Leading a church through Lent has been a lot more interesting with a rabbi at my side. It began with coffee and conversation back in the fall, but then we decided to use the season of Lent to study together.
Before you know it, we had decided that I would speak at his temple's Friday night service before Passover, and that he would speak in worship on the First Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday at my church. To prepare, we spent the season of Lent discussing the four questions of Passover and any others that came up. (Turns out we had way more than four.)
For example, he wanted to know why Christians give things up for Lent. I explained that the practice is relatively rare, and should not be confused with the much more common Christian practice of planning to give things up for Lent.
Later, as Holy Week approached, I conveyed my excitement about the rabbi's upcoming visit to a Christian seminary professor, who then asked me a strange question: "Palm Sunday is one thing. But how would you feel if the rabbi came to your church on Good Friday?"
It took me a moment to get what the professor was asking. She wanted to know if I would be embarrassed at what he might see. What would I change if a rabbi suddenly showed up to the midweek Holy Week services, like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, where we focus on Jesus' crucifixion?
Did the professor imagine that I would I change the scripture readings? Soft peddle the suffering? Cough politely at the "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" as if to distract the rabbi's attention from the tragic history of anti-Semitism associated with this moment?
Would I awkwardly apologize to him, saying, "Sorry about the whole Jesus thing, Rabbi. I totally forgot it was Holy Week. Next time we'll have you come for Earth Sunday where we can share in our mutual worship of the porpoise and recite various cute things kids say about God."
In answering the professor, I realized that I would not change anything in my planned midweek services. In fact, the rabbi and I talked about that issue in our dialogue sermon at my church on Palm Sunday. We wanted to experience what was different about our traditions, rather than look for some bland lowest common denominator, like love or peace. That conversation seemed easy and comfortable, after the time we had spent together during Lent.
But then that same day, a horrific shooting at a Jewish Community Center reminded me to take nothing fore granted.
In the end, I appreciate the professor's question as one that every Christian should ask: How would you feel if a rabbi showed up at your Good Friday service? Imagine hearing it all from another perspective. Is there some teaching to add to the preaching?
On Good Friday, if you can't say it in front of the rabbi, don't say it at all.
But don't assume you have to water it down either.
Because if we can not respect each other's uniqueness and difference in public worship, how will we ever go deep enough to get to the really important questions that clergy desperately want to ask?
Like, "How much are they paying you over there, anyway?"