But Holy Week has not been good news for everyone, especially in the past. Heightened devotion can easily turn into fanaticism and the telling of past stories can lead people to wrong conclusions about the present. For Jews Holy Week came to be a time of dread, when Jews were accused of the death of Jesus and punished for it. During Holy Week Jews were advised to stay off the streets and in some instances forbidden to appear in public from Holy Thursday onwards for fear of upsetting Christians. They were often subjected to a blood libel which suggested the blood of innocent Christian children was used in the preparation of the Passover bread. These libels and the persecution that followed lasted right through the Middle Ages up to the last century. In fact it was one such libel that led to the setting up of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council that celebrates its centenary this year.
Thank Goodness things have changed. Any accusations of deicide have been outlawed by the Catholic Church which now
recognises its fraternal relationship with Judaism and encourages Catholics and Christians to see Jews as our elder brothers and sisters in the faith. I'm not too sure how Jews feel about that. This year, as he has done every year for the last few years, Archbishop Mario Conti has written to the Jewish community at Passover. One member of the Jewish community commented that it was unusual to send greetings on this festival - better to send them at New Year, I was told. And yet given the history of this week in which both Passover and Easter are celebrated, given past histories, and given the meaning of the exodus story for both communities it would seem quite appropriate to send greetings now.
One of the things that's important at this time is for Christians to respect the integrity of the Jewish faith and not try to Christianise it. In some Churches there is a tradition of celebrating a seder meal - the ritual family meal celebrated by Jews on the first day of Passover. This is to help Christians understand the Jewish background of Jesus. A recent newsletter for the Council of Christians and Jews addressed some of the issues involved asking: Does the concept of a seder ‘for Christians’ have full integrity? Does this put Christians in touch with their ‘Jewish roots’, or involve something of a ‘colonial takeover’ of a Jewish practice which in at least some respects is probably centuries later than Jesus? Some scholars suggest that the last meal Jesus celebrated with his friends was more likely to be an ordinary Jewish family meal than a ritual Passover meal and that any suggestion it was is more theological than historical. All this needs to be kept in mind at this time of year when past histories might make some members of the Jewish community rather suspicious of Christians celebrating the seder. It's important to remember that modern day Judaism has developed its own integrity from biblical times as has Christianity.