A year ago, Brother Olivier Catel, o.p., and I were invited to participate in the Easter meal with a Jewish family near Gezer. For me, a septuagenarian, exegete and Canadian, it was a first. I had once or twice experienced something of a Seder ritual with a small Christian group. But never in such a significant and striking way as last year, when the more or less approximate imitation gave way to authentic reality.
The activity brought together three generations of the same family. The welcome was very warm. To my great surprise, we were not welcomed at all as strangers, as goyim, but as brothers, with an openness that made the heart feel good. The rite was respected, no doubt: blessings, wine glasses, hand ablutions, herbs, Bible stories (mgyd), unleavened bread, large multi-course meals, psalms (Hallel), symbolic songs. But all this, without any formalism or stiffness, in joy and relaxation.
Why did it impress me so much, when Brother Olivier and I had just left the Christian Good Friday ceremony at St. Stephen’s Basilica?
In fact, as far as I’m concerned, I wasn’t going ─ like not at all ─ to the Seder as an observer or as a curious spectator. Rather, I was going to live the Christian Easter at its source, conscious that, through the magic of worship, whether domestic and family or lived in a large community, the human being is carried away into the mystery of what I call “split time”.
Just recently, I had to write for the Revue Biblique the review of a volume written in French, which presents four Biblical Psalms that could shed new light on the Holy Week ceremonies among Catholics. The book, interesting, seemed to me to be of very good quality. But I regretted two shortcomings.
1° The First Hebrew Testament remained practically ignored, as well as the Semitic culture that underlies the entire Scripture. Many Christian liturgists overvalue the Greek translation of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, even the Neo-Vulgate, while the Psalter is first and foremost an Israelite and then a Jewish heritage. However, all the potential for Christological and Paschal rereading of the Psalms is already found in the Hebrew text, not to mention that the Septuagint is essentially a Jewish product, as are the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion.
2° But above all, I was somewhat and even very moved by reading the following sentence: “If the nocturnal setting links the celebration of the Easter night and the night of the Exodus, it is quite clear that the Easter Vigil is not the commemoration of the night during which God brought his people out of Egypt. It is the Jewish Passover ritual that takes over this ritual function.” This dichotomous statement is, in my opinion, profoundly inaccurate. It condemns the only truly obligatory reading of the First Testament during the Easter Vigil as being, for Christians, only a reminder of the past, whereas it is indeed and essentially part of the dynamics of Christian Easter at the level of “fragmented time” or, if you will, in more technical terms, of trans historicity. I am accustomed to describing the whole biblical history of salvation as a three-vertebrate spine: leaving Egypt (Exodus), leaving Babylon (return from exile) and leaving the tomb (Paschal Resurrection), gravitating the whole of this history around the same axis, liberation. In terms of historicity, these are three very distinct facts that are obviously distant in time and space. But at the level of “fragmented time” ─ where the cultural dynamic ─ situates us, it is the same “event”, if we can say so, whose Christian worship allows us to “live the permanent actuality”. For me last year, in this horizon of full meaning, there was no rupture at all, but perfect continuity between the celebration of Good Catholic Friday and the Jewish Seder, which, for both of us, followed almost immediately.
If I have so much appreciated the fact of feeling for a moment a member of a Jewish servant qāhāl, and especially at the height of the festive calendar of our “elder brothers” ─ as Pope Francis called them in the synagogue of Rome, in the wake of his two predecessors ─, is that I lived these two or three hours not according to the rhythm of the clock, but at the level of “broken time”, that of mystery, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28), but where all rivalries, parochialism, withdrawal reflexes and fears of otherness are fading away. Doesn’t such a sharing of a key meal symbolically prelude the “feast” that awaits us all “with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 8:11)?
Marc Girard, guest professor since 2011
Jerusalem Bible and Archaeological School