so much”.

      • fakepete says

        I don’t know what your FB stream is like but during the Gaza conflict – wow, my leftie friends went into meltdown talking of neocon cabals, the cult of bankers, they spoke of excessive influence of Israel on US foreign policy and they got much angrier about Israeli bombs killing Gazans than anyone got when the UK was killing people in Iraq. I was shocked.

        • Just to note that this isn’t a post about Israel or Gaza and that the leap from speaking about the experience of being Jewish to current Middle East politics is part of the problem I’m highlighting.

  2. margaret of the sea of galilee says

    First of all, well done on the spelling of “supersessionist”! (“s” not “c” since you go back to the French/Latin)
    Seriously…excellent writing and perfect timing
    Come over for a visit and we’ll show you modern Judaism up close. As well as a cute wee Church of Scotland and a lovely piece of water. Oh yes…and where Jesus was too!

  3. Marion says

    Thank you. Just, thank you. (And I’ll see you Good Friday)

  4. Gordon says

    Have a look at
    An increasing number of evangelicals are celebrating Jewish festivals and imitating Jewish practices or even styling themselves as “messianic jews” even though they are not of jewish birth.
    What do jews make of this? Is it not a wee bit insulting or maybe imitation is the best form of flattery?

    • How would we feel about practising Jews deciding to make a Last Supper of their Passover meal?

      I’m normally wary of taking offence on others’ behalf, and it has been said that Christian supersessionism need not denigrate Judaism (David Novak, via wikipedia). But how do I know what flavour of supersessionism my neighbour or leader understands?

      The bishops’ guidelines at the start of seem not unreasonable, “In all events, Christians should take every care to ensure that the correct Jewish ritual is followed and that the Seder be respected in its full integrity”.

      • I think that, in the same way that in our tradition, Christian ritual demands that it is conducted by Christians (and licensed ones at that), …

  5. Just to note that I’m allowing comments on this post that are relevant to this post, which is about Christianity and Judaism and how Christians and Jews relate at this time of the year. I’m filtering out all off-topic comments about modern Middle Eastern politics.

    • FakePete says

      I understand and support your desire and right to keep things on topic but I’d personally be interested to read those even if not in this particular thread.

  6. Elizabeth says

    Thanks for posting this. I didn’t know that Scottish Jews were feeling more unsafe, that is troubling news indeed and all the more reason to think and talk about this kind of thing. I think it’s important for Christians to understand the history of anti-Jewish violence around Holy Week and Easter, as distressing as it is. It’s a good week to read Adrienne Rich’s ‘Yom Kippur 1984’ (I wanted to include a quote but can only wish to include the whole thing – so please, everyone go read it )

Speak Your Mind