By Keith Lee, Associate Pastor
I was a bit nervous that night because I’ve never experienced Shavuot in a synagogue and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve known the holiday as Pentecost but had no idea about its Jewish significance. On one hand, I was grateful to be with a group of students from Hebrew U. participating at Bet Kinneset Moreshet Ysrael Synagogue. On the other hand, I was uncomfortable facing my own ignorance. What I call the Old Testament is not old to many, and especially to Jews, it’s an important document that carries deep and sacred traditions totally different from mine.
Traditional rabbinic calculation places the holiday near the same time as the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Many customs and practices have taken root in the last two and a half thousand years, but the main practice and the reason why I was there that night was studying the Torah all night! There were multiple speakers and sessions and the most memorable one was when everyone was divided into small groups to read the book of Ruth. All major Jewish holidays have a book of OT assigned to them. For Shavuot, the book of Ruth is read for a variety of reasons, but the number one being that at the end of chapter one, there’s a mention of a barley harvest which usually falls around March-April.
In my small group instead just reading it, we were instructed to enact roleplay reading. I was not assigned a role (thank goodness because I felt awkward enough). The other members did a splendid job. The impressionable part was when it came to Ruth reciting the lines, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
Not only the person playing Naomi (the mother-in-law of Ruth who is the recipient of the heartfelt pledge) but practically everyone in the room (except, me, of course) was desperately convincing Ruth to not become Jewish. Emotions ran high. It was real and not roleplay anymore. Something deep within their psyche and soul fluttered out. Their main reason was that being Jewish is not only difficult and painful, but dangerous as proven by their history. At the time, I was thinking this is completely opposite to Christianity where everyone urges you to join the faith. I found out later that in Jewish tradition, you’re supposed to discourage a potential convert at least three times. Maybe that was it, but at that time, the emotion was too strong for me to ignore. I walked out of that session a bit perplexed.
I share this story for Pentecost and for confirmands preparing for the Confirmation Service. Life in Christ is not easy. We have a cross on top of the roof and as the most prominent symbol in the Sanctuary. We celebrate Communion with the words “This is His body given and blood shed for you.” I sincerely hope our journey with Christ has been arduous and strenuous and will continue to be that. Because Jesus said, “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”