With heads bowed and spirits raised, over 1,100 deeply religious Christians from around the world stood at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel in Jerusalem to confess before the Jewish people, and repent before God, two millennia of anti-semitism in the name of Christianity.
The two-hour service, which included Bible readings, hymns, talks, historical narratives, instrumental music, and a 256-word confessional, moved to tears many Christians and Jews who attended the repentance service.
Among the narratives were tales of Crusaders burning Jews in Jerusalem synagogues; persecution of Jews during the time of the Black Death; confining Jews in ghettos and compelling them to wear distinctive markings that were the forerunners of the yellow Star of David; forcing Jews to choose between baptism or exile, or even death; falsely accusing Jews of ritual murder; subjecting Jews to the Spanish Inquisition and burning at the stake; pogroms that often occurred on Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter; and prejudices against Jews shaped by theology and Christian teachings that led many Christians "either to give tacit consent to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust or to remain indifferent to their plight."
Each of these began with the crowd saying out loud, "We deplore," ending with, "Lord, have mercy, and forgive us our guilt towards Your chosen people Israel." The biblical passages in the narratives were read by eight clergy:
A Free Church minister from Australia,
A Lutheran minister from South Africa,
Lutheran provosts from Jerusalem and Germany,
A Lutheran provost from Estonia,
A Dutch Reformed minister from the Netherlands,
An Anglican canon from Canada,
And two Lutheran ministers from Germany.
The repentance service was the highlight of a three-day conference ending on April 20, entitled, "Changing the Future by Confronting the Past." The conference was aimed, in the words of its brochure, at "a time to reflect, to repent, to get right with God and our elder brother Israel, writing a new page in Christian history."
The lessons of the week were not lost on the participants. Jan Cooper, 55, from Thornbury, England, said after the service, "I'm a bit shell-shocked. I've come to realize things I never knew, never imagined. I never grasped that because of the teachings of so many well-known Christian teachers - and I've got to come to terms with this - that it paved the way for things like the Holocaust. That has devastated me this week."
The Jewish participants were equally moved. "I never could understand some of the things that have happened in the world, but when I see people deal with the problems, and relate to it, it's very moving," said Bill Richman, 56, an Israeli originally from Chicago who lives on Moshav Modi'im. "I came because the nuns were going to give a message of teshuva (repentance), and I thought being here would be like a blessing, to be in the presence of people that have those kinds of feelings."
PRAYER FOCUS: Thank God that He is working in Christian hearts to bring true repentance for the persecution of the Jewish people and the part the Church played in the propagation of anti-Semitic theology and practice. Pray that God will use these events to help heal the wounds of His chosen people, the Jews.
SCRIPTURE: "If.you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you" (Romans 17-18).
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