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									Rev. Bob Klein
UUCLR                                                             April 9, 2006

                 PASSOVER, PALMS, AND UU ROOTS

The new translation of the 2nd Century Gospel of Judas released this week has
provided a different alternative in understanding Judas and his role. Was he a
friend acting on Jesus’ orders and thus helping to accomplish the will of God
through Jesus’ crucifixion? The author of this work is not known, but one thing
that the newly released translation should do is to help remind those interested in
early Christianity that the followers in the earliest days had a wide range of beliefs
about Jesus. Some of those beliefs were distilled into the books included in the
Christian testament, which was first codified in the 4th Century, and further
distilled by theologians particularly in the Roman Catholic church over the
hundreds of years before the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. In our
day, evangelical and fundamentalist churches promote their beliefs as if there were
no acceptable alternative views, as if even many theological choices not deemed
heretical by the Catholic church were unacceptable. For Catholics and many
mainstream Protestant churches, there are a range of acceptable beliefs, and some
voted heretical. There are also a variety of acceptable translations, of which the
King James Bible of 1603 is rather low on the list. For Unitarian Universalists, the
range of acceptable beliefs and scriptures is of course, much broader!

The namesake Christian views of our two traditions were both labeled heretical in
the early centuries of Christianity. The Unitarian view of God was much more like
the Jewish understanding and likely closer to Jesus’ understanding, with only one
God and no Trinity. The Universalists believed in Universal salvation, meaning
that a loving God would not condemn anyone to hell and that all souls would
return to God. We are thus rooted in Judaism and Christianity, though modern UUs
have found value in the teachings of many religious and philosophical traditions.

Early Unitarians and Universalists were hardly the only groups labeled heretical or
suppressed in the early centuries of Christianity, as The Da Vinci Code and Holy
Blood, Holy Grail make clear. Whether these books are presenting what actually
happened or not, the mystery remains. History records many conflicts within
Christianity, including frequent efforts to suppress dissenting groups and alternate
beliefs. When I read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown a couple of years ago, I
found it fascinating, so I had been intending to also read Holy Blood, Holy Grail by
Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln. I finally got started on Holy Blood, Holy Grail and
have found it to be fascinating, too, though not quite as compelling reading as The
Da Vinci Code. I have been interested in the search for the historical Jesus and the
true history of Christianity for a long time.
For many Christians, the most important thing is faith, and so the actual history is
not that important. Other Christians have leaned so hard on the literal truth of the
Bible that their faith could not help but be shaken if it were proven that it didn’t
happen the way the Bible says. When I called myself a Christian, it was faith that
was most important, but I certainly wanted to know as much as I could learn about
what really happened. The miraculous occurrences never made sense to me, so I
largely ignored them. Even so, the teachings of Jesus, and his own unique
approach to the world continue to be a key inspiration for my life and work.

Why mention all of this when today’s service is about Passover, Palm Sunday, and
UU Roots? For me, the context is important. Passover would be nothing more than
a bloody war story without the context of thousands of years of Jewish faith story.
Palm Sunday makes no sense without the context of both Jewish and Early
Christian faith story. As I understand it currently, these events are mythic in
character, like the stories of struggles with gods and goddesses of ancient religions
and the heroic journeys of so many exemplars. Whether there is historical truth in
them is not as important as their meaning for the Jewish and Christian
communities. Focusing on the mythos helps me to better deal with the matter of the
slaughter of first born children and the drowning of an army in the Passover
tradition. It also helps me to better understand the meaning of crucifixion and
resurrection in the Jesus story.

Some of you are probably familiar with the Passover tradition. Next year (not in
Jerusalem, but here) we are thinking of offering a Passover Seder meal in honor of
our Jewish tradition. There is a UU version of the Seder Haggadah which brings
the Passover tradition alive by connecting it with a modern UU worldview.
Passover reminds Jews worldwide who they are through a recitation of history and
appreciation voiced to God for the blessings of life. The core of the historical
remembrance is a retelling of the story of how under the human leadership of
Moses, God convinced Pharaoh to free the people of Israel who had been enslaved
in Egypt. The activity of God is seen in a series of plagues including frogs, locusts,
boils, and the death of the first born children of Egypt. The name Passover comes
from death passing over the Jewish households which have marked their doorways
with the blood of the slaughtered lamb. The celebration is also known as the Feast
of Unleavened Bread in remembrance of the haste in which the Jews left Egypt
when Pharaoh released them, without time for the bread to rise. This combined
celebration of Passover on the first night (the evening of the 14th day of the first
month of the Jewish calendar per Leviticus 23:5), and the Feast of Unleavened
Bread the following seven days, is an important celebration to the Jewish
community worldwide.

The Passover tradition is also connected closely to the last week of Jesus’ life, for
according to tradition it was after Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples
that Judas brought the authorities to arrest Jesus. The celebrations of Palm Sunday
and Easter are thus always connected to the celebration of Passover, following the
Jewish lunar calendar rather than the western calendar. Part of the story of Palm
Sunday involves the preparation of a room for Jesus to eat with his disciples.

The most dramatic part of Palm Sunday remembers a triumphal procession into
Jerusalem, with Jesus either on a donkey or a colt or both. People were laying
down clothes and waving palm fronds as he passed, proclaiming him the Blessed
One, Son of David, and King. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem sets up the most
dramatic part of the Jesus story, the passion, wherein Jesus gives his last teachings
to the disciples, is put on trial, and then is crucified. This is an amazing turn of
fortunes for Jesus after the parade into Jerusalem. Each of the four canonical
gospels recalls the entry into Jerusalem, but with some differing details. The parts
of the story about him riding into Jerusalem reveal how much importance early
Christians placed on the connections with Jewish scriptures. Even though his entry
was somewhat less dramatic than that of a King at the head of an army, the gospel
writers felt it was important to have Jesus riding into Jerusalem even though he
walked everywhere else. They interpreted his entry on a colt to mean that he came
in peace rather than with the destroying sword, but they needed the proclamation
of Jesus as Son of David and King to connect him with the scriptural prophecies.
That the canonical gospels were written 40-70 years after his death certainly left
time for development of the story.

We know far too little about the life and death of Jesus to be able to say much with
certainty. The early church found in Jesus a leader, prophet, teacher, and Savior.
The tradition grew from the earliest days based on the evangelism of early
followers and especially Paul, who knew Jesus only through some kind of vision or
dream in an encounter on the road to Damascus and in the stories told to him by
others. The writers of the canonical gospels each had a somewhat different
theological understanding and each wrote for a different community of followers.
Many other early writings were likely destroyed by the developing church in order
to preserve the integrity of the tradition voted into uniformity at Nicea in 325 A.D.
and in other councils of Bishops. Some of the extracanonical writings that have
been discovered in the last century had been hidden for hundreds of years. There
may be other writings hidden in caves or catacombs that may yet shed light on
Jesus and the early days of Christianity. There may well be secret organizations
preserving historical items, writings, or information that may change human
understanding of Christianity and other traditions.

Beliefs and traditions change over time. In Judaism, Torah is the core of the
scriptures, but writings of prophets, chronicles of kings, and liturgical writings fill
out the tradition. In Christianity, the gospels have been the core of the story
throughout Christian history, yet the letters of Paul were written earlier and have in
many ways done more to shape the tradition. The Epistles of Paul teach how
Christians should act and believe and the core of the Pauline beliefs is in the
miraculous Resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. For the Gospels, the teachings of
Jesus are not really dependent on the Resurrection, but Paul casts the new and
growing religion with the resurrection at the center of belief. Parts of the canonical
gospels reflect Pauline influences, but they include other perspectives as well.

The gospels attributed to Thomas, Mary, Peter, Judas and other early followers
were mostly written later than Paul’s letters and Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
yet they incorporate beliefs which were held by many early Christians. How many
other writings may have been destroyed we will never know. The Vatican has one
of the most extensive libraries in the world, including much that has been declared
heretical, yet the Catholic Church has often not been anxious to release
controversial material.

Modern Unitarian Universalists and our dissenting predecessors have not been
limited to orthodox understandings of Christianity or Jesus. We have sought to
explore and discover our own highest truths, to articulate our own most meaningful
beliefs. Sometimes we are hesitant to share those beliefs with others, for fear of
offending or because we might be too radical for even our radical fellows. Yet it is
the freedom to follow our own spiritual pathways that is most highly valued in
Unitarian Universalism, and it is our beliefs that help us live in this crazy world.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage remains meaningful to many UUs, though probably
only about 20% of UUs would identify themselves as Christian. Most of us also
find other religious and philosophical traditions meaningful in shaping our beliefs
and helping us to live. Discussions of how our beliefs shape the ways that we eat,
shop, parent, and deal with family members can be very helpful to many people.

In my parenting, I have always tried to act with the kind of love that Jesus showed
to the children and his followers. In my living, I have tried, and often failed to
recycle, reuse, and conserve resources, as I believe many indigenous peoples seek
to do. In my relationships I have sought to treat others as I would like to be treated.
There is a lot we can learn from each other, if we take the time to sit down
together. John and I will be starting a lunch program of lunches with the minister
and DRE for anyone interested. Bring your own lunch, your ideas, and your
questions and join us starting this Tuesday.

Passover, Palm Sunday, and Easter are important holidays in the Judeo-Christian
tradition. The lessons of these traditions may not be foremost in the thought of
Unitarian Universalists, yet they are worthy of our notice. They remind us that we
are rooted in a tradition which goes back thousands of years, giving meaning to
millions of persons. We are dissenters from major parts of that tradition, yet we
have gained much from it and we as dissenters have helped to keep the tradition
vital and forced it to declare what it does and does not believe. We share much
with Jews and Christians even today, especially in our core values about people
and the earth. We continue in dialogue with Judaism and Christianity even as we
also explore Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and various other religious and
philosophical traditions.

May we as individuals, as a congregation, and as a movement, continue to learn
and grow. 16th century Transylvanian Unitarian Minister Francis David went to the
dungeon convicted on innovation, unwilling to accept a religion with frozen beliefs
and practices. May we ever continue to explore, discover, and innovate as we find
meaning in new beliefs and practices!

So may it always be! Amen, Shalom, Salam, Blessed Be and Namiste!


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