Lent always seems too long, but still the Triduum sneaks up on me. I feel rushed and unready as we enter the three days. In our household, we observe a few traditions that involve preparatory tasks, especially a festive meal on Holy Thursday before mass, but the main focus is the liturgy, held at our parish in the evenings on these days. They are rich with symbol and meaning and require only my attentive presence. Entering the church, with relief I cast off the necessity to “do” anything in particular.
This year I approach the Triduum with new curiosity after finishing this week James Carroll’s 2001 work, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History. It’s a massive exploration of the historical and theological elements within Christianity that contributed to anti-Semitism generally and ultimately to the Holocaust. It’s also part memoir, as Carroll incorporates his own life experiences as they relate to the material, an aspect I enjoyed very much, though criticized by some reviewers.
Reading this book was not originally related to Lent; it just emerged that way. The result is much greater awareness of how the story of Jesus is told “against Judaism instead of within it.” I’m newly aware of the extent to which Christianity is based on Judaism’s supposed obsolescence. Carroll portrays how dynamics and events surrounding the early believers led to this dichotomy; he asserts that the stories of the New Testament, written well after Jesus, were composed to distinguish the new community from their Jewish rivals. Yet Jesus himself was Jewish. The readings of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are at the heart of this matter, so I’ll be listening with a new perspective.
Tonight of course we recollect that Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples on the night before he died. The practice of Judaism as a living faith in the present day has become more real to me over the past few years because we live in a strongly Jewish area. A synagogue, one of five in the village, is located behind our house. I serve on the seven-member Village Council with five Jewish people. My workout facility is a Jewish Community Center where banners wish me a happy Passover or Purim or Hanukkah, etc, throughout the year, feasts based on events in the scripture of our own religion.
How are we to understand the relationship between Christianity and Judaism? Definitely a mystery to be pondered during the Easter season.