Every Christian people over the course of history brought its own style of music, iconography, church etiquette, and holiday traditions into Christian worship. Each people in this way gives of what it has to God, and expresses itself; but beyond that, each people by forging an intimate connection with the church seeks an intimate connection with God as a people. Each seeks to be a people of God, valued and beloved – with varying degrees of awareness of the fact that the New Israel encompasses all nations.
A good share of the impulse comes from the tendency toward exclusivity and discrimination against out-groups that all of us are subject to in this fallen world. An equally important share, however, is the fact that each of us is at heart desperate to be loved and accepted by God – in our uniqueness, in our virtues and our failings, and, crucially, with all of the people who accompany us in this life. People in the New Testament are always receiving baptism along with their entire households. The people who raised us, the people who look like us, the people with whom we share a geography and a destiny, the people with whom our own sense of identity is inextricably bound – the family, from the nuclear to the national, whom God has given us to love and to cherish on earth and from whom we cannot separate, physically or emotionally, without incurring grave psychological costs.
In the West, this is all less obvious and less poignant (though by no means absent). I believe the reasons for this include the historical influence of the Catholic Church, which has worked to integrate the identities of distinct peoples into a single Catholic identity; the modern focus on tolerance which has in recent years made it embarrassing to say “I love my country;” rationalism and consumerism, which lead to a sense of being on one’s own, isolated from family and community; etc. I believe that this dilution of the sense of belonging to a people and the desire for one’s people to be uniquely close to God comes at the same kind of price that the West is paying for the increased fragmentation of its families – loneliness, depression, inability to sustain relationships, and lack of self-worth.
Brief recap: in this post and the last one, I was hoping to point out that the sense of peoplehood is deeply ingrained among Jews, in a way that is deep-seated but often not meaningful, and on the other hand that to be united with one’s people in Christ and in the Church is something that all Christian people historically have desired. In other words, I find myself unable to dismiss the irrational love my grandfather has for his Jewish people because I see essentially the same love manifest in the way that Eastern Christian peoples relate to the Church and to God – and I see the value and necessity of this love.
So where does this leave the Christian Jew, whose belonging to his people and to the Church are fundamentally in conflict?