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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the Highwire: More on Zikkaron/Anamnesis

This posting is the third part of a series on where the Messianic Jewish Movement needs to be heading and why.

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: Our Holy Calendar
Brevard Childs, whom we consulted in our earlier postings, reminds us as well that honoring our holy calendar is crucial to remembering the saving acts of God. We cannot bypass our responsibility to honor the events of our holy calendar and their attendant covenant obligations through recourse to personal choice or the liberty of the Spirit. When our calendar confronts us with God’s saving acts and our history with him, the Spirit gives us liberty to do only one of two things: we may desecrate the holy day or honor it. No third option is possible.

Providing an example, he states, “The festival of unleavened bread serves as a reminder to future generations of Yahweh’s law. . . . Israel does not remember festivals, but observes them in order to remember [the saving acts of God and their attendant obligations].” The purpose of honoring our holy calendar through ritual observance goes far beyond maintaining a sense of Jewish identity, or differentiating our identity from that of the Church. The purpose of ritual observance is to remember and honor our covenant pledge, the binding oath of the children of Jacob.

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: Once-for-All, Yet Once Again

These redemptive events of the Older Testament shared a genuine chronology. They appeared in history at a given moment, which entry can be dated. There is a once-for-all character to these events in the sense that they never repeated themselves in the same fashion. Yet this does not exhaust the biblical concept. These determinative events are by no means static; they function merely as a beginning (Childs, 83).

The Messianic Movement cannot and must not devolve into a religious equivalent of “The Society for Creative Anachronism,” which is “an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.” We are not called to return to past glories. We must have a living relationship with the holy Jewish past shaped by who and where we are now in the flow of history. As Childs reminds us, “Each successive generation rewrites the past in terms of her own experience with the God who meets his people through the tradition. . . . These successive layers cannot be seen as subjective accretions covering the ‘real event.’ The remembered event [in the now] is equally a valid witness to Israel’s encounter with God as the first witness (Childs, 89).

We see new facets of the past as we grapple with the Holy One in the present, using the template of the past as a framework for self-understanding. When we encounter the story of the Exodus, we grapple with the God who redeemed us just as truly as did the Exodus generation. Our response now to the record of his saving mercies is as real and as consequential as was theirs, and the consequences of careless disregard, no less significant. We are as culpable for ingratitude as were they. “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: With Judicial Power

“Each generation of Israel, living in a concrete situation within history, was challenged by God to obedient response through the medium of her tradition. Not a mere subjective reflection, but in the biblical category, a real event as a moment of redemptive time from the past initiated a genuine encounter in the present” (Childs, 83-84). The events of Israel’s redemption were such significant realizations in history of divine redemptive intervention, that together with the rituals, rites, and commandments they entail, they have the authority to assess each successive generation of Israel, including ours. Our response to these events, rites, rituals and obligations, is our response to God, for which we are accountable.

The Haggadah, echoing the Talmud, agrees. It reminds us, “In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt. (cf. TB Pesachim). Torah tells us of Passover, "'This will be a day for you to remember [v’haya hayom hazzeh lachem l’zikkaron].” The LXX translates zikkaron as “anamnesis.” It is also the term used in the Newer Covenant underlying the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The holy past is no mere collection of data to be recalled, but a continuing reality to be honored or desecrated. As a zikkaron, a holy memorial, the redemption from Egypt is so authoritatively present with us at the seder, that a cavalier attitude toward the event marks as “The Wicked Son,” unworthy of redemption, anyone who fails to accord it due respect. In zikkaron or anamnesis, the holy past is present with power, assessing our response.

This is a new perspective for some of us and surely for most of our Movement. It makes us wriggle with discomfort because it contravenes our axiomatic commitment to autonomy. We reflexively think ourselves to only be responsible when we choose to be so. The Bible, and our tradition disagrees; hence the discomfort.

That anamnesis has intrusive and unavoidable authority to judge our response is proven in Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Table. In First Corinthians 11, he states that those who fail to discern the reality present among them in the zikkaron/anamnesis, who drink the Lord’s cup and eat the bread in an unworthy manner, desecrate the body and blood of the Lord and eat and drink judgment upon themselves. He makes this point unambiguous when be states “This is why many among you are weak and sick, and some have died.”

Because of this numinous power of zikkaron/anemesis, honoring the holy Jewish past and the holy Jewish future as re-presented in the liturgy, ritual, and calendar of our people must become a lived reality in our movement. Our only other option is to dishonor God and to trifle with his holy saving acts. I think it no exaggeration to say that failure to properly honor our holy past, present as zikkaron/anamnesis, is just as truly an act of desecration as was the failure of the Corinthians to honor body and blood of Messiah present in their midst in the bread and the wine.