Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Giles Fraser - 03/12/2012
This weekend’s been a first for me. Instead of preaching and teaching in my own Church at the Elephant and Castle I’ve been preaching and teaching in a Synagogue in Golders Green. It was quite wonderful, but also, at times, utterly confusing. I didn’t know the songs, I couldn’t find my way around the service book and though I recognized a few
familiar phrases, I can only read Hebrew letters at about the same pace as your average three year old. For someone who is used to being completely on top of things in a place of worship, it gave me an unfamiliar feeling of foolishness.
Which is why being trusted with the main sermon slot felt like such an honour - but also quite a risk on the part of the Rabbi who invited me. I don’t write out my sermons and so the danger of inadvertently referencing some ready to hand Christian phrase or idiom was always going to be present. Not that I wanted to disguise my own faith. But
given the long and aggressive history of Christian evangelisation towards the Jews, I was certainly not going to return the synagogue’s hospitality with any talk of Jesus. Yet this also created a problem.
For denying myself the usual menu of things I might ordinarily say in a sermon, I felt quite stranded. What on earth was there to say?
Interestingly, the Torah portion for last Shabbat was about the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau and seemed to speak directly into this situation. These two twin brothers, who had fought even in their mother’s womb and hadn’t spoken for years had a long and complicated history of bad feeling between them. Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birthright who had every reason to be burning with indignation. But yet, as brothers, they were also bonded by an undeniable sense of fraternal love. The night before their meeting, Jacob stayed up all night wrestling with his conscience in the form of an angel. And as he went out in the morning to meet his brother, he took with him dozens of expensive gifts - perhaps as a way of saying the things he didn’t know how else to say. But they were not needed. Indeed, Esau waves them aside. In the end the reconciliation was simply two brothers, with an impossibly difficult history, who found a way through to an embrace and a sharing of their tears.
I don’t want directly to cast Christians and Jews as either Jacob or Esau. But the story had so many parallels to the difficulty of my sermon. I too had been up half the night worrying about what to say. I too passionately believe a fundamental connection exists between Christians and Jews whilst recognizing how much complicated history we
also share. I too felt empty handed standing before a Jewish
congregation without my usual collection of rhetorical themes. But perhaps there are times when just being there is enough. And I felt the congregation understood that too. Which is why, for me, it turned out to be the most moving and extraordinary weekend. For words themselves don’t always carry the deepest of meanings.
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