Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

Commemorating 2000 Years of Christianity

Sister Pista at the Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jerusalem, Oct. 97. This talk is also available in Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

It is a great privilege to be here today. I bring you warm greetings from Mother Basilea Schlink and our entire community. And with you I rejoice as together we experience the reality of Psalm 122, verse 2 (GNB): 'Now we are here, standing inside the gates of Jerusalem!' Perhaps you would like to repeat after me some verses from that same psalm, Psalm 122 (GNB):

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

May those who love you prosper.

May there be peace inside your walls.

Yes, we can only thank the Lord for graciously allowing us to celebrate in peace in spite of recent events. How our hearts go out to the families of those killed and to those suffering from their injuries. Considering all that has happened, we can only say that every day of peace is a blessing. May God's beloved people be keenly aware of His comforting, strengthening presence in these days.

Today, as we celebrate together, I also have a deep sense of awe and wonder. How unbelievable that the Lord even wants us Gentiles to be present when He celebrates a festival with His people! Yet God's message to us, through the Apostle Paul in Romans 11, is that we are to share in Israel's blessings! The branch of a wild olive tree is -- contrary to nature -- joined to a cultivated olive tree. In the same way we are to share in the spiritual life of His chosen people. Israel is the true olive tree. And so the apostle adds a word of warning: 'Do not be proud instead, be afraid' (GNB) -- be filled with awe.

Seeing our own nothingness, our own unworthiness, however, does not happen in a vacuum I belong to the generation of Germans who grew up during the Third Reich. Because of the crimes of our nation, God's judgment came upon Germany.

It was, however, from the ashes of World War II that our community, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, emerged in Darmstadt 50 years ago as a movement of repentance. When the full facts of Nazi terror became publicly known after the war, our eyes were opened to see the enormity of the crimes committed by our people against the Jewish people. From the depths of our hearts an anguished cry arose, a cry inspired by the Spirit of God:

Oh, what have we done as Germans! Silent in the face of injustice and atrocities, we must share the blame for the persecution, torture and murder of so many of God's chosen people, the Jews.

Yet God in His graciousness gave us opportunities to say how deeply contrite we were and to express our repentance in practical ways. A whole new world opened up for us as, under the leadership of our founders, Mother Basilea and Mother Martyria, we began to see God's people through His eyes. How special were those first encounters with our Jewish brothers and sisters! We will never forget the reactions of those deeply wounded Jews who had made their home again in Germany! As we confessed our guilt, repenting of our indifference and lovelessness, they responded

I remember how we celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles with them for the first time. What a privilege it was to make garlands and then decorate the succoth of Jewish families in nearby Frankfurt! The Chief Rabbi for our state of Hesse even invited me to join his family for this occasion.

Then, in the 1960s, the Auschwitz Trial was held in Frankfurt. We were asked to give hospitality to Holocaust survivors summoned as witnesses. It was our privilege to accompany them into the courtroom, to weep with them, to pray for them, to love them -- in short, to identify with them, the very thing we had failed to do during the Third Reich. We thank God also for the privilege of pouring a drop of oil into the deep wounds of Holocaust survivors staying at our house, Beth Abraham, opened here in Jerusalem in 1961.

And so today, as we look back on the last 40 years, we are deeply moved by the forgiveness we have experienced from Jewish people and by the bonds of friendship uniting us. Despite all this, however, there remains a heavy burden on my heart. This burden has to do with our history as the Christian Church in the last 2000 years. Paul writes in Romans 11 that the Jewish people are loved for the sake of their forefathers. Yet love has not been characteristic of Christianity's attitude to the Jews these past 2000 years.

After the age of the apostles, the theory arose that God was through with the Jews, that the Church was the New Israel and that the Jews were being punished for the crime of killing God. Later, when Christianity became the state religion, this theology was used as the basis for anti-Jewish policies In time, the Jews were blamed for every calamity. A case in point is the Black Death, said to have been caused by the Jews poisoning the wells. In the name of Jesus unimaginable atrocities were committed: Jews were humiliated, deprived of their rights, baptised by force, burnt at the stake -- thousands upon thousands of them. Christian festivals, such as Easter, were sometimes chosen as a time to attack Jews. While burning the Jewish population in the synagogue in Jerusalem, the Crusaders sang 'Christ, We Adore Thee'.

Whether it was the Crusades, or, more recently, the pogroms, or, most horrific of all, the Holocaust -- Christian anti-Semitism paved the way for these atrocities. Is it any wonder that the name of Jesus is not loved by Jews -- and that the cross is, for them, a symbol of persecution?

Even allowing for incidents of Jewish persecution of Christians in the Early Church, as Christians we must heed Jesus' words, 'Love your enemies' (Matthew 5:44 RSV) and we must pray as He did, 'Father, forgive ' (Luke 23:34 RSV). The truth is that the Jewish people have suffered more violence from Christians in the last 2000 years than from any other group. As modern-day Christians we all share in the responsibility for the continuous persecution of the Jews down through the ages. Regardless of our Christian tradition or denomination, our spiritual roots go back to the Early Church.

We can only touch on this theme now. But at our book table we have an information leaflet summarizing the guilt of Christianity towards our Jewish brothers and sisters. Please feel free to take copies with you.

When preparing this information leaflet during some quiet days this summer, I could hardly think of anything else. The thought haunted me: 'Is there no end to the sufferings of the Jews?' If just reading about it in books was unbearable, what must the heavenly Father suffer? For nearly 2 000 years He has shared the pain of His people suffering at the hands of Christians. Isaiah testifies, 'In all their affliction he was afflicted' (Isaiah 63:9 RSV), while Zechariah writes that he who touches Israel touches the apple of God's eye (Zechariah 2:8). In attacking God's people again and again, we have, as it were, torn out His eyes. Before God we can only be silent and acknowledge our guilt.

How we must grieve the God of Israel with our indifference to these matters. We may have forgotten the past, but He has not, nor have our Jewish brothers and sisters. Hated, hunted, massacred down through the ages, the Jew has become a symbol of Jesus Himself, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who was despised, rejected, killed without cause. Have we not crucified Jesus anew in His people? In her book Israel, My Chosen People Mother Basilea writes more fully about this.

In recent years the Spirit of God has been moving in our sisterhood in a new and deeper way, convicting us of our Christian past. And this brings me to my reason for speaking to you today. The year 2000 will soon be upon us. Christians all over the world are planning to celebrate this occasion. But how can we celebrate when our hands are stained? Yet there is a way. God in His graciousness has made provision. As we know from Psalm 51: 'The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise' (RSV).

What if a service of repentance were to be held in view of what we Gentile Christians have done to the Jews in the past 2000 years, bringing shame upon the name of Jesus? Would that not be a worthy way of celebrating? Would that not be pleasing to His heart?

Today there are representatives here from about 100 countries. What if we all went home, convicted by the Holy Spirit concerning our guilt as Christians and empowered by that same Holy Spirit to share this conviction -- graciously and yet convincingly -- with our churches and fellowships? Just think what would happen in the heavenlies -- and also in the hearts of our Jewish brothers and sisters -- if, in the year 2000, there is a fresh move of the Holy Spirit of God and we Christians confess that we have crucified Jesus anew in His people.

Please pray with me that the year 2000 will see services of repentance at a thousand places throughout the world. Though the form of service will vary according to country and Christian tradition, in spirit we will be one. Around the globe we will be united before the Lord in repentance. Then can come times of refreshing -- for Jew and for Gentile.

Supplementary to this theme in English and German:

The Guilt of Christianity Towards the Jewish People (20-page information leaflet)

Suggestions for a Service of Repentance

Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, P.O.B. 13 01 29, D-64241 Darmstadt, Germany

Branch addresses of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary:

30 Taylor Place, Theresa Park, NSW 2570, Australia

4285 Heritage Drive, Tracy, NB, E0G 3C0, Canada

R.R.1, Millet, Alberta, T0C 1Z0, Canada

Radlett, Herts. WD7 8DE, U.K.,

P.O.Box 30022, Phoenix, AZ 85046-0022, U.S.A.

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