“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
As chairman of Anglican Friends of Israel I had the pleasure of celebrating Jerusalem Day on Sunday in London along with many other friends, Jewish and Christian.
Our star guest was His Excellency Daniel Taub,Israel’s Ambassador to theUnited Kingdom, as ever a witty, informed and engaging speaker who paid tribute to the solidarity that British Christians have shown with the Jewish people and their homeland.
What was remarkable however was the invigorating spiritual dimension to the rally, with praise led by Geoffrey Smith, of Christian Friends of Israel, and Rabbi David Nekrutman of the Centre for Jewish-Christian Understanding in Efrat.
Orthodox Jews and Evangelical (and Anglican) Christians celebrated our common bond as we joyfully chanted the Psalms together, praying for the Peace of Jerusalem, and I was struck once more by how much richer our spiritual lives would have been had we reached and embraced each other across that divide long ago, instead of waiting for an awful cataclysm to ravage European Jewish life and shake Western civilization to its very foundations.
Rabbi Hugo Gryn in his Holocaust memoir, Chasing Shadows, remarked on the tragic ignorance many Jews and Christians had of each other’s traditions and his life is a testament to the need to build bridges and share the immense spiritual riches that which we have in common as children of Abraham.
Rabbi Nekrutman’s sermon was the best I have heard for a long time, and he spoke with Biblical authenticity, conviction and warm good humour in a way that many modern Anglican clergy seem unable to do.
Bible-believing Christians and Jews enjoy a unique covenantal relationship, and we Christians need to remember that the overwhelming bulk of our Holy Book is the Hebrew Bible. I often feel that, were it not for the witness of Orthodox Jews down the centuries, the Churches would have discarded the “Old” Testament and we would have strayed even further from our Hebraic roots. The witness of the Jews has been faithful and has ensured that we are called to affirm His Covenants. As Rabbi Nekrutman reminded us, G-d does not break His Promises. This to me is the most important theological issue facing the Church, because the failure to understand this fundamental point is at the root of so many errors today, not simply in how we mediate and navigate Christian-Jewish interfaith relations, but in our understanding of the Bible generally.
Some Orthodox Jews see all Christians as icon-worshipping medieval Catholics who are out to seduce them from their ancient faith. More positively, many Orthodox rabbis, following Maimonides, see Christianity and the non-Salafist forms of Islam as part of the Divine Plan to spread ethical monotheism across mankind; we Christians in turn must affirm the divine inspiration of the great Jewish teachers and sages, instead of disparaging their unwillingness to embrace Christian teachings as misguided wilfulness. The return to the Promised Land is His divine will, and G-d does not ask us to affirm that which is unseemly in His eyes. We need to engage with each other while acknowledging our obvious differences and in the awareness-because of the unique relationship between our two great sister faiths- that we are all part of His great design for man’s redemption and the healing of a broken world (tikkun olam).
The Jerusalem Day rally was a reminder that we are children of the same loving, Heavenly Father, with whom we can enjoy a personal relationship and that, rather like siblings with different temperaments and interests, we remain still “family”. In the end, as Jews and Christians we are all waiting for Messiah, in the firm but humble confidence that He will reconcile to Himself all things.
Simon McIlwaine is founder of Anglican Friends of Israel.