"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Religious Rituals, Feasts and Pilgrimages and Becoming Part of the Story

"Only by entering the story ourselves can we truly understand its meaning." (pg. 420)

"Let my people go!"

Remember the story of Moses and the Pharaoh and how it finally took ten plagues - the last one truly awful - for the Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt?   While discussing how many people try to explain the ten plagues by natural reasons (e.g., it wasn't really blood, but an unusually high flood caused more topical red soil to color the water so it only appeared as blood),  Bruce Feiler admits he often read the Bible this way. He wanted natural explanations for things claimed by the Bible writers to have happened supernaturally.  He enjoyed the history, the places, the characters, but not the deeper thinking about the characters like what they meant to the story and what they meant to him.  As he began reading Exodus while Walking the Bible, Bruce finally realized how futile this deliberate attempt was and how he was missing a "principal storyline of the Bible: the relationship between humans and the divine."

"As it happens, the text itself reveals precisely what causes the ten plagues. God caused them. To miss that point is to miss the essence of the tale, the battle between the god of the Israelites and the gods of the Egyptians, the battle that Eliezer Oren referred to as 'My god is stronger than your god.'  Biblical storytellers clearly understood this struggle, because the plagues expressly attack the things that Egyptians held most sacred: the sun, the animals, the river.  As the Bible says, summing up the experience, 'The Lord executed judgment on their gods.'"   (pg. 183)

The author then goes on to show how this judgment of God upon the Egyptians and the Israelites escape from slavery was "a significant break" in the Bible.  "Up to now, the Israelites have been wandering, from Mesopotamia, through Canaan, to Egypt, and absorbing elements from all these places.  They are now ready to break away and begin forming their own culture, their own empire.  They must now become active participants in their own story: actors, not just reactors."

God declares what the Israelites must do in order to escape the final plague that He was going to mete out on the Egyptians: the killing of the firstborn!  Each family had to sacrifice a lamb and put the blood over the doorpost of their house. 
 When the Angel of Death came through, he would pass over* each home where this blood was present.  God instructed the Israelites on what to eat and how to prepare it.  He also set up this reenactment for the Jewish people to do each year as a remembrance.   Each generation would  now remember what God did to save their nation from slavery and make them a people prepared for Himself.  This is how the Israelites of old and Jewish people today keep in mind the faithfulness of God in delivering them from their oppressors.  (see page 184)

So entering the story - being actors - is helpful in understanding. I suppose this is why Muslims perform hajj and reenact many events that Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael experienced according to the Islamic faith.  And by sacrificing the lamb they are remembering God's provision to Abraham so Abraham wouldn't have to sacrifice his son.

* Thus the Passover is remembered each year.  Also in the Christian faith, we see this as a type of Christ.  Christ is the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John the Baptist's words in John 1:29). Sin brings death, but when we accept Jesus' work for us on the cross and trust him as opposed to our own good works for salvation, we in a spiritual sense apply the blood of Jesus to our lives and when the "angel of death" sees us, he passes over us. No spiritual death for the one wearing the blood of Jesus Christ.  (Think spiritually here not literally.)

Thoughts?  If you are Muslim, what do you think is the significance of reenacting the events of hajj or Eid Al-adha?  If you are Christian, do you celebrate any reenactments? I know some churches have Palm Sunday and do Easter plays and Christmas plays in order to reenact some of the events of Jesus' life. And also there are baptism and the Lord's Supper which we do in remembrance of Jesus. Do you think it's important to become part of the story rather than merely read about them or observe from hundreds of years later?


Amber said...

It's funny, the author saying that he finally realised that God caused all the plagues, etc. seems sort of silly to me. If one believes in God, then at the core of everything that has ever happened, God caused it. It's sort of like saying that someone died because their heart stopped. Fine. Technically true. But it's the details that matter - what caused the heart to stop? Blood loss, old age, lack of oxygen?

I take the natural explanations for the plagues, etc. because I believe that God set up the world, and the laws by which it operates. Can He circumvent these laws and do what He wants? Certainly. See the Virgin Birth, for one example. But does He do that whenever He wants something done, or does He cause His ends to be met using means that He laid in place?

In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the Mass/Divine Liturgy is seen not as a recreation of anything, but active participation in the Sacrifice of Christ. So I don't believe that counts, as we are *present* at the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. For recreations or reenactments, I believe the Holy Week activities might meet this criteria, though it's not all dressing up as in Passion Play's etc. The priests do the washing of the feet, the entire congregation participates in the 'passion play' on Good Friday.

Heh. Captcha is 'wings'

Susanne said...

Amber, thanks for adding your thoughts and making the distinctions about the communion in your faith. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

While the author called himself Jewish, he wasn't sure he believed in God so I guess that's why he stated it the way he did about the plagues.

Thanks again!