The Jewish response to trauma is counterintuitive and extraordinary. You defeat fear by joy. You conquer terror by collective celebration. You prepare a festive meal, invite guests, give gifts to friends. While the story is being told, you make a rumbustious noise as if not only to blot out the memory of Amalek, but to make a joke out of the whole episode. You wear masks. You drink a little too much. You make a Purim spiel.
Precisely because the threat was so serious, you refuse to be serious – and in that refusal you are doing something very serious indeed. You are denying your enemies a victory. You are declaring that you will not be intimidated. As the date of the scheduled destruction approaches, you surround yourself with the single most effective antidote to fear: joy in life itself. As the three-sentence summary of Jewish history puts it:
“They tried to destroy us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Humour is the Jewish way of defeating hate. What you can laugh at, you cannot be held captive by.
Anything here that can flow into the Christian branches of faith?
On the Christian calendar, today is Maundy Thursday. Followers of Jesus commemorate his institution of what is now shared as Holy Communion with Him. He speaks two commands (mandates, hence “Maundy”), Do this in remembrance of me and Love one another as I have loved you. He offers an example of humble service by washing his disciples’ feet.
Most Christian services on this day go in one of two directions. Traditional liturgy is quiet, reflective and carried out in the gathering gloom of Jesus’s suffering and death on Good Friday. Non-traditional churches are already whooping it up, holding their early “Easter Services” to preempt Sunday seating problems.
What Rabbi Lord Sacks says, As the date of the scheduled destruction approaches, you surround yourself with the single most effective antidote to fear: joy in life itself, might help Christians find balance. As the darkness that rules the present age seeks to extinguish what little light God keeps shining, rejoice. But as we rejoice over the empty tomb, we do so knowing that we are still in a mad world bent on refilling it and sealing it up again.
Gathered to dine with his disciples that night in Jerusalem, facing his great struggle, Jesus taught them, encouraged them and prayed for them. Why? According to Him,
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11 NRSV)
Sitting in a prison cell, the Apostle Paul saw beyond the surrounding walls to surrounding joy,
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. (Philippians 4:4 NLT)
The tried to destroy us. We survived. Let’s eat. To rejoice in the Lord as a Christian is to hear those words as Christ’s own – “They tried to destroy me. I survived. Let’s eat.” Because the life in which we rejoice isn’t only the one gifted to us in the here and now, but in the new heavens and new earth He brings despite all of the currently deadly but infinitely mockable efforts to stop Him.