Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Interfaith Worship—A Christian-Jewish Conversation

Last week we began to explore the question of interfaith worship with an excerpt concerning the possibilities of Christian-Muslim worship. This week we continue with a comment about Christian-Jewish worship. The writers of this article, a rabbi of a Reformed synagogue and the pastor of a UCC congregation have been involved in this conversation for many years, as their two congregations shared a “ritual space” for more than ten years. In the full version of their article, they explore several examples/ experiments in worshiping together as well as some of the limitations. This week’s excerpt provides a “vision statement” for their work, next week some of the limitations they encountered.
Just as the prophet Isaiah envisions both foreigners and the people of Israel praying in God's house, a “house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56: 7), the prophet's closing vision is “from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.” The hope that all people would worship together is a vision that would encompass the end of human enmity, resulting in a humanity united only by its humble desire to worship God. While the prophetic vision may remain a distant hope, when we share dialogue as people of faith, when we share a meal, when we share service, and especially when we are able to share in worship, we may feel that we are participating in a sign of the hope to come, even though that sign may be periodic, momentary, and fragile.
The kindling of hope and the need to give witness to human solidarity and cooperation is one reason for planning interreligious worship among Christians and Jews. Jews and Christians can come to worship together, in certain circumstances, for the purposes of giving witness, praying for one another and God's creation, or mourning a natural disaster or international tragedy. Jews and Christians can come to worship together, in certain circumstances, for the purpose of expressing confession and hearing forgiveness, in order to take steps toward reconciliation. Jews and Christians can come to worship together for the purpose of joining in celebration, especially in marking one another's life cycle events such as bar and bat mitzvah, confirmation, and marriage. Jews and Christians can come to worship together for the purpose of celebration of congregational achievements or community events.
Yet they also noted the following about their experiences:
The common social and theological orientation of our denominations, combined with the shared economic and educational demographics of our congregations might tempt us to overlook the real and fundamental differences that need to honored among us and taken into consideration when planning shared worship. Indeed, in our years at planning periodic worship and interfaith dialogue together, we often found that our congregants quickly wanted to focus on theological and social similarities and treaded slowly into examining particularistic beliefs and practices. Congregants tended to react favorably to shared worship experiences that emphasized common, universal values, but feared that worship experiences that honored religious differences might somehow exclude those of the opposite religious tradition. Our work together has helped us test and challenge the assumptions of theological modernism, and has perhaps helped our congregants affirm what is valuable and unique about their own liturgical traditions.
How might such conversation and shared experiences help your congregation not only what they share with other religious traditions but also what is valuable and unique about their own?

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