The Church has a long and tragic history of anti-Semitism, and sadly the Lutheran tradition has played a large role in that story. From Luther’s own writings to Lutherans’ abject failure to oppose Hitler (the responses ranging from mere complicity to out-right collaboration), we need to reckon with and repent of our racism.
As we head in to Good Friday and turn our attention increasingly to the Passion narratives, especially Saint John’s, we are also entering a trying time for ant-Semitism. Saint John often used “the Jews” as a short-hand for religious leaders, especially the chief priests; as we read this story aloud on Good Friday, many will wince at the implications. The Jewish people in Europe were often charged with, and frequently attacked over, the charge of deicide, or the murder of God. For the Church to fully and humbly repent, it is vital that we put John’s language into its full and historical context.
To that end, I commend to your attention Rabbi A. James Rudin’s recent article over at the Religion News Service. The rabbi offers a brief history of Passion plays, their unfortunate anti-Semitic connections, and contextualizes the role of the chief priest as a Roman puppet. As we retell the story of Christ’s crucifixion, Rabbi Rudin reminds us, we must place the blame squarely upon the oppressive hand of the Roman Empire and their agents.