I am accustomed to these signs. In my case, they point to an opportunity to give thanks, to remember the birth of my Lord and to celebrate life overcoming death. This past Monday I was honored to sit at a table that was new, but not the least bit strange--at a Passover Seder in the Weber family's home.
I had participated in two Seders previously--one in a church, one at a college. One to celebrate Christianity's heritage. The other to remember the oppression of modern people groups.
The readings in all three rituals were similar. The Seder plate was comprised of the same elements. The celebratory spirit of freedom from captivity resonated equally in all three contexts. But this celebration was markedly different.
This time I was in a home, a home that went beyond the four walls. I was welcomed as a guest into a meta-tradition that has defined the Jewish people as well as into the family life and traditions of this particular Jewish family. We heard stories from past Passover celebrations that took place here. We sung songs about Pharoah, the plagues and the Red Sea that had been collected over the years and combined in a songbook labeled "Weber's Seder". We used plates, wine glasses and ritual objects that are reserved for this particular feast in this particular home.
There was a history, a remembering of recent years as well as the ancient memory the feast is about. There was real laughter, nostalgia, remembering the past, looking to the future, learning, drinking and merriment! The deep roots of heritage and tradition provided the nourishment for a flowering celebration year after year.
This evening reminded me of a reflection I wrote two Decembers ago:
This land is impoverished. We suffer from a deep poverty of family, of religion, of tradition. In our quest to know the universe we've lost the understanding of ourselves. Sabbath is seen as unproductive rather than a gift. Obligation and commitment understood as suffocating and antiquated as opposed to forms which give space for life. Laughter is cynical, not delightful. Traditions are experiments, an array of dishes to try. Don't linger too long! It may lose its gleam!
Oh the riches we've lost in the name of progress, freedom and diversity! We have become a homeless people searching for a place to stay, but finding no place to lay our heads. Although this time the rooms are not too full. Rather they are achingly empty. No fireplaces flicker a welcome. No scents of dinner catch the attention of a frost-tipped nose. No merriment can be heard as front doors open for guests.
Rather we are all cold, hungry and lonely--looking for warmth, fulfillment and comfort in the allies and long-abandoned homes.These words spring from a fear that the passing on of personal heritage and distinctive religious tradition is being replaced with an assimilation that fades fuchsia and vermillion, cerulean and emerald until the pluralistic rainbow of humanity is a drab, nondescript gray.
The hospitality of this Jewish family stands in stark contrast to the isolating picture of full streets and empty homes and it renewed within me a desire to dig deep into my heritage, my faith, my family story, my tradition. I want to learn the stories of my people and the reasons for my hope not just to capture a forgotten nostalgia. I want to learn so that I can welcome foreigners into a lived-in tradition and then when my visitors ask "why?" we can begin to know and be known.
May you know anew the richness of your celebration this Holy Week!