Holy Week, a Time of Reconciliation

Christian Holy Week and Jewish Passover could represent a closing of the doors against the public world.

The calendar this week includes both the Christian Holy Week and theJewish Passover. Both could represent a closing of the doors againstthe public world. Christians have their particular story -- somehave offensively called it "our holocaust" -- in the crucifixion ofJesus. Jews have their particular story -- offensive to those whosympathize with the innocent Egyptian parents who each lost a son,while the angel of a liberating God "passed over" their houses.Secularists are offended by both.

The root of the word "scandal" relates to tripping over or fallinginto a trap. Holy Week, Passover Week, reminds that each of us willfind something to be "scandalized" by at the depth of other peoples'stories. Inside America, the virtues of pluralism, tolerance, goodwill, and interfaith neighborliness generally rule, and that's all tothe very good. But interfaith amity cannot mean that the stories getblended. George Santayana noted: "Every living and healthy religionhas a marked idiosyncrasy. Its power consists in its special andsurprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives tolife."

This week some of the opportunities to offend and scandalize areoccurring in concert halls, for example where Johann Sebastian Bach's"Passion According to St. John" resounds. This year, 250 years afterBach's death, has inspired more than the usual number of discussionsof that piece. It's my own favorite sacred composition in the corpusof a composer I hold almost sacred. Around me in the audience aremultitudes of Jews, there to appreciate the music and sense thesacred, even as they hear "offensive" and "scandalizing" referencesto "the Jews" coming from the Gospel of John. What goes on, and whatmight we understand, about these public encounters?

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The conflict between two sets of Jews in the family quarrel of thefirst century (A.D.!), preserved in texts, became grievouslydistorted in antisemitism and its consequences. But the Gospel andthe music will not go away, and cannot be wrenched from those whoread truth in the first and hear beauty in the second. (It also"scandalizes" believers to be asked to forget, abandon, or destroytheir own stories and ways.) What to do?

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