Friday, July 27, 2007

Worship - Le Huitième Jour

This is chapter 8 of my reviews of Christianity in Jewish Terms by Tivka Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, and Michael A. Signer. Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7

Appropriate that 8 be the chapter on worship - But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

8 is one more than the number of perfection. Is it the number of worship?

This chapter has again 3 essays: Jewish and Christian Liturgy, by Lawrence Hoffman, Liturgy and Sensory Experience by Ruth Langer and Christian Worship: An Affair of Things as well as Words by Robert Louis Wilken

The whole book is worth the essay by Lawrence Hoffman. Most important is his explanation of the historical reality of wine as symbol of blood originating in normative Jewish liturgical practice.

To the extent that Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples was ... a chavurah meal, we can understand his references to himself as sacrificial victim as a rhetorical free play on a Jewish sacrificial theme.

Indeed the eucharistic linkage of bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ, the new paschal lamb for Christians, arises out of a symbolic similarity to Jewish practice at the time.

... Wine too was widely assumed to be symbolic of blood. The Bible itself calls wine dam anavim (blood of grapes). By rabbinic times, Jews identified two types of blood as especially apt to bring deliverance: the blood of the paschal lamb and the blood of circumcision... The symbolic use of wine appears liturgically, therefore, in both the Seder and the rite of circumcision.

Therefore he understands how believers in Christ "applied these symbols to the Crucified, seen as the new paschal lamb whose body and blood were offered up on the cross." He describes how Jewish and Christian liturgy diverged - the one continuing with 'saving blood' and the concept of sacrifice and the other away from it because of the destruction of the temple. He clearly understands the writer of Hebrews also. I cannot do justice to his accuracy and completeness of description in so few words.

From blood he turns to remembrance and again shows the depth of reality in the word anamnesis and the Hebrew zecher and zikaron - especially noting the identical dramatic liturgical action of 'making the past present' in Jewish practice with respect to the remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt (zecher litsi'at mitsrayim).

Here in 'drawing God's attention to what matters', we have so much commonality and unity, we can see clearly what it is that distinguishes our respective faith. Faith in the same God, understanding of the need for deliverance, recognition of the cost of a life, the practise of making the past present. Later in his essay, he recognizes the same unmerited dependence on God's grace in both traditions and a commonality in the state of covenantal merit. It is God's doing - and what an act to follow!

The remaining two essays are not disappointing as they relate various aspects of sensory experience in worship and of sacrament, but they touch rather than entering the depths that Hoffman relates.

It can be so with words.

It is not up to me to open doors, just to point if possible with accuracy. The opening is God's doing, the approach and entry is ours by the mystery of the One who seeks us. Hoffman has pointed with accuracy - it is more than description.

Now instead of a fearful allusion to the cautionary refrains of the Song - Rabbi Akiva's Holy of Holies, let us hear the beginning.
יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ, כִּי-טוֹבִים דֹּדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for thy love is better than wine.

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