About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Resurrection before the Crucifiction

The 8 day Feast of Passover (Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread) has ended for 2016. This has been a time of eating, drinking, singing and prayers. Even the non-religious Jewish people will have engaged in many of the prayers at Passover. In Jewish tradition the Exodus represents the greatest act of Redemption undertaken by the Lord for His people. In this season we will have remembered that with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God redeemed a people for Himself. Once we were slaves and now we are free. Many families have formed their own traditions in connection to this special time. For my family, we have the tradition of watching The Prince of Egypt together at Passover. 

The first day of Passover began with the Seder, the evening meal and the liturgical retelling of the Exodus as part of the action of remembering. Following Passover is the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread. By the time of Jesus the two festivals (Passover and Unleavened Bread) and the traditions around them had merged into one long 8 day festival simply termed Passover. Eight days became the time frame of celebration for festivals, like Hanukkah and Tabernacles. Each day of the festival has portions of Scripture to read and study and prayers to pray. Interestingly, the Haftorah portion of Scripture (the reading from the Prophets) that is read on the last and eighth day to end the Passover is full of messianic hope of a future Redeemer. It is Isaiah 10vs32-12vs6. Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of God resting on the Branch of Jesse (the Messiah). 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (19th Century Rabbi) once made the connection between the first and last days of Passover. ‘The first night of Passover is our festival commemorating our redemption from Egypt by the Holy One, Blessed be He, this was the first redemption, carried out through Moses, our teacher, who was the first redeemer: it was the beginning. The last day of Passover is our festival commemorating the final redemption, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem us from the last exile though our righteous Messiah, who is the final redeemer. The first day of Passover is the Moses festival, the last day of Passover is the Messiah’s feast.’

Obviously there is a connection with the Christian festival of Easter and Passover, with many in the Church both historically and presently calling Easter the ‘Christian Passover’, which is also an 8 day holy week, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Both festivals carry a historical hope for the community. Jesus was killed at Passover and Easter Sunday rejoices at His resurrection. While there is a historical connection, we find that this year Easter occurred 3 weeks prior to Passover.  Thus we managed to celebrate a resurrection before a crucifixion. Strange, so how did that happen?

The Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, while the Christian calendars (both Julian and Gregorian) adhere to a solar cycle. The date of Passover is set from the Biblical text to be the 14th of Aviv, now called Nisan. Jesus celebrates Passover in Jerusalem and then is crucified, becoming the Passover lamb. Because the Gospels indicate that He was resurrected early Sunday morning, redeeming the world, the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE decided that Easter needed to always fall on a Sunday. Thus cementing in motion the divergent calendars we have today, however it was not always so. 

The early believers in Messiah were all Jewish and Gentile God-fearers. They read and studied the Hebrew Bible and followed the Torah and Jewish Festivals just as Jesus had done. This included the celebration of Passover on the 14th of Nisan. The early believers had no problem continuing the Jewish liturgical/calendrical/scriptural practices of their forefathers. This continued well into the 4th Century, that is 300 years after Jesus. Gentile Christians who followed the lunar calendar and celebrated Passover according to the Jewish Calendar were known as Quartodecimans (latin for the fourteenth of Nisan). Initially there was no hostility towards those who chose to continue to observe Passover and those who chose to observe the ‘Christian Passover, the Feast of the Resurrection’. Tension grew over time and as the number of Jewish believers became significantly a minority. Western Christianity had the weakest linkage to the early Jewish church in Jerusalem. Culturally the West followed a solar calendar and with differences in language and thinking to the East, led to the build up of antagonism towards Jewish practise and Jewish people, culminating into ‘Replacement Theology’. 

The name Easter first appears in the 7th Century to describe the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection. Easter is indeed a derivative of a pagan goddess associated with Spring festivals. While no one worships the goddess Ishtar at Easter it is for this reason the Orthodox Christian traditions in the East still call the festival of Easter by its Greek name, Pascha, which is the Greek translation of Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. 

In losing the connection of Easter/Pascha to the Hebraic source we arrive at our current scenario where we celebrate a resurrection before the time of a crucifixion. The Passover reminds us of the redemptive activity of God, both in the past through Moses and the Messiah, and in the future redemption of the world with the return of Jesus. In contrast, the Easter culture gives us bunnies, eggs and chocolates. Celebrating the Easter resurrection is very important. It would be remiss, not just ignorance, to neglect the connection to Passover and to supplant a memorial of redemption that God commanded to be observed for all time. 

‘This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord, an ordinance forever’ Exodus 12vs14 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Prayer is Reflexive

The Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Jewish People. The English title, the Psalms, is derived from the Greek translation of ‘Psalmoi’ meaning instrumental music. In Hebrew the word Psalm is derived from the verb to Pray and the Psalms are indeed at their essence prayers. They are also songs and poems and have been incorporated into public and private worship for close to 3000 years. The Psalms have become part of the liturgy in both Judaism and Christianity. From the Second Temple Period the Psalms have been part of the daily prayer life of the Jewish People. They had become a recognizable collection of material by the turn of the Common Era that was distinct from other sections of Scripture. Jesus says to his disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24vs44). Today the Psalms are prayed daily, weekly, monthly and at special feast days in the religious calendars. All 150 Psalms are prayed every month in the Jewish calendar. So every psalm is said at least 12 times a year. Prayers are personal as well as communal. You can pray them alone, but also pray them together. 

The word ‘Prayer’ in English is derived from a Latin word ‘Precari’ which means to beg, or to entreat. Subsequently, too often prayers represent mostly petitions and requests to God. The Hebrew word for prayer is Tefilah which comes from the verb L’HitPallel. The verb to pray in Hebrew is a reflexive verb. A reflexive verb is something that you do to yourself. Example, the Hebrew verb to dress or to wear clothing is Lilbosh. The reflexive form of this verb, to dress oneself is L’HitLabesh. Yet how can prayer be reflexive? We pray to God and not to ourselves, right? Doesn't He listen? Even Jesus prays! The Hebraic concept of prayer contains within itself the concept of self analysis and self evaluation while in communication with God. The goal therefore is not to try to influence God, rather the opposite, to let God influence you. Perhaps prayer is more listening than speaking. 

Question - Does God need our prayers? The answer is of course, no. He does not need our prayers. Whether we pray to Him or not He will still be God, He will still rule and He will still have His Will done. Does God want our prayers? The answer is a definite yes! He loves to hear our prayers, He wants us to talk to Him and probably more importantly He wants to talk back. Our prayers as they say, are like sweet incense before the Throne of God. 

Within the Prayer Book of Psalms we can see the full gambit of human emotion. There are Psalms of praise and adoration through to prayers of sadness and despair. Some Psalms just don't end well at all, they just stop at rock bottom, such as Psalm 88 which ends in utter darkness. God has emotions, just like we do. We are made in His image and as we have emotions, so too does the Lord. He gets angry, He gets jealous, He loves, He weeps and He laughs. God is in greater control of His emotions than I am. God made us and He knows us better than we know ourselves. And so He has provided us with a prayer for every emotion that we might come across. He knows that we will have days where we are in distress and days when we are sad, and He has prayers that reflect that. There will be other times to shout, dance and rejoice, and there are prayers for those times too. 

Some people find it difficult and uninspiring in praying the same prayers over and over again. Praying as a routine can indeed lose its meaning and a spontaneous prayer life perhaps seems more preferable. However, the Rabbis have a saying, If you prayed today because you prayed yesterday, then you haven't prayed. This reflects that Prayers must always come from the heart of the person praying. Whether they be spontaneous and free form prayers or liturgical prayers and psalms. Jesus prayed both types of Prayers and even taught His disciples a liturgical prayer. 

You can tell people’s theology and how they think and feel by how they pray. It’s not what goes in your mouth that is important (says Jesus), instead it’s what comes out (Matt 15vs11). One of the things that comes out of our mouths are our prayers, how and what we say to God. Our prayers and prayer life reflect our thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Prayer is reflexive, we should listen to our own prayers as they will reveal things about ourselves. About the things that are bothering us, the issues on our hearts and minds, and how they are affecting us and perhaps our response to those issues. God doesn't need our prayers (although He does desire them). Who truly needs to pray? We do.