EASTER SUNDAY Christians, Jews Begin to Embrace Their Bond Many Welcome Change in Attitude

Article excerpt

The Very Rev. Jacob Danner knows well that religious symbols pack a punch -- jostling, inspiring, rousing the faithful from their spiritual slumber.

As his congregants open their eyes today, on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, they will see Danner's white vestments, robes whose color symbolizes the purity of being born again in Christ, the majesty of God's grace as demonstrated through Jesus' resurrection.

"Because Christ was raised,'' said Danner, the dean of Jacksonville's Cathedral Church of the Messiah, "it gives us hope in our own resurrection.''

Yet, as he stands before his Arlington congregation, which belongs to the Charismatic Episcopal Church, he will do so without the pectoral cross, typical of a prelate's attire.

In its place, hanging down from around his neck, will rest an altogether different emblem, a six-pointed Star of David.

Danner is not Jewish, nor does he want to be.

Rather, the pastor's Jewish star, an antique fashioned from silver and lapis-lazuli, reflects a shift in consciousness that just might be of lasting significance in a year that Christians the world over celebrate and ponder the third millennium of their religious faith.

For nearly 2000 years, Christians understood their faith in opposition to Judaism, portrayed in medieval church sculpture as a blind-folded maiden who refused to see the truth of God's plan.

For this error, in classical Christian theology, the Jewish people were condemned to be rootless, inferior and wretched, wandering the earth -- their condition a visible sign of divine judgment.

Since the 1960s, however, relations between Christianity and Judaism have dramatically improved, a shift fueled by reaction to the moral blight of the Holocaust, the creation of Israel and the emerging scholarly insights into the Jewish world of Jesus and his followers.

Jewish officials use such words as extraordinary to describe the change in attitude, though they express nervousness about the exuberant embrace of their symbols by some Protestants.

Protestants such as Danner often call their affection for Judaism "having a heart for the Jewish people.''

Catholics use the term reconciliation, falling back to the language of Lent and the spirit of the jubilee now being celebrated by the Catholic Church.

This jubilee, a special holy year to mark the year 2000, has been designated by Pope John Paul II as a unique moment for reconciliation. And, as the church looks forward to the new millennium, the pope has signaled he wants the faithful to do so with a spirit of repentance for past errors.

Such a spirit marked the pope's pilgrimage to the Holy Land last month that observers linked to John Paul's long-time commitment to improving Catholic-Jewish relations.

During his seven-day visit, the pope kissed Israeli soil, met with the nation's chief rabbis, visited Judaism's most holy site, the Western Wall, and went to the Israeli Holocaust memorial.

"These are not only symbolic acts, they are theologically pregnant,'' said Eugene J. Fisher, a senior official with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. "You can't use too many superlatives.''

The dialogue between the church and the Jewish people is not just a feel-good affair. It is not undertaken merely out of goodwill and fellowship, Fisher said.

Rather its roots are far deeper, far more central to the Christian faith. The church's motives, Fisher said, reflect the "sacred bond between the church and the Jewish people.''

Fisher went on to liken this connection to a marriage bond. And for Catholics, such a bond "is unbreakable,'' he said.

Bishop John J. Snyder, who oversees the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, which covers Northeast Florida, concurred that the pope's actions reverberated among the faithful.

"I just felt that was a watershed,'' he said. …

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