Over the years I have been privileged to participate in a number of Jewish Passover — Seder — services. I have been a guest at synagogues, and at the home of a Rabbi. The church I served held such a service for our members each year. We used the Haggadah (words and actions for the service) supplied by the local synagogue. The typical service is based on the contemporary implications of a retelling of the H flight from Egypt, and centers on a symbolic meal.
This year again our community Seder was held, not at the local synagogue, but at the Islamic Center, and was sponsored by the “Working Group on Middle East Peace.” Leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious bodies have come together in recent years to plead for mutual acceptance in a world where religious hostility seems to be epidemic. Community Seders may be common, but this is the only one I know about that is held yearly on the grounds of a Mosque. If you know of others, let me know.
Instead of trying to describe the distinct nature of the event, let me offer a couple of the introductory quotes from the text of the service. These passages clearly show the underlying purpose of having this Jewish rite held in a Muslim setting with Christian participation.
How good and pleasant to dwell together as one, from Psalm 133. In Hebrew “Hine tov umah nayin, shevet, achim gam yachad.” All songs were introduced in Hebrew, under the direction of our brilliant local Cantor, and repeated in the various languages of those in the assembly.
LEADER — (The cantor.) “At this sacred moment, Muslims, Christians and Jews gather together with other members of our diverse community to free ourselves of the ancient plague of darkness… It is important to acknowledge that the texts and teaching of all faiths are vulnerable to manipulation by violence extremists … All our religious traditions share the basic values necessary to create a world where tolerance and peace prevail. … We come to celebrate the message of freedom—through which must come truth and reconciliation.”
Short readings were offered from Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. While the service tried to be faithful to the Jewish nature of the feast, in the background throughout were two clear albeit quietly articulated concerns. (1) The widespread anti-Islamic vituperations, whose sole purpose is to spread suspicion and bitterness. (2) The desperate need for a solution to the Near-East crisis, ultimately culminating in two nations side by side.
So while the world is plagued by bitterness, division and bloodshed, for us in this city the Seder was a testimony that the hatred stops here, and that for us there must be exhibited a better path to solving seemingly unsolvable problems. While there may be those around us whose distrust rules their lives, and where even American foreign policy takes one side against the other, in this community there are hundreds of peace-makers calling for a different agenda. And our local “Working Group for Middle East Peace” in this service is living out what the heart of all authentic religions hold — We are one people.
In the middle of the joyful service, we were reminded once again of the horror of religious bigotry with news that a white supremist had just murdered several people at a Jewish Center outside Kansas City. The irony was that all three of the murdered victims were Christians. Hatred has no boundaries.