Trumpocalpyse Now


Protest at Trump Tower in New York Saturday. (Christopher Lee/The New York Times)

It is the Friday night after Election Day as I write this, and I’ve just finished hosting our Video Evensong webcast. It has been a difficult week for millions of Americans, including me and most of our webcasters – as accustomed as we are to praying our way through bad news all around the world. This election was, metaphorically speaking, like this time, Hurricane Katrina blew through all our living rooms and trashed the place. Almost all of us felt personally devastated; and those who might not have voted the way we did, or had the same reaction to the results, knew very well how much their liberal friends were hurting. We’re a great group that way. Since we get together 11 times a week, we know each other well, and everyone is full of both faith and empathy. So we had some discussions among ourselves a time or two after the webcasts. I’m proud of how we all handled ourselves. No one was burdened, the hurt was mostly left unsaid, but did come out as needed – and we saw that while we agree on most things, we don’t agree about everything, and we have no trouble living with that fact.

So I’m happy with my band(width) mates.

But I’m not happy, not at all; Tuesday was one of the darkest days of my life. Our fellow Americans elected the worst imaginable president. We have been let down by our fellow citizens, including members of our own coalition. (“Hillary’s not Barack, so I’m staying home.”) When have we ever seen post-election violence before?

We haven’t, not in our lifetimes. According to historian Douglas Brinkley, the last time was 1860 after the election of Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War.


Portland, Oregon had a small riot late Friday, after most protesters had dispersed. Police blamed anarchists; one person was shot. (Cole Howard/Reuters)

In my mind the voters have destroyed America. I have no belief in the place anymore; the very idea of America has left me. The country we used to have would never have elected this sleazeball. But that country no longer exists. That is a very, very big deal!

California, here I come – at least the thought passes through my mind. (Now would be a good time for me to leave Indiana once and for all.) But I live in relative poverty and could never afford to live on the West Coast. On top of that I hate earthquakes.

The election of you-know-who fell on me like a ton of bricks; I was peaceably strolling by last Tuesday, minding my own business, when the Big One hit and that apartment building fell on me. I’m still in shock.

I keep returning to the thought that we’ve failed our grandchildren – and I don’t even have any. I visualize my grandparents in heaven grabbing me by the lapels and asking me, “How did you let this happen?”

Hey, don’t blame me; I went Democrat when I was 13. That was the year of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and I campaigned for the entire Democratic ticket. Barry Goldwater rejected the Civil Rights Act and I rejected the politics of where I’m from.

Now, 52 years later, every one of them spent in political activism, I quit.

I will do whatever I can to help the poor and oppressed, but I don’t believe in the United States anymore. No more politics for me.

Eight years ago I was Barack Obama’s county coordinator, and we carried Indiana! Now, I just don’t have the time. Y’all do what you want. Spread your nuclear arms all over the world, I’m done. Pollute the air and water, make big money!

Demonize Jews and Muslims? No. I despise every last human on the face of the earth who voted for that.

The racism. The misogyny. The personality disorder!


Los Angeles a few days ago. After the election in 2000, when the Supreme Court made George W. Bush president, I said “Not my Supreme Court.” Many people today say “Not my President.” I’m past all that; not my country. We’ve just declared political war on tens of millions of our fellow citizens, and I won’t be part of that. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

And the fundamentalists who ate it up like Post Toasties. I have to laugh at their faux Christianity. They’re such frauds, Jesus told us all about it. On some level, I finally find them comical. Better than demonic, I guess; they know not what they do.

Now this language may surprise you, so don’t take me the wrong way and I’ll try to be clear. Here’s what the election said to me as a religious person. I believe the United States is now under God’s judgment. We’ve avoided it for 250-odd years despite genocide and slavery, but this week da shit done hit da fan.

For me personally, I think the message is that I must not idolize the government I happen to live under, despite the nobility of its stated ideals. Jesus didn’t idolize the Roman Empire and we mustn’t deify our version of it either.

In the lectionary we’ve been reading a lot of prophecy lately, as opposed to history; that’s one way to tell that Advent’s coming. And with the OT prophets we also get the Divine Vision of John, that which shall be revealed. He writes vividly of the Fall of Babylon, and as we read those passages last week I couldn’t help thinking of the USA. The city’s biggest sin was greed, and that reminds me of us.

Trump isn’t going to restore jobs in coal country, Detroit or Gary or my hometown. The rich will get richer and the rest are just screwed.

That’s the way it’s always been, Christians know, but for a little while America seemed to promise otherwise.

I’m not hurting particularly for Gay people yet, but I want to mourn with African-Americans. And the disabled and Mexicans and refugees and teenage beauty queens who didn’t deserve to have a future president of Babylon walk into their changing room, because he owned the place and thought he owned them.

What is my mother going to say? That’s what I wonder. My grandparents were always nice to me; my mother’s going to be so ticked off.

She might even have voted for Hillary this time, and then complained about it constantly for four years. She wouldn’t have been able to stand the mention of That Man’s name in her presence. Diehard Republican, my Mom. She put Bruce Willis to shame.

She wouldn’t have recognized this idiot as a member of her party. She’d have been totally irate that she paid taxes while he didn’t. She was a capitalist; I am not.

I bet she started raking coals in hell when Trump insulted that Gold Star family because they’re Muslim. She’d spare the Muslims and throw Trump in once she got her fire going real good.

This all becomes so personal; here I am talking about my ancestors, and above I was talking about my friends.

God’s judgment is firm; I feel comfortable claiming this, that God does not permit without consequences the demonization of vast social groups by politicians, governments, churches or countries.

I think we’re under the judgment; and I think we’ve just witnessed the beginning of the Fall of Babylon. Does this sound extreme to you, alarmist?

If I’m right, other countries will take our place; China’s the most logical one. Way to go, Rust Belt!

This certainly is a time for robust Federalism on the West Coast. I’d think an American decline, if it happens, would hurt Silicon Valley and educated, innovative people everywhere. Discrimination costs money; inclusion makes money. We can’t have a scientist who would cure cancer shut out of school because she’s Black or Muslim or an immigrant. If that’s how we’re going to operate, other countries will pick up the slack, and so will their companies.

The idea of America depends on its living up to its ideals. If we don’t have those, we don’t have the overwhelming advantage they’ve given us.

I’m still weighing whether I have to give up newspapers now, to avoid the normalization of Trump as if he’s just the latest in a long line of presidents. I have no interest beyond the headlines in anything he says or does, much less the climate change denier he’s putting in charge of the Environmental Pollution Agency, or who’s the next secretary of Bombing the Middle East.

If somehow Trump turns out better than I expect, I will celebrate that – but there’s virtually no chance of it, considering that two days after he was elected to be world strongman, he went on Twitter to  denounce the demonstrations against him as the work of “professional protesters.” They’re mostly high school and college kids, but the first words out of his fingers were a lie!

He’s not going to change once he gets sworn in; his narcissism and disorganization will consume him. I spent years on the front lines in mental health; the last person you want in the White House is a personality disorder. Psychotic Nixon would make Trump look good. Next election, let’s restrict the franchise to psych nurses.

Trump has no core at the center of his personality; that’s why he’s so grandiose, to fill up the emptiness inside. The man has no friends; the day after he’s sworn in he’s going to say to himself, “Is that all there is to being president?”

Don’t blame me, I voted for Hillary, even though I don’t like or trust the witch. (I haven’t indulged my tempting Sanders fantasy; the fact is we’ll never know how he’d have matched up against this fool. Thank you, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and assorted media scum.)


San Diego, and dozens of other cities, marching against bigots and climate change deniers in the White House. (Sandy Huffaker/Reuters)

As for my congregation, I close with this: we’re right to make fun of churches with American flags in the sanctuary. We’re right not to worship America’s PR machine. There’s only one God and we must have no other before him, or even near him.

As I get older I’m really letting go of a lot of things, including some of my own shameful delusions; now it turns out I have to give up politics too as any kind of answer. Justice is rare in this world; injustice is more common.

Keep fighting injustice, never give in to it, but our fellow citizens have let us down, which is where the betrayal naturally comes from; the Founders warned us and countless others since. Now it’s happened, we are betrayed, and God has allowed this to happen (along with millions of non-voters).

Our special status as a nation is gone, at least to me. Instead, our help is in the Name of the Lord.

I’ll give Mother Mary the last word. Her song isn’t sweetness and light, it’s a curse and a cry of liberation.

My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth *
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed for ever. Amen.++

Church Composer: Evil Episcopalians “Corrode” Souls, “Pollute” Society

Maybe you remember the video we showed on the morning of Christmas Eve, “The King Shall Come” by Michael Linton. It’s a lovely piece, sweetly sung and played by the combined choirs and orchestra at Wheaton College.

That should have been my first clue – and it was, actually, because this was the first favorable mention of fundamentalist Wheaton we’ve ever had on our site in 10 years. But I decided to go ahead in honor of the college’s courageous role 150 years ago in the anti-slavery movement, and because Linton’s Advent carol should be more widely heard. For several days after I posted the video, that was the music I heard in my head, not the standard Christmas repertory. I watched the video several times.

The composer makes quite an effort to ask viewers to visit his website, so I did, and wrote him a nice note to let him know that we’d shown his work on our webcast and made it available to our thousands of followers. The video had only had a thousand plays before this, so I thought he would be pleased. But come to find out…

He answered back this morning.

“Dear Josh:

“Thank you for your e-mail regarding the use of Wheaton’s performance of “The King Shall Come.”  Mary Hopper is an extraordinary musician and I was both delighted and honored by Wheaton’s use of the processional.  And I am grateful for your kind note.  But it is with mixed feelings that I receive the news of the piece’s use on the website.

“I am happy that your visitors like the piece and found it useful, and also for your own kind words.  But there is more. Because of the House of Bishop’s vote in 2003, confirming the bishops’ belief that the Bible was not to be held as the authority in matters of faith and practice, over riding all else (a motion put before the House of Bishops by the Bishop of Quincy, Illinois, if I remember correctly), my wife and I resigned our positions in an Episcopal parish as musicians and exited the Episcopal Church with our daughters.  Except for one funeral, I have not even been inside an Episcopal Church since nor have I used the dailyoffice website (something that I once consulted twice daily).  I believe that the Episcopal Church as it stands today is both deeply corrosive to lives of Christians and a pollutant in the wider, secular, culture.  I understand that people of good will and the best intentions can disagree on important matters, but there comes a time when profound disagreements must lead to responsible separations.

“I believe that there really is a time when “the King shall come” and “truth shall be extolled.”  It’s just not a bit of poetry.  And at that time all of our sins and arrogances will be burned away, most certainly mine.  But I ask that my music not again be linked to the dailyoffice website.  There is a continent of deeply wonderful music available for use and whatever music I might have most certainly won’t be missed by those using the site.

“I do not mean to be rude or ungrateful for your personal kindness.  I am grateful and I thank you for being so generous as to understand a position which to many might seem inexplicable — but it is my position.

“All best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2015.


Imagine that – I belong to an evil Church that’s corrosive to Christians and pollutes civil society, but he wishes me a healthy and properous new year!

As Vicar I get these Gay-hating messages from time to time, but to me it’s just one of the costs of proclaiming the Gospel. Linton doesn’t spell it out, but that 2003 decision in the House of Bishops had nothing to do with Biblical authority; if anything it had to do with Biblical interpretation. But the decision in 2003 concerned the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson, who is openly Gay, as Bishop of New Hampshire. He needed the consent of the other Episcopal bishops and he got it – then had to wear a bulletproof vest to his consecration, in case some fundamentalist bigot decided to assassinate him.

So I replied to Mr. Linton:

“That’s fine. I once picketed your alma mater for encouraging anti-Gay violence and murder.

“Josh Thomas”

Here’s a photo I took that day in 2007 outside the Wheaton chapel when former Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola preached to Bob Duncan’s “Anglican” schismatics; 50 demonstrators showed up, not a huge number, but still, the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Times, local TV, the Associated Press, Christianity Today, the college newspaper, the Religion News Service: we got our message across. Jesus loves everyone.

Bob and Max on the corner outside the Wheaton College Chapel, 2007. (Josh Thomas)

Bob and Max on the corner outside the Wheaton College Chapel, 2007. The demonstrator in the background holds a sign, “Akinola Says, “Gays Unfit to Live.” (Josh Thomas)

I don’t always answer the Michael Lintons of the world; there’s no point in arguing with a bigot. They never have original things to say that I haven’t heard 10,000 times before. But I decided today that I’d give him a 20-word reply for no better reason than so he would know the first and most important lesson of the Stonewall Riots: If you attack us, we fight back.

It’s true of Lesbigay people and I hope it’s true of Episcopalians: we fight back. I am all in favor of saintly Louie Crew turning the other cheek, but it’s not what I’m called to do.

I hoped my 20 words would be enough to make my pal Mike think twice about continuing this useless conversation, but no. He couldn’t let a thing like that go by.

So he sent this. (I haven’t even looked at it yet, just copy-and-paste.)

“Thanks Josh.  It must have been fun to picket NYU and Yale!  HA. I assume you mean Wheaton.   Were you with Soulforce? I may have this wrong, but I do believe that the college provided a meal and a discussion for the Soulforce visitors, at least one time, followed by a civil open forum.  But I may have the story wrong.   We live on somewhat metaphorically different planets with different values.  Let’s hope that we can continue to cultivate a civilization where such differences are respected, where we don’t descend to the kind of civilization where differences bring people to kill each other, as is happening in Africa and the Middle East.  It will be tricky to negotiate and there’s no guarantee that we’ll be successful but it is something to work for.


(And I still haven’t read it; let him have the last word, so I don’t get sucked in to another pointless screamfest.)

Wheaton College continues to promote anti-Gay views – and to provoke increasing criticism from its own students. Last January the college gave its chapel to a “conversion therapy” advocate, even though “pray away the Gay” isn’t a therapy, doesn’t work and is illegal when administered to minors in California and New Jersey. Christianity Today was on top of that demonstration too and ran this photo by Philip Fillion:

"Wheaton Students Protest 'Train Wreck Conversion' Speaker's Ex-Gay Testimony," by Kate Tracy, in Christianity Today, posted 2/21/14.

“Wheaton Students Protest ‘Train Wreck Conversion’ Speaker’s Ex-Gay Testimony,” by Kate Tracy, in Christianity Today, posted 2/21/14. The magazine was founded by Billy Graham and has offices in Coral Stream, Illinois, like Wheaton a suburb of Chicago.

Meanwhile American televangelist Scott Lively, described by The Washington Post as “obsessively anti-Gay,” is facing a “crimes against humanity” lawsuit in Federal court for his role in promoting Uganda’s “kill the Gays” law. Maybe he can get a gig at Wheaton.

I would think that our humble composer and the little fundamentalist college would think twice about picking needless fights with Gay people, when it’s increasingly obvious that young adults have made up their minds on the sinfulness and injustice of homophobia. But no, these intrepid anti-Gay campaigners soldier on, convinced they’re warriors for Christ – and in that, I do aver, we have everything in common.

Mike Linton wrote a nice tune, and the Wheaton students sang it beautifully. I just don’t ever want to hear it again in one of our evil, wicked, corrosive, polluting Episcopal churches.++


Dr. Louis Weil on Anti-Judaism Issues in the Scriptures for Holy Week

Rosalind Russell and Jan Hendzlik in "Auntie Mame." She taught that child not to be prejudiced, but for a little while he forgot.

Rosalind Russell and Jan Hendzlik in “Auntie Mame.” She taught that child not to be prejudiced, but for a little while he forgot.

Dear Congregation,

A few days ago I received a note from Regina, one of our longtime members and commenters, who wrote, “I love your commentary and illustrations on abolitionism and racism and homophobia and the suppression of women. I am, however, distressed that the readings from the gospel of John during Lent are so anti-Semitic in tone. I just spoke with my rector today about the need to point out that almost all of Jesus’ supporters and Jesus himself are all Jews. Would you consider a similar comment?”

I replied, “Thanks for your note. What really bothers me is when we’re course-reading John’s Gospel, more than just the Sunday snippets. There it’s ‘those terrible Jews’ every single day. Fortunately we’re in Mark right now. I’ll try to find an article I downloaded from the Standing Liturgical Commission about this, and post it on the Vicar’s Blog.”

So here it is, by Dr. Louis Weil, the distinguished professor emeritus at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. I thought of his article because this is a real issue and it takes a Biblical scholar to address it.

I’ll make two brief comments, then let him take over: first, in my experience today’s Episcopalians seldom or never express anti-Semitic views or attitudes; and second, once upon a time, we sure did. Remember that scene in Patrick Dennis’s play Auntie Mame where young Patrick introduces his fiancée’s parents to his aunt? Their prejudice against Jews is quickly shown to be ridiculous, which is how he comes to realize his stuck-up girlfriend isn’t right for him. If we take those stereotypical parents to be examples of a certain kind of Episcopalian in their day, we’d get it about right. Some of us were the stuffed shirts Mame taught him to despise.

The social climbers among us are mostly gone now, but the damage they inflicted is not – so let’s bear in mind that Lent is a time for us to repent.

Thanks, Regina.


Anti-Judaism Issues in the Scriptures for Holy Week

By Louis Weil

One of the consequences of Jewish-Christian dialogue in recent decades has been a growing awareness of the role played by the New Testament lectionary readings for Holy Week. Consciously or unconsciously, interpretations of these readings in the preaching of Christian pastors have fostered anti-Jewish attitudes among Christians over many centuries. Preachers have propagated the idea, from the earliest times and continuing into our own day, that the Jews as a people bear responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Although this effect was at times unintended, we have explicit evidence of preaching in which the Jews were demonized from the pulpits of Europe.[1] We find this especially in the preaching which took place during Holy Week, and most particularly in the intense focus on the death of Jesus on Good Friday. Preachers did not hesitate to remind their hearers of the guilt of all Jews for the death of the Lord, with the consequence that quite commonly on Good Friday Jewish families would remain hidden in their homes in order to avoid abuse and even death.[2]

This history places an enormous responsibility upon preachers today to remain alert for any comment in their preaching which might give renewed support to this anti-Jewish prejudice which was often communicated by parents to their children from their earliest years. The hearing of the Scriptures and the interpretations offered by preachers had a determinative effect in the shaping of anti-Jewish attitudes as characteristic of a Christian identity. A potent example of this is the use of the term “the Jews” as a factor in the shaping of anti-Jewish attitudes within a congregation as being appropriate for people of Christian faith.  Such preaching shaped an identity in which these anti-Jewish attitudes might become embodied in words and actions against one’s Jewish neighbors.

Our goal in this commentary for Holy Week 2013 is to focus on certain ‘difficult’ issues which emerge from a consideration of the Holy Week readings.  Since we are in Year C of our lectionary cycle, our initial attention must be given to the Gospel of Luke which plays a primary role in this year’s cycle.

The Sunday of the Passion:  Palm Sunday

The proclamation of the Passion holds primary place on this Sunday.  This tradition predates the introduction of what we know as Holy Week, including the Liturgy of the Palms, which was introduced in the fourth-century in Jerusalem. The normal day for the assembly of Christians was Sunday, the Day of the Lord, and so the Sunday one week prior to Easter was the day on which the Passion would be read, being the last day of assembly prior to that on the Day of the Resurrection.

The Liturgy of the Palms was a later addition at the time of the historicizing in the liturgy of the events prior to the death of Jesus. This development took place quite naturally in Jerusalem since that is where the events occurred.  It was from there that the Holy Week rites spread to other parts of the world.  In Jerusalem, the Liturgy of the Palms was not attached to the reading of the Passion at the Eucharist, but rather became the first part of the evening liturgy of Vespers, thus quite separate from the proclamation of the Passion. The people gathered on the Mount of Olives in the late afternoon and from there moved in procession into the city.  The Palm liturgy thus began the “second layer” — the weekday sequence — commemorating the daily sequence of events leading up to the Sacred Triuduum, the Three Days which took as their focus the final meal, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Easter Vigil and first celebration of the Eucharist of the Resurrection.

The proclamation of the Passion in cycle C, being drawn from the Gospel of Luke, immediately faces us with the significant distinction between the Passion in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the Passion of John.  In the synoptics, the death of Jesus has the appearance of defeat — he is, as it were, a martyr, and the Jews are given the blame.  In Luke, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent and is prepared to release him, but in the end submits to the Jewish leaders and the crowd by authorizing the execution.  But the preacher must make clear that by the time of the writing of Luke’s Gospel, the hostility between the Christian disciples (most of whom were themselves Jewish) and the Jewish leaders had become acrimonious.  It is likely that this hostility affected the way in which the recounting of the events of the Passion were presented.

It is not special pleading to suggest that the account in Luke may exaggerate the culpability of the Jewish leaders for its own polemic purpose.  At the very least, the presentation of the Jewish leaders and of Judaism in general is complex.  The early part of the Gospel dealing with the events around the conception and birth of Jesus, his circumcision, and his presentation at the Temple all place his life in the context of a faithful Jewish community, which sets these chapters in sharp contrast to the harsh descriptions of the Pharisees in later chapters.  New Testament scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Luke was the work of a Gentile writer and was addressed to Gentile readers, and so looks at the events, as it were, from ‘outside’ Jewish religious experience.

Maundy Thursday

The lectionary of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, offered Luke 22:14-30, as an alternative to John 13:1-15.  The Revised Common Lectionary does not offer the Lucan alternative, but expands the Johannine reading: John 13:1-17, 31b-35. This expansion articulates the particular perspective in John that the crucifixion of Jesus is his glorification:  the Cross is the sign of victory, as in the ancient hymn Vexilla regis (Hymnal 161), “God is reigning from the tree.”  Thus the Gospel reading for Maundy Thursday links us to the proclamation of the Passion of John on Good Friday.

This supports the claim that the liturgies of the Triduum are actually one great liturgy in three ‘parts’ which are celebrated over that number of days.  This understanding is further supported by the rites themselves in that there is no dismissal given in the prayer book for either the Maundy Thursday or the Good Friday liturgies.

Another dimension of the Maundy Thursday rite which invites an exploration of the common heritage of Jews and Christians is the presumed character of the Last Supper as a Passover seder, as it is presented in the Gospel reading. Many Christians have had the experience of participating in the Passover meal with Jewish friends.[3]  For me, this experience has been much more rewarding than that of a so-called ‘Christian seder’. It is worth remembering that in 1979, the Standing Liturgical Commission issued a document in which such Christianization of the Jewish rite was strongly discouraged as a presumptuous use of a Jewish ritual that removes it from its appropriate context.[4]  When I last attended the Passover with Jewish friends, I was profoundly moved by the many moments in the ritual when within me the connection of the Passover to our Lord’s final meal was made real in its own terms.  If a preacher on this day chooses to talk about the Last Supper, it offers an occasion to again emphasize the common heritage in which both Jews and Christians are rooted.

Good Friday

Finally we turn to what is in many ways, along with Passion Sunday, a rite that offers particular challenges to the preacher. Albeit allowing for differences of emphasis, it is in both of these rites that the Passion is proclaimed, and thus where anti-Judaic attitudes have most been nurtured. It is with regard to the Gospel of John in particular that commentators have raised the question of anti-Judaism. That is, of course, an important question for us, and perhaps particularly for those who preach on Good Friday.

Throughout the Gospel of John there are comments about “the Jews” which have confirmed in the minds of many people that the Gospel is itself anti-Jewish.  But is this claim justified? In the Gospel of John, who were “the Jews”? The term appears over seventy times in this Gospel, far more frequently than in the other three.  Whereas the Synoptic Gospels generally refer to specific Jewish groups such as the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, John generally refers indiscriminately to “the Jews.” We have been conditioned to hear those words as applying to the opponents of Jesus, and thus as pejorative.

Commentators have noted, however, that the term is used with various meanings in John. “The Jews” can refer to the people who live in Judea (John 7:1—18), or it can refer to a sub-group within the synagogue (John 9:22). At other places, the term is used in reference to people who are clearly friends, like those who comfort Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus has died (John 11:31f.), or in reference to “the festivals of the Jews.”[5] We need always to remember that all of the people in the Gospel narrative were Jews, therefore the preacher must avoid any hint of seeing “the Jews” in caricature.

The problem for us is that, although we may assert that the Gospel of John is not anti-Jewish, it seems that it often sounds that way to our ears.  For this reason, it is imperative that preachers — generally, of course, but especially when preaching on the Passion — be very attentive to their choice of words.  Unless we are careful about this, our hearers may not hear what we intend.  In this regard, it is helpful to read a variety of translations of the pericopes assigned for Holy Week in the lectionary. Every translation offers, of course, an interpretation, and if we are attentive to a variety of voices offering to us nuanced distinctions, we shall be more prepared to meet this challenge, and to proclaim the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord with words that embody the Gospel in its integrity.


Statement By The Standing Liturgical Commission:

Why a Seder is not appropriate on Maundy Thursday

26 February 1979

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in celebrating a Passover Seder on Maundy Thursday. Sometimes the meal is thinly Christianized; sometimes a traditional Jewish Seder is used without any change. (The word seder means order). Although this practice grows out of an understandable desire to reproduce the circumstances of the Last Supper, and so to participate more vividly and intimately in one of the central events of Holy Week, it is a questionable practice for several reasons:

There is a serious disagreement within the New Testament itself as to whether the Last Supper was in fact a Passover Meal. The first three Gospels clearly describe it as such; but the Fourth Gospel declares that the crucifixion occurred on the “day of Preparation” (John 19. 31), and thus the Last Supper fell on the night before the Passover.

For another thing, a true Passover Seder is a highly festive occasion, inappropriate during the Lenten fast.

But most important, every aspect of the Jewish religion has been transformed for Christians by the death and resurrection of Christ. Even Maundy Thursday is not simply a historical reconstruction of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Although our attention on Maundy Thursday is fixed on the scene in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, nevertheless our primary act of worship on that day is a full Christian Eucharist, during which we proclaim, as we do throughout the year, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Thus, even on Maundy Thursday, Christians worship in the power of the resurrection. On the Passover, Jews remember their deliverance from Egypt, and thereafter from all the enemies of their historical existence. But Christians, in their worship, remember their deliverance from “the last enemies”, sin and death. We say “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” because we believe that Christ, through his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter, has brought the fulfilment of God’s promised deliverance. It is the death and resurrection of Christ, rather than the Last Supper, which most nearly correspond to the Exodus from Egypt; and thus the Great Vigil of Easter which most nearly corresponds to the Passover Seder of the Jews.

Christians who celebrate a Jewish Passover on Maundy Thursday are not truly respecting the integrity of Jewish Passover expectancy, for Christians believe that Jewish expectations have already been fulfilled in Christ. (Christians can truly worship only by expressing that conviction, as in the Eucharist. For them to participate in Jewish worship requires a degree of mental reservation: a temporary setting aside of their distinctive Christian identity. ) Also, they are failing to recognize that the fulfilment of those Jewish expectations in Christ is through the whole paschal mystery, through his death and resurrection, rather than in the Last Supper, which was a preliminary anticipation of that hope.

It is a right instinct to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection at this time of the year in a more intimate and familial way than usual. The holding of agape meals during Holy Week, especially on Maundy Thursday after the celebration of the Eucharist, is to be encouraged. But these meals should be simple, even austere, in keeping with Lenten fast. They should point forward to the great paschal fast, which begins after the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, is intensified on Good Friday, continues through Holy Saturday, and is concluded by the reception of Easter communion.

Part of the pressure for observing a Passover Seder may arise, even unconsciously, from our desire to experience transition or passage to a new life. Of course, it is the celebration of Holy Baptism within the Great Vigil, and the Lenten preparation for it, which constitutes for Christians our passage to new life, our “Exodus.” When Christian initiation is better understood, and its practice becomes a dramatic part of our celebration of the Easter mystery, the desire for a Christian observance of a Passover Seder may pass away.

[1] See Devils, Women, and Jews by Joan Young Gregg (Albany, NY:  State University of New York Press, 1997. This book gives examples of medieval sermons in which evil is attributed by nature not only to the devil, but also to women and to Jews.

[2] We must remember, however, that such anti-Jewish preaching was by no means limited to the liturgies of Holy Week. Anti-Judaism was fostered in devotional literature as well.

[3] It is important to note that the seder as we have come to know it probably does not follow the same ritual which Jesus and his disciples would have used. The pattern now familiar to contemporary Jews did not appear until several centuries after the time of Christ.

[4] The text of the Statement from 1979 is being added as a supplement to this commentary.

[5] See the discussion of this question in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (eds. Levine & Brettler), NY:  Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 155-6.