Remembering Yeshua Together

by Rabbi Mark Kinzer

On the night before his arrest and martyrdom, in the context of a Passover (or Passover-like) meal, Yeshua commanded his disciples to remember his atoning sacrifice through a ritual act. The early followers of Yeshua obeyed this commandment of their Master, and celebrated regularly a ritual meal in which bread and wine represented Yeshua’s gift of his own life (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). This rite soon became the central act of worship for the ekklesia of the nations. It remains central for many of the followers of Yeshua throughout the world.

What are Messianic Jews to do concerning this rite? The practice is indisputably rooted in a commandment of the Messiah, and so we cannot ignore it. Yet, Messianic Jews face multiple theological, historical, cultural, and practical challenges as we attempt to find an appropriate way to obey this injunction of Yeshua.

The theological challenges arise from disputes within the ekklesia concerning the meaning of the rite. In what sense are the bread and cup to be identified with the person of the Messiah? The historical challenges come from medieval attacks upon Jews who were accused of desecrating Eucharistic wafers. How can we observe a rite which had such tragic effects for the lives of our ancestors? The cultural challenges derive from a sense that this act of worship is an alien intrusion into our Jewish way of life. How can we make our own a practice that has developed as part of a non-Jewish religious tradition? The practical challenges emerge as we fashion our way of life in Messianic Jewish congregations. Where in our life does this rite fit, so that it receives proper honor without displacing other acts of worship that are essential or integral to Jewish practice?

I have grappled with these questions for more than three decades. In the late 1970’s I began studying the history of this act of ritually and communally remembering the Messiah. I was surprised to learn that the earliest recorded prayers associated with this rite from the post-apostolic period evidently derived from Jewish liturgy – namely, from the grace after meals (Birkat HaMazon). At a later stage of ecclesial development the prayers appear to be drawn from another unit of Jewish liturgy – the Amidah (the main petitionary prayer of Jewish life, repeated three times daily).

I was just as surprised to learn how the theology of the rite was illumined and enriched by knowledge of these Jewish liturgical origins. For example, the traditional name for the rite – the Eucharist – is a Greek word whose meaning is closely connected to the Hebrew word, “berachah” (blessing). Similarly, the concept of “remembrance” took on new meaning when it was understood in light of the Jewish liturgical term, “zikkaron.” In this liturgical act, commanded by Yeshua, his followers offer up berachot (blessings) to God for the gift of new life in the Messiah, and remember his atoning sacrifice in the way our people also remember the Exodus – not as a cognitive act of mental recollection, but as a reliving of the past redemption that makes it contemporary, and that also serves as the basis for a plea for future redemption.

When we launched Congregation Zera Avraham in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1993, I knew that we needed to find a way to celebrate this rite that re-incorporated it into its original Jewish liturgical context.  We called the rite “Zichron HaMashiach” -- the communal act of Remembering Messiah. Initially I developed a liturgy that was based on the Amidah, and we added it to the end of our Shabbat service. However, this was problematic, for Jewish guests who did not believe in Yeshua were put-off by a rite in which they could not in good conscience share. We then tried to observe it as a preliminary service before our normal Shabbat liturgy, but most of our people were unable to arrive that early in the morning. Finally, we shifted our celebration of Hazikkaron (the Remembrance) to a weeknight, as an attachment to a study session. However, once again attendance was sparse.

We then decided to try a completely different approach. Drawing upon the earliest ecclesial traditions, I developed a liturgy for Hazikkaron that reconnected it to a sacred meal and built upon Birkat HaMazon (the grace after meals). We met for the final meal of Shabbat on Saturday evening, and thus simultaneously celebrated the gift of Shabbat and the gift of Messiah, with the Messianic Jewish conviction that these are really one eschatological gift. After many and varied experiments, we had arrived at a practice that truly worked for us. For perhaps a decade our congregation has observed this rite monthly, and it has deepened our love for Yeshua and for one another.

This works well for us, in part because we are a small community. However, I am aware that other forms of celebrating Hazikkaron are also important. This past year I was asked to lead Hazikkaron as the concluding event at the annual conference of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. It was impossible to gather everyone around a table and have a communal meal – and so I returned again to the original liturgy I developed for our congregation based on the Amidah. We used that as the basis of our celebration, and the experience was rich and powerful. It confirmed for me the belief that Messianic Jews can and must observe Zichron Mashiach in a Jewish liturgical fashion. It also convinced me that our recovery of this rite can be a tremendous blessing for our brothers and sisters in the ekklesia of the nations, who can learn from us about the Jewish character of this treasure they have carried for generations.

For copies and recordings of these liturgies, go to the Hazikkaron resource page.

 

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The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) consists of ordained Rabbis and associates who promote a life of faithfulness to God's covenant among Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua by providing realistic and practical guidelines for Messianic Jewish observance.

Our core mission is to define, clarify, and foster standards of observance for council members and for those in the Messianic Jewish community who look to us for leadership.

We also exist to serve the professional and personal needs of our members by fostering high standards of professional competence, ethical behavior, and halakhic conduct.

The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) was formally established in May 2006. It consists of a group of ordained Messianic Jewish Rabbis and associated leaders who share a common vision for Messianic Judaism rooted in Torah, instructed by Tradition, and faithful to Messiah Yeshua in the twenty-first century.

The MJRC had its beginnings five years earlier. At that time a set of Messianic Jewish leaders from New England invited some of their colleagues from outside the region to join them in working on a common set of halakhic standards for themselves and their congregations.