I'm Lutheran. She's Jewish. My Interfaith Family Wrestles With Holy Week

Some years ago during Holy Week Boston Globe columnist James Carroll issued a stern warning to preachers.

He wrote that although Holy Week is the most sacred time of the year for Christians, it is also the most dangerous -  because Holy Week has often been the cause and occasion for great violence, especially against Jews.

He recounts, as he does at greater length in his book, Constantine’s Sword, the way that Christians have, until relatively recently, blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, and how the passion readings, for centuries, incited people to leave their churches on Good Friday and commit terrible acts of violence against Jews.

It is a haunting legacy that impacts us still. And so, his plea to preachers is this: “preach peace.” Preach peace in Holy Week.


Good Friday is probably my favorite day on the Christian calendar. The service is simple and focused. Like the altar, everything is stripped away. It’s just us and Jesus and the cross. God’s love is fully revealed and completely on display. But, as a Lutheran married to a Jew, Good Friday is also the hardest day of the Church year for me.

The fact is: most of the time I don’t even think about the our being an interfaith family. When I do think of it, its good and enriching, like when we light the menorah for Hanukkah, even as we observe Advent. Or, when we celebrate Passover even as we approach Easter. Or, when we explain to the kids who’s Christian and who’s Jewish in our family, telling them about the different rituals and history. But Good Friday is different. Good Friday is hard.

On Good Friday, I am confronted with inescapable fact that I belong to a religion that has persecuted Jews (and in some instances, still does). I belong to a theological tradition that laid the ground for, and was complicit in the holocaust, where most of Jenny’s family died. I belong to a denomination named after a prolific anti-semite. And, even though things have changed, and Lutherans have apologized, I still feel tainted. If I thought too hard about it, I’m not sure that I could reconcile it.

The passion according to Matthew, with its condemnations of the Jews, with those words put right into their very own mouths “let his blood be on our children” makes me shiver.  Because now those are my children too.


And so, in Holy Week, I find myself profoundly grateful for what God has done for us on the cross, and profoundly sad for what has been done in his name. And that’s probably just about the right way for us to approach this week – with deep gratitude for what Jesus has done, and deep sadness for what happened to him, and what has happened to so many others in his name – and our part in both.

And we do have a part in both. And this is not easy for us to hear or admit. Often when we talk about sin, we think about our own particular faults and misdeeds, which we regret. Sometimes we think about sin as part of the human condition. We would all always rather choose ourselves over others or God. We struggle to follow Jesus’ commandment to love others as he loves us.

Less often do we think about the violence we do, the violence we are complicit in: the violence of war, the violence we are doing to the creation. The violence of poverty, exploitation, prejudice, and abuse – expecting people to pull themselves up by the boot straps when they have no shoes.

We participate in institutions and in an economy that does violence. Of all the sins we commit, and for all the ways we think about sin – for me, these are by far the worst. These are the sins that do great and enduring harm, and that discredit the church in the eyes of so many.

We are the ones, with our violent ways, that put Jesus to death. We are the Priests and the Pharisees, the Soldiers and Pilate, the crowd that jeered Jesus as he carried his cross. We are those people. We are people easily given over to violence, suspicion, and hate.

On Good Friday, we sit with that truth about ourselves, about our world – a world swirling with violence, which taints us all.


And this is the world that Jesus enters. He is born into a world of violence as we see with the slaughter of the innocents, and he is killed by a world of violence and its terrible creation, the cross – the perfect execution device.

And the great twist is that on and through the cross Jesus overcomes it. For, he died for these sins of violence too. He died for the priests, and the soldiers, and the crowd. He suffered violence, in order to free us from it – to make it possible to love as he loves, to live peacefully and peaceably with others.

Jesus took the pain, took it to the grave, so that though we are a people with a history of violence, that does not have to be our future. Through his death and his resurrection, Jesus has given us a new destiny and vision for life.

In his book Narratives of a Vulnerable God, William Placher writes this:

“Only a God ‘weak in power but strong in love’ can be strong enough to take on all the world’s pain and die on a cross. Trust in such a God can give human beings the strength to risk following on the path of compassion and vulnerability, to think what it means to live lives whose first priority is love.”

The way of violence is seductive and easy. The way of peace is possible, but hard. As Jesus shows us throughout Holy Week, it is the way of love.

— first published at pastorkeithanderson.net, April 2011