March 2, 2023
This past Sunday I spoke briefly about the recent antisemitic activity in Eugene, the church’s historic role in antisemitic thought, and our continuing need to lament and atone for our history. A great deal of the blame falls on the historic Good Friday Liturgy, which at best by unintentional implication and at worse explicitly places the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion on “the Jews.”
On Good Friday, we hear the Passion narrative from John’s gospel, which repeatedly uses the phrase, “the Jews.” We know intellectually that Jesus and his disciples, and John himself were all Jewish. Most scholars believe that John’s intention was likely to implicate the Judean authorities and power structure, and some more modern translations now use “the Judeans” instead. Nevertheless, the repetition over the years of the phrase “the Jews” combined with our very human need to place blame, has led to much evil.
That evil has been furthered by some aspects of the liturgy as well. First the Latin service included a prayer for the conversion of ‘the perfidious Jews’. This phrase was removed by Pope John XXIII in his first Good Friday service in 1959 and was officially removed from the liturgy in 1962, although it still included prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Only in 1970 under Paul VI did the prayer finally become a simple prayer for the wellbeing of the Jewish people.
The Improperia or Reproaches, a portion of the traditional Good Friday service never included in the BCP follows the lessons and prayers and is said during the veneration of the cross. In and of themselves, the reproaches are a dialog with God, blaming his people for the many ways the have strayed and for our treatment of Jesus. When we hear “God’s people” to mean us, the Reproaches are good for us to hear and take to heart. After the buildup of blame for “the Jews”, however, they serve only to inflame bigotry, and hatred.
Our own BCP liturgy has been much less problematic but is still not perfect and all Christians have much to atone for. As a beginning of atonement, this year and into the future, we will be using a revised version of the Good Friday Liturgy offered to the Church by the Diocese of Texas and we will not be using the New Revised Standard Version for the Passion Gospel, but one that does not appear to implicate the Jewish people. I have reached out to Temple Beth Israel and the Jewish community to assure them of our love and support and I ask you to keep them in your prayers.