Shabbat Shalom. That is the greeting you receive when you enter a Sabbath Service at a synagogue. It means Sabbath Peace.
Those words had deep meaning for me last night. My two adult sons accompanied me as I met some of our ninth grade Confirmation students and mentors at Temple Israel in Minneapolis to experience a Sabbath service. This visit is part of our unit in Confirmation Training called My Neighbor’s Faith. Our students visit a Mosque, a synagogue, a Greek Orthodox Church, and a Pentecostal Church in order to experience difference in worship and theology. Last night’s visit has been on the books for months.
Last night was special, though.
“Shabbat Shalom,” was spoken again and again to us.
How could they greet me that way? It has only been one week. Last Shabbat I’m sure the members of Temple Israel gave little thought to their weekly routine of walking up to the ninety year old building. I’m sure they greeted their friends and family with joy and peace.
This week was different. We had to walk through a tight security detail at the door. A news van was parked on the curb as we walked up to the building (read the article here). The Justice Choir – Twin Cities was singing in the fellowship area. The building was buzzing with nervous energy.
It was the first time they had gathered to worship on the Sabbath since a gunman entered a synagogue last Shabbat in Pittsburgh and attempted to shred Shalom. He killed eleven people, injured many more, and woke up a nation.
He did not destroy Shalom.
The large, beautiful worship space was packed with people, many of whom came from the Muslim and Christian Community. The cantor invited any clergy from any faith tradition to come to the platform to join in a prayer for peace and unity. All the kids looked at me. Suddenly, I found myself walking up the center isle and joining at least thirteen other clergy on the platform leading a congregation of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in a prayer of unity and peace for this world.
What a privilege.
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman gave a powerful message. She told stories like the rabbis of old that spoke to how weak-minded people try to use violence to bring down the strong. She spoke of how proud she is to be a Jew. The most powerful moment came when she looked over at her friend in the crowd, the Rev. Danny Givens. He is a black Christian minister in the Twin Cities. One year ago he told her that he doesn’t like it when people say to him, “I don’t see color. We are all the same.”
“No, we are not all the same,” he said. “I am black, and I am proud of my heritage. When you see me, I want you to see that I am black, and I will see you for what you are.”
Rabbi Zimmerman went on to say that his challenge has caused her to rethink some of her attitudes toward unity and diversity.
“I don’t like it when people say ‘I don’t see religion,’” she said. “I am Jewish. I want you to see me as Jewish.”
On Sunday, the day after the shooting, she put on a Kippah for the first time. The Kippah is the small, circular head covering traditionally worn by Jewish men. Rabbi Zimmerman is a progressive Jew and said, “I never thought it was a big deal, you know, it was such a masculine symbol. But, thanks to my friend, a black, Christian minister, I now realize how important it is to claim my identity as a Jew.”
She went on to speak of how the philosopher Plato gave us the wrong idea of unity. He said that ultimately we are all part of the same thing, that our differences are illusions. This is not true. Our unity is not found in the blending of our differences into sameness. Unity is found in the reality of both/and (this is a wonderfully Lutheran idea as well). Our unity is BOTH in the recognition and dignity of our differences, AND in our ability to reach across the divide and work together in the sameness of our humanity.
Amen and Amen.
The question for me today is this: How can I continue to strive for God’s Shalom in this world? I realize that structuring visits for ninth graders to mosques and synagogues is a start. This world—the 7.2 billion humans, the billions and billions of living creatures, the vast networks of ecosystems—is a delicately balanced interconnection of life. It is held together by Shalom.
The peace of God—Shalom—is not a vapid ideal of non-conflict. It is a weighty, substantive presence of God’s love that is the medium in which life is sustained.
Shalom is always present. We simply need to let go of our fear and access it (see this summary of Richard Rohr’s meditations today for a beautiful treatment of this).
There are many similarities between a synagogue and a Lutheran place of worship. One similarity that jumped out at me was the presence of an eternal flame. We don’t speak much of it in our services, but it is there, burning on the chancel. We use it to light the paschal candle at Baptisms and during special seasons.
The flame represents the presence of God—God’s love: Shalom.
It burns in the synagogue, in the Christian place of worship, in the center of every atom that constitutes this universe.
So, today, as I write this in the darkness of a Saturday morning on a weekend when I will preach about Worship Handed Down on All Saints Day, I share with you, my readers, this simple, yet deeply profound phrase.