When it comes to the common faith of spiritual human beings, sometimes the best approach is to try and understand all that we have in common.
In that regard, a New York City-based organization that melds Judaism with evangelical Christian faith to help further the understanding of the Jewish context of the gospel of Jesus will stage special presentations in Schuylkill and Carbon counties in the coming days.
The organization is called Chosen People Ministries, and their specialty event, to take place at two locations one week apart, will focus on a Passover Seder, said to be the last meal eaten by Jesus.
"It's not an actual Seder, but a demonstration," says the Rev. James Cavallero of First United Methodist Church, Tamaqua. We're doing it to help people understand the Passover."
The Rev. Richard E. Wilcock of Faith Alive United Methodist Church located in Bowmanstown, just outside of Palmerton, spearheaded the effort with initial plans to bring Chosen People Ministries to the local area. For a time, there were plans to potentially conduct one single presentation to serve both congregations and both communities. However, distance factors precluded that idea from gaining ground. Palmerton in Carbon County and Tamaqua in Schuylkill are about 24 miles apart.
As a result, two separate programs will take place so that both congregations and residents of both communities will have equal opportunity to take part in the event.
Klaudia Zhelezny of Chosen People Ministries will present both programs. She is an immigrant from Kiev, Ukraine, who grew up as an atheist. At the same time, however, she believed the Soviet government to be morally and spiritually bankrupt.
Zhelezny's personal transformation began after her family decided to move to America. A turning point was when her family, while on the move, passed through Italy and a Baptist missionary gave her a bible. She read the Old Testament and, she says, came to understand that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
The session as she presents it begins with the traditional Passover Seder table complete with all of the articles of this important Jewish celebration. Zhelezny explains the symbolic meanings of the various items of the Passover feast and highlights their relationship to the Last Supper, giving special emphasis on the redemptive significance of the crucifixion.
According to Zhelezny, the program gives the Christian community insight into Jewish traditions so that the Jewish roots of Christianity can be better understood. It also helps the Jewish and Christian communities understand their common heritage.
The Messiah in the Passover presentation is said to be a powerful message not only of Israel's freedom from slavery in Egypt, but of the redemption of individuals from the bondage of sin through the atoning work of Jesus. That is the message made clear in the printed invitation extended by Chosen People Ministries .
The event, a vivid demonstration showing how Jesus fulfilled the ancient feast of Passover, will take place at Faith Alive United Methodist Church on Saturday, March 24, at 7 p.m.
There, the idea of exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity comes naturally for Wilcock since his marriage exposes him to a broad view of faith on a daily basis.
"My wife comes from a Jewish family. She's a Messianic Jew," he says. Wilcock approached the church board about the idea of Messiah in the Passover and the board approved the concept.
Faith Alive is a United Methodist congregation which has grown out of the ministries of four churches from Bowmanstown, Parryville, Weissport, and Lehighton. The churches officially merged in 1993 in an effort to expand opportunities for ministry for the new century.
In Tamaqua, First United Methodist Church will host the session on Saturday, March 31, beginning at 3:30 p.m.
First United Methodist Church is rich in tradition in the greater Tamaqua area and can trace its Tamaqua roots to February 22, 1838, then Methodist Episcopal. It acquired its present name after the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches merged in 1968.
Chosen People Ministries is an over 100-year-old mission founded in 1894 by Leopold Cohn, a Hungarian rabbi who came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised by Hebrew scriptures. From humble beginnings in Brooklyn, N.Y., Chosen People Ministries has grown into a worldwide ministry to "the Jew first and to the Gentile."
The program, which runs about one hour to perhaps 90 minutes, is open to the public. A free will offering will be received, and, when the event is completed, attendees will more fully understand a rich, sacred tradition.
"At the end, they'll understand what the Passover Seder is all about and what the significance is," said Cavallero.
"Sometimes it's hard to understand people's faith customs. This helps Christians understand their Jewish roots."