Thursday, April 13, 2017

It Would Have Been Enough

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  St. John 13:1

Maybe you saw the article in the Washington Post last week about matzoh man’s visit to Farragut Park[1].  Maybe, at least, you remember the unforgettable picture.  Matzoh Man is a rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld of Synagouge Ohev Sholom in Northwest.  About this time every year he dresses in his matzoh suit and kippah, which are white with brown spots.  He revs up the matzoh mobile, a Crown Vic wrapped in a vinyl coating that makes it look like the ubiquitous Jewish cracker. 

And he drives downtown to pass out boxes of the unleavened bread, all the while wishing people a happy Passover and reminding Jews to keep the Seder at home this year.  He’s ready to give you the matzoh you need, to invite you to the community seder at his synagogue, to do everything he can to awaken the consciousness of America’s increasingly secular Jews to remember their ancient traditions and to celebrate God’s faithfulness once more this year.

The Post reporter, who was obviously having a great time with the article, asked rabbi Herzfeld why he does it.  And as I was reading, I thought to myself: “this guy is going to say he was a performance artist in his former life, or that he finished last in the rabbinical council’s fantasy football pool.”  Why else would a well-educated, successful religious leader go downtown dressed like a Saltine to shame his fellow Jews into keeping the Seder. 

But matzoh man had a surprising answer.  He said he was inspired by a Passover hymn—the Passover hymn really, “Dayenu.”  Dayenu is a song that goes back a thousand years, that all Jews sing at the seder.  I’ve never been to a seder and I know nothing about Jewish hymnody, but when I looked it up on youtube, I recognized the tune immediately.  “Dayenu”—it means, “it would have been enough.”  It’s a hymn all about God’s mighty deeds on behalf of His people.  “If he had brought us out of Egypt,” it begins, “Dayenu—it would have been enough.”  If he had executed justice on the Egyptians, “Dayenu—it would have been enough.”  If he had split the sea, if he had fed us with manna, if he had given us the law, if he had built for us the temple”—on and on it, goes, fifteen verses, and after each of them the chorus, “Dayenu, dayenu, it would have been enough, it would have been enough.”

“This is our God,” the song is saying, “a God who has stretched forth his arm for us, a God who abounds in mercy, a God who has already done great good for us, and yet does more.”  For us, one merciful act would have been enough to know His wisdom, power and love, but there was far more that he had in store for us.  The rabbi in the matzoh suit was saying: “I know this God, I love Him, and if there’s anything I can do, even to make a fool of myself, so that one more person can see how good He is, well, ‘dayenu,’ it would be enough.”

As I was reading it, the newspaper story turned on me.  It went from a bit of a laugh to something really quite profound.  And I thought almost immediately of another story, of a man who also made Himself a fool, or at least performed a gesture of profound humility, to show us something more of the wisdom, power and abundance of this God who has given so much to us.

It was this story, this Gospel I have just read to you.  Jesus had gathered His disciples one final time, to celebrate the Passover again.  They did not sing Dayenu, but they also remembered God’s faithfulness in saving His people from slavery, giving them the law, leading them to the promised land.  And then Jesus spoke to them of something more that God would do.  All He had done for their ancestors was not yet enough.  He who loved them already would love them to the end, love them to the uttermost.

And so Jesus took of his outer garment, and He wrapped a towel about his arms, and knelt on the ground like a slave to wash their feet.  He who is equal in the Father, the Creator of all things, the Lord of saints and angels, took the lowest place, to cleanse those who despite all God had done before, still needed forgiveness, and reconciliation to the Father.  He washed their feet as a symbol of His love, shown in figures this night, but written in blood the next day.

He also gave them another gift, one we share this night, a new covenant in His blood.  All that His humiliation, suffering and death would secure will be renewed at the Altar in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.   And He who gave Himself for us, will yet share Himself with us completely, “so that He may dwell in us and we in him.[2]

It’s the same song you see.  “If he had become one of us, dayenu-it would have been enough.”  If he had taught us the way of life, if he had healed the sick and cast out the demons, dayenu—it would have been enough.”  If he had washed our feet and given us the sacrament of His body and blood, dayenu-it would have been enough.”  “If he had been tried unjustly, mocked, beaten and killed, it would have been enough.”  Dayenu, dayenu—whatever He must do to love us to the end, only that is enough for Jesus.

[1] Kelly, John.  “Is it a Bird?  Is it a Plane?  No, it’s Matzoh Man Getting Ready for Passover.”  The Washington Post. 4 Apr. 2017.
[2] “The Holy Eucharist: Rite One.”  The Book of Common Prayer (1979). 336.

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