Remember the symbol of the fiddler on the roof, perched precariously and dangerously, in Fiddler on the Roof? Remember Tevya stomping his feet, waving his arms, and belting out, “Tradition! Tradition!”?
Le’Dor Va’Dor means “from generation to generation” in Hebrew. And that is foundational to the Jewish religion: passing it on to your kids and grandkids. That is exactly why the Jews have outlasted any other people group on the face of the earth. They understand and embrace tradition–biblical, rabbinical, family, spiritual, social, cultural–it is all rolled into one big matzah ball.
Yesterday morning Wayne and I attended Rosh HaShanah services at a Messianic Jewish synagogue in Dallas. In the service, we followed the prescribed tradition of the holiday, centuries old. Ancient and new at once, it glowed with depth, and we unpacked its meaning through the means of liturgy.
Jewish liturgy never ceases to move and amaze me.
In the service, we rehearshed with the congregation the biblical meanings of the day: The historical foundation, the Psalm and praises, the songs. We said things that the Jewish people have been rehearsing for centuries. The rabbi repeated his parts, the cantor chanted his parts, and the congregation echoed ours.
Since Judaism is the root of Christianity, I am sure the liturgy found within the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches is somewhat similiar. However, a liturgical service like this is foreign to many branches of Christianity, and even may be disdained by some.
Some scream that it is boring or rote or even dead for crying out loud! That it just plain does not give one the freedom to express a depth of heart to God.
But I love the liturgy, of course if it is not contrary to the Bible. The repitition of the words grows sweeter with the passing of each Sabbath celebration or holiday.
I worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home right after high school. It was a wonderful experience for which I remain grateful to this day. I remember warmly one of my patients, Mrs. Spaulding–a small, Jewish woman with a mighty will. I loved her feistiness. I sought to win her affections, so I sat by her chair when I had a free moment or two and tried to engage her in coversation. She was not lucid all the time; but when she was, I could tell she was a very intelligent woman.
She often repeated over and over Jewish prayers she had no doubt learned as a child. Whether she was lucid or not; those prayer remained deep in her heart, and they bubbled up when everything else seemed gone.
Both Christians and Jews have depended on Scripture or liturgy based on Scripture to see them through catastrophic events. I heard one Holocaust survivor give testimony that he repeated the Psalms of Ascent during his most difficult days in a concentration camp. Those words became living and mighty to see him through the nightmare.
How many Christians have repeated Psalms 23 on a death bed or at the passing of a loved one? Wouldn’t it be lovely and beautiful, even captivating, to participate in a liturgy based on Psalm 23?
Liturgy is missing in many churches today. Ceremony is missing. Something wonderful happens as the prayers are recited; they are driven deeper and deeper into our beings, year after year. Their repitition anchors the stake of faith into the heart, deepening, strengthening, preparing it for the “dark night of the soul.”
Recently my pastor asked me to write a statement of faith for the whole church to repeat. My heart leaped at the opportunity. First I wrote the statement he requested; then I grew creative and decided it wasn’t enough, so I wrote a whole liturgy on faith. It evolved into parts for the pastor and parts for the congregation and develped into a guide through the aspects of biblical faith to encourage the worshiper.
The pastor loved it, but it wasn’t what he asked for.
Then I realized how hungry I am to see liturgy used in the church as I know it.
Right now I am wondering what the “one new man” will look like–the one described in Ephesians. This is who the “Church” will become at the end of the age, before Jesus returns.
I don’t think we would recognize this “one new man” if he walked up to us and started a conversation. He may dance like an African or bob like a Jew when he prays. He may bow down seven times a day like a Muslim to pray or he may kneel at the altar like a Baptist. He may celebrate the High Holy Days and Christmas in the same year. He may wear a black robe and speak in tongues. He may have one black arm and one yellow arm. He may lift one in praise and follow a liturgical prayer book with the other.
I am not saying there are many roads to God. There is only one, and it is narrow. I am saying the “one new man” will reflect the body of Christ in many surprising ways–in ways we may not be prepared to embrace now. Remember, the road is narrow, and sometime we may think we alone with our familiar traditions of faith are on that road. The road may be narrow, but God’s heart is wide, much wider than we can imagine.
There is something deep in my heart that believes we may still use that liturgy I wrote on faith… until then,
a good book on understanding the place of liturgy and other practices for the Jewish people is “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren F. Winner.