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Archive for the ‘Old Testament’ Category

For the past almost four years, I’ve been a member of a small group studying the ecumenical Disciple Bible Study curriculum.

One of the most satisfying parts of the entire experience–and there have been many!–has been studying the Old Testament and learning much more about the history of our faith from the beginning. I mean, we all know the story of Noah and the Ark and Moses parting the Red Sea, but there is so much more there. The New Testament is so much more vibrant, so much more meaningful, with the context of all the history and prophecy of the Old Testament behind it.

More than once, I’ve admired the Jewish faith for maintaining the rituals that mark their holy days. As Christians, I feel like we’ve let go of a lot of our faith heritage in some ways; we don’t always remember or reflect upon where we came from and what that means. It’s not that I am suggesting that we go back and begin living by the law prescribed in the Old Testament; I’m not. But I think we can learn a lot more about our faith and our faith traditions by remembering how it developed.

While we may not actually celebrate Passover, we surely must remember it. The Last Supper, after all, was a Seder meal. When we refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” that’s an allusion to the sacrifices that the Jews made to God so that the angel of death would pass over their homes.

Passover begins next week; the first full day of Passover this year is Tuesday, April 19. To that end, I interviewed an old high school friend of mine, Beth Marler, because she and her family have recently started honoring some of the Jewish holidays like Passover in addition to the Christian holidays.

Beth said that she discovered, while studying the Old Testament, that God told the Israelites to observe certain days so they would remember what God had done for them.

“God knew that humans are quite forgetful, and indeed, the Israelites routinely forgot what God had done for them,” Beth told me. 

Beth noted that, no, she’s not Jewish. So it’s fair to ask why she believes she’s been told by God to remember and celebrate.

“I don’t know that I”m not a descendant of one of those brothers [of the 12 tribes of Israel],” she said. “I think it’s very possible that I am. Don’t know, but could be. Look how many decendants of Judah (modern day Jews) there are.”

But beyond that… “I want to REMEMBER what God has done,” Beth said. “I also want my kids to REMEMBER what God has done.”

So she and her three young daughters do things like make special treats for Purim, blew a shofar (ram’s horn) at Rosh Hashanah and put up tent for the Feast of Booths. And this year, they will try honoring Passover for the first time.

“I may try to cook a lamb,” Beth said.

Pretty thought-provoking, isn’t it?

The title of the fourth year of the Disciple curriculum is “Remember who you are.” Perhaps it will help even more of us in our faith formation if we think more about where we came from, theologically speaking.

Now, someone recently mentioned to me that, when doing this sort of thing, it’s important to stay true to the remembering-who-we-are part, and not cross over into the co-opting-another-faith’s-traditions territory. I completely agree. And I think Beth would agree, too.

It’s important to frame the observance with the context. My church hosts a Seder meal each year to educate church members about the origins of Passover–and how the Last Supper fits into that context. It’s all in the approach and the intent.

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My church hosted a guest preacher today, the Rev. Dr. John L. Bell, a minster from the Church of Scotland who also has a deep interest in congregational worship and music. For the adult Sunday School classes, Bell taught a lesson on rediscovering the Psalms.

Unfortunately, I walked in late (the baby has a little separation anxiety on Sunday mornings), so I missed his discussion of the first psalm on his list. While I got settled, I looked at the list of the rest of the psalms he planned to discuss.  I wondered why on earth he was including the 23rd Psalm. I didn’t think there was anything else that I could possibly learn about the 23rd Psalm, honestly. Haven’t we all heard it a million times? Isn’t it sort of the Old Testament equivalent, in terms of ubiquity, of First Corinthians 13?  It’s not that it’s not a perfectly fine series of verses, full of meaning, important to our understanding of God, blah blah blah, but honestly. It’s one of those pieces of Scripture that I sometimes think I probably don’t ever need to hear again because I’ve heard it sooo many times.

Okay, but I was wrong.

I’ve always been drawn to maternal images in Scripture because I’ve long felt that the feminine aspects of God tend to get downplayed (if, in fact, played at all). And it had never occurred to me to see a subtle feminine side of God within the 23rd Psalm. But Bell found it.

Let me quote:

“You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” [Psalm 23: 5. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version.]

Bell described going to a party. You ring the doorbell, and the person who thinks he’s the host opens the door to greet you. He takes your coat, hangs it in the closet, welcomes you inside, and offers to pour you a drink. But who is the person who spread the tablecloth on the dining room table, the person who arranged the canapes on the silver trays, who (likely) chose the furniture in the room? It was probably his wife. 

Granted, this metaphor doesn’t hold up for every single social situation or family, but doesn’t it ring true for enough of them that you can see Bell’s point? God is preparing a table for us. He is taking care to make the preparations for us to arrive, to make it lovely and beautiful and welcoming. Those are traits very often associated with women. We are often the decorators, the preparers. I’m not even naturally inclined to decorate or prepare, but somehow in my household, I still do it.

In the 23rd Psalm, the writer (David, or at least it’s ascribed to David) is clearly looking forward to being welcomed into heaven in such a manner. And don’t we all wish for that, both on earth and in heaven? Don’t we all want people to gladly welcome us into their homes and share some time and dinner (maybe salmon, she said hopefully) with us? And don’t we also want God to thrown open the door to his kingdom and beckon us in with a big smile and a crisp white tablecloth, heaped with a glorious feast? 

Something to think about.

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