"He has risen from the dead and found walking down a road" . . . . Luke 24:14-35
My first visit to B'nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, Maryland, I was immediately struck by its grandeur. I knew the Lord sent me here as it was to be part of my continuing education.
"This is the most beautiful synagogue I have ever seen," I thought to myself.
Mom always said, "The Jewish people are the apple of God's eye." She got that verse right out of the scriptures. It was her teachings that led me down this particular path.
Over the years I often I said to myself. "It's not my fault I was not born Jewish." I think I said that because my Mom continued to tell me they were God's chosen people. As a little kid, I wanted to be chosen too.
As an adult I was a frequent visitor and attended at the Friday night and Saturday morning services off and on for some 26 years. The service at this conservative synagogue is usually three hours. The scriptures are chanted in Hebrew from the Halakhah, the Jewish law, and a particular teaching is read every Sabbath.
I found a copy of the scriptures located in the pew. "Oh, this is great!" I said, as a big smile spread across my face. I could follow the service in English or Hebrew. Well, maybe not Hebrew!
* * *
Many years later God sent me to live on a mountaintop, again to continue my spiritual education. I remembered those words clearly.
"This is only temporary," I heard the Lord say to me.
God's detours have no time limit. My idea of temporary would be a couple of weeks, three at the most; this one lasted nine months!
"Wellsville, New York has got to be the second coldest place in the world other than Alaska!" I thought.
There was always a chill of ice in the air and snow lay on the ground most of the time. It seemed like summer had come and gone in one day. Florida was the place to be, always warm and sunny. My youngest daughter lived in Florida with her family. Several times while talking on the phone I could hear birds chirping in the background. Months later I received the call I had been secretly waiting for.
"Mom, can you come and help me out?" Valerie asked. "I'm going to deliver this baby in a couple weeks and I could use a little help."
"I'll be on the next plane out of here!" was my excited reply.
Actually, I was driving using the auto train out of Virginia to get there safely. Unfortunately, the weekend I planned to leave we had twelve inches of snow.
I called my daughter and jokingly said, "Don't you have that baby till I can get there!"
I made it on time and a week later a baby girl was born and doing fine. I decided to relocate to Orlando where the sun only stopped shining when it gets dark.
Florida has a bonanza of religious places to visit and I had the opportunity to attend an Easter Service at the University Carillon Methodist Church in Orlando. The morning was crisp, dew on the grass sparkled green as I watched a beautiful sunrise over the trees.
Thinking to myself. "Was it a morning like this when Jesus came out of the tomb?"
For some reason, this particular service reminded me how one speaks differently to a Jewish person who is not a Christian. I learned new ways to share years ago as a visitor in a Messianic synagogue.
* * *
While in attendance at the B'nai Israel Congregation, after service, a Kiddush is provided (lunch) in one of the adjoining rooms and in the large dining hall we sat around tables and talked.
Of course, everyone wanted to know, "What's a nice Baptist girl like you doing in a synagogue?"
I made a lot of friends and I met with Rabbi Matthew Simon at least once every other week. A very wise, kind, considerate, thoughtful teacher, he became my good friend and mentor. We discussed a lot of issues in the Old and New Testament. I was a little concerned about sharing my background with others. I was not there to convert Jewish people but to learn from them.
"It's all right for you to answer any questions that are asked," he said.
Jewish folks actually believe the Christians have many gods and I heard various comments about the "Christian Jesus." I did assure these folks - Jesus never became a Christian! He was born a Jew and died a Jew. I told them this was the greatest gift the Jewish people ever gave to the world. They just smiled and nodded their head in approval.
I soon learned Jewish folks like things written, especially if it was in the Tanakh (Old Testament). Many years ago, I attended a Baptist College. Most of our teaching centered on the Bible as the written word of God. I explained to my new friends everything about Jesus is written and documented in the New Testament.
Another thing I learned, Jewish folks are very polite and they will listen to you talk no matter what! Some of our discussions centered on the cross. The Jewish people told me as children they were called many names. I was saddened they had to grow up in a hateful atmosphere.
"You killed our God, you killed Jesus." These words were shouted at them as children. Persecuted over and over again they related many unhappy stories to me.
"The reason they are being tormented this way because they believe in the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
I wanted to be very clear on this next issue. "It is not written anywhere in the New Testament that Jesus said he was God? There are many scripture verses telling us Jesus prayed to the Father God in heaven."
And again I said, "There is no scripture written in the New Testament that states Jesus called himself "God."
We had many discussions about Jesus dying on the cross and I felt the need to explain so they would understand. "It's not written in the scriptures," I said. "Jesus was not murdered."
We can read in the book of Matthew 27:50, "And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit."
In the book of Mark 15:37, it is recorded. "And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed his last."
Death on the cross continues in two more New Testament books. "He said, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,'" as written in the book of Luke 23:46.
The last story is in John 19:30. "He said, 'It is finished.' And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit."
These words from the New Testament are very important. Neither the nails nor the sword in his side killed Jesus.
He freely gave up his life . . . . IT IS WRITTEN.
The Experiencing God Study Bible, New King James Version
1994 Broadman & Holman Publishers, TN
Graduate - Baptist Institute for Christian Workers, Bryn Mawr, PA, NRI McGraw-Hill Center for Writing, Washington, D.C. Studied Wesley Seminary, D.C. & Asbury Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL (2 yrs). Completed on-line course Jewish Seminary, N.Y. Past student - The Christian Writers Guild, 1996.