Cover Story

Searching for the afikomen

Issue: "All in the family," March 2, 2002

In both Jewish and Christian families at Passover and Easter time, children search for either Easter eggs or the afikomen, a piece of matzoh (unleavened bread) broken from the middle of three larger matzohs and hidden by the father. Christians and Jews interpret the symbolism of that act differently, but the Greek word afikomen itself can mean "that which is coming" (dessert) or "he who is coming." Jewish tradition requires that a place be left at the Passover table for Elijah, who will announce the coming of a Messiah able to bring redemption even greater than the deliverance Moses brought.

Who is that Messiah? Has He already come and will come again, or must we still pray for the first visit? That is a good subject for Jews and Christians to discuss. The search for the afikomen will go on in Jewish homes on March 28, and soon afterwards Easter eggs will be hunted in back yards and parks across the country. Children will find chocolate, but Jewish and Christian adults need to search for ways of crossing a canyon now two millennia wide.

We should not pretend the canyon does not exist, or think we can walk across on the airy ecumenical notions that Jacob Neusner rightly critiques. We cannot all agree that Jesus was merely a nice man and a good teacher; as C.S. Lewis has famously stipulated, He was either a liar, a madman, or the Christ. If Jews and Christians truly care about each other, that question of who Christ is will always be central, but we can still find ways to work together to fight off this era's liars and madmen.

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Christians need to be willing to defend Christ's claims, and then see what God will do in transforming hearts. Christians and Jews are long-term racers, not ice skating pairs, but we agree that the race should go on and that God will at some point declare the winner. Meanwhile, we both want the ice to be smooth. We want good lighting. Rather than making sport of each other, we want good sportsmanship in this most important of contests.

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