My religious observances run the usual Judeo-Christian gamut with the occasional Hindu celebration thrown in (you know how we do, dear Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings). But there are two days that have a special spiritual resonance for me. One is today, Maundy Thursday, the first of the three days, “the Triduum,” that lead to Easter Sunday. And the other is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
It’s on Yom Kippur that observant and even not-so-observant Jews fast and pray, with the awareness that along with the acknowledgement of failing to keep the mitzvot—the commandments—of Hebrew scriptures also comes the opportunity to perform greater chassadim, acts to promote human kindness.
It might seem odd for a Lutheran pastor to have such an affection for Yom Kippur, particularly since I haven’t fasted during it since my college room-mate and I did thinking we could kill two birds with one stone: be holy and get thin in one fell swoop. (Neither worked, by the way.)
On Yom Kippur, I don’t attend prayer services—the shiksa in the clerical collar—nor have I even heard the words of the Kol Nidre, the traditional opening prayer, except on Utube. Yet I’m always aware of Yom Kippur. I’m aware of it as a day set apart, a day to take seriously our fallen world, our part in its brokenness and the opportunities we also have to be part of the healing of it—in other words, our own call to tikkun olam—which means to try to heal the world.
What Maundy Thursday shares in common with Yom Kippur is that it, too, is a day we are called to remember what we must do to heal the world. “Maundy”--the unwieldy word that, as a child I thought was “Monday,” signaling to me early on that a religious world is one of contradictions since how in hell could Monday also be Thursday?—derives from the old French, mande, meaning “mandate.” I’m probably going to really lose you when I tell you that “mandate” really means commandment. That’s right, like mitzvot. Apart from being full of contradictions, religions are full of etymological alphabet soup.
But at that mythic Last Supper that Maundy Thursday commemorates (think Leonardo da Vinci, think The Da Vinci Code, think paint-by-numbers, think black velvet), whoever wrote the gospel of John reported that Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.”
He may not have actually said it. We don’t know. The room wasn’t bugged. But somebody who thought he said it wrote it down. And either Jesus—or the guy who thought he said it--wasn’t just whistling “Dixie.”
Ahem, we come back to it: tikkun olam. And the mitzvot we’ve inherited: Love one another. And remember how broken and sinful we are. Not what you’d see inside a Hallmark card. (But who shops for cards, anymore, anyway when you can send an e-card on Rattlebox?) The point that both Yom Kippur and Maundy Thursday make for us is that we’ve got our work cut out for us. Nobody said it would be pretty. Or that we’d do it perfectly. But it’s our job. Our common human job: to love one another. Come hell or high water. And as Dante and “Noah,” make clear, there’s plenty of imaginative invention to suggest that we know enough of both hell and high water.
My combined professional and/or personal view of things is I don’t frankly care about anybody’s religious affiliations, dis-affection for, or view of religion in general. Ca m’est egal like the French say. Nevertheless, you can still take a serious page from Yom Kippur and Maundy Thursday. Trust me. We can love our neighbors better. And it’s a long shot, but not a bad idea: try to heal the world.
(The image above is depicts an apparently homeless person shedding tears. Known as The Weeping Statue, it is on rue de Romant in Fribourg, Switzerland.)