Beside the Garden Tomb

JERUSALEM — Six small olive-wood cups containing wine for the Jews in our group sat on the table on one side of a tray containing broken crackers. On the other side were 15 cups for the Christians preparing for the Lord’s Supper.

An Episcopal priest – one of the leaders (along with me and a rabbi) on our Jewish-Christian study tour – had figured out how to do a sort of joint Communion service that would be Communion just for the Christians while including the Jews, who would not, of course, be asked to consume the body and blood of Christ.


So first my friend and co-author of my last book, Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, offered a traditional Jewish blessing, giving thanks to God for bringing forth bread from the Earth. He then distributed the crackers and wine to the five other Jews with us.


When he finished, the Rev. Gar Demo did a brief, but complete, Eucharist service, leaving out no words about what happened at the Last Supper or our gratitude as Christians for receiving Christ’s blood and body.


The Jews, in what they did, were authentic Jews. The Christians, in our ritual, were authentic Christians. Neither of us sought to soften the theological differences between us, though we treated one another with love and respect.


And what made this moment all the more remarkable was that we held this ad hoc service within a few steps of the Garden Tomb just outside the walls of old Jerusalem – the tomb in which some Protestant Christians believe Jesus was really buried right after the crucifixion on the adjacent hill of Golgotha.


Jews and Christians have been at serious odds for nearly 2,000 years. I recount the long, shameful arc of anti-Judaism in Christian history in an essay posted on my blog, but for now it is enough to know that this anti-Judaism helped to create modern anti-Semitism, without which the Holocaust is simply inconceivable.


Finally, in 1965, the Catholic Church issued its “Nostra Aetate” document saying that Jews should not be considered guilty of killing Christ — exactly the charge leveled against them by the church for century after century.


That document, while still somewhat problematic for Jews, has opened up a previously unimagined Jewish-Christian dialogue, and our 10-day tour of Israel was designed to be a small model for how people in the pews of churches and synagogues can advance that dialogue without waiting for our top leaders to fix things.


My wider hope is that all three Abrahamic faiths, including Islam, can find ways to live together in the kind of gentle, moving and respectful harmony that I both witnessed and participated in here in the Holy Land.


Maybe, as the Jews say, next year in Jerusalem.


BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at