Today we say goodbye to regular contributor Bradford Winters who has written over 100 articles for “Good Letters” over the years. We express our gratitude and best wishes to him.
Set as we are at the start of November halfway between the end of the high holy days in the Jewish calendar and the start of Advent in the Christian calendar, it seems like the time has come to include a book with such a clear title on the general Christmas of the Church. wish list.
For after “twenty centuries of stony slumber”, to quote WB Yeats in “The Second Coming”, far too many of us who subscribe to this latest calendar will wake up once again on December 25 to an involuntary fog of ignorance or of permanent indifference with regard to our Judaic heritage as Christians, literally meaning “sons of Christ”.
The heritage significance suggests that it might be good to better understand where all this Christian stuff really came from, which was certainly not a vacuum created by a rebellious peasant from Nazareth determined to sabotage the tradition that preceded him.
I would not pretend to give an introduction in this short space on such a vast subject, but perhaps only a taste or a scent, a whisper or a glimpse, of what one might feel.
Let me make a caveat right off the bat, that I’m also a model. Perhaps less than a few years ago before my interest in the subject took root, but that’s hardly an act of pedagogical condescension on my part. I am here with you, in the mire of many misunderstandings.
So let’s get started.
Open your Bibles for—no, on second thought, open your dictionaries. To supersessionism: the once widespread belief that the Church is “the new Israel” and has replaced its ancestor as God’s chosen people. Hence the synonymous term “replacement theology”, which has largely fallen out of favor in modern times within the mainstream church, thanks in part to the underlying complicity with the Holocaust of which it has been blamed by the following.
Such doctrine may remain largely unspoken today, but has it really been superseded, or does it linger in the air and in the pews?
Has it been replaced by a more unifying theology that finds the imprint of the Old Testament throughout the New, so much so that more of us may adopt the use of the term “Old Testament” by the British scholar Margaret Barker in order to refute the subtle meaning of pejorative? discontinuity that the old connotes?
Do we subscribe to a theology that hammers home, for example, the Levitical “good news” of the Letter to the Hebrews – not the most popular text in many pulpits today, but perhaps the finest for the sweep? rhetoric – or do we give lips a service to the fact that “Jesus was a Jew” and then go back to being a Christian? Why Christian? Because Christianity is meaningless without a good understanding of its Jewish roots.
Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for our sins? What? Why?
Raise your hand if you’re a Christian and don’t really know what Yom Kippur is, the culmination of the high holy days and liturgical year of the Jewish calendar. Do not be shy; no one is watching. It’s just you and me, and I can’t even see you.
For those of you who know it was and is the Day of Atonement, do you know how that atonement was accomplished?
How one day a year, in a sacrificial system that prescribed individual offerings for personal forgiveness, the High Priest transfer all their sins on a without a stain animal that was later slaughtered in their place; after that he would take his blood in the tabernacle and sprinkle it on propitiatory for corporate atonement in the name not only of all Israel but of all creation.
mine italic; or rather ours.
Thanks in part to the film industry I work in, we tend to remember in cinematic extremes the first dispensation of God to Moses atop Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, but ignore or completely forget the second with plans for the tabernacle. We tend to remember the wrathful God of the Old Testament, but overlook or completely forget the God who, in the same breath, gave Moses not only the Law, but also the solution that would enable the Israelites to redeem themselves by inevitably breaking it.
Now, raise your hand if you begin to sense a gospel antecedent that you may have never noticed or fully understood.
Perhaps an often vexing verse like Matthew 5:17 now begins to make a little more sense: “Think not that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish them but to accomplish them.
Their respective first uses of the word tabernacle provide our first clue to the theological bridge between the Old(er) and New Testaments: whereas Exodus uses the word as a noun in God’s command that Moses build a sanctuary for him, the Gospel of John uses its form verb meaning “dwell”. A more illuminating translation of the central verse of the prologue might be: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
The tent that dwelt in the center of the Israelite encampment in the wilderness with animal skins for a covering found its counterpart in the One who also dwelt with such a skin for a covering.
“We cannot now speak in detail of these things,” writes the author of Hebrews. Happily, his epistle nevertheless goes into quite some detail along the same lines as that which concerns us here, and serves as a much fuller introduction than I could even begin to deliver.
Read it if you haven’t already. If you did, but haven’t in a while, read it again. And if you’re up for it, go to a Messianic Synagogue, either in person or via internet streaming, to see and hear what it’s like to worship as a Christian in a Jewish setting, the same way than the first Jewish Christians. did.
On this unifying note, faithful to the spirit of “Bonnes Lettres” and Image diary, I say goodbye from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for reading and commenting over the past six years.
Bradford Winters is a television writer/producer whose work includes series such as ounces, kings, bossand Americans. His poems have appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Georgetown Review, among other journals. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.