by Jamie Eaton
If you’ve spent any time at all in the Messianic Community, you know as well as anybody that the variance of expression truly runs the gamut from very charismatic to orthodox. But no matter where you go, one thing remains the same. In every congregation, in every country, in every corner of the world we are all united by the prayer that stands as the centrality of our faith: The Shema. There is something so comforting about knowing that no matter where I am; I carry that prayer with me and it echoes in the hearts and minds of the people around me as well. The burden set deep in my kishkes to see Jewish people return to their Mashiach cries out “Listen up! Our G-d is one and the same! It says so right here in the Shema! Could it be any more obvious?” It is from here that my deep love of liturgical prayer stems and my desire to call my unbelieving Jewish brothers and sisters into the full knowledge of who their Messiah is, using the customs and prayers of our people, begins.
Merriam Webster defines liturgy as ‘a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship or customary repertoire of ideas, phrases or observances’. When you put it in those terms it all seems very boring. Some years ago, I found myself at a crossroads in my walk with the L-rd. I primarily identified as Jewish but I felt stagnant in my worship. I could recite the prayers by heart, so in my mind, there wasn’t a “need” to fully engage and I often found myself checked out during service. I could not relate to my community and there was no resonance within me to maintain a Jewish lifestyle. “I love the Lord”, I thought,” All these extra prayers seem unnecessary to express that love”. I was bored. It was this very boredom that shook me to my core and frightened me. Was I walking away from my faith? Was I turning my back on my foundation? If I could not find worship and relationship with my G-d through the prayers of my people, if I couldn’t find engagement in the energy and traditions of my family, how could I expect anyone else to find those things? I was at a loss. I am forever grateful to The L-rd, who in His mercy ,knew that I needed to be pushed out of my comfort zone , and called me to move south, to North Carolina and to Congregation Sha’arei Shalom and to sit under the leadership of Rabbi Seth Klayman. G-d used this move to snap me out of my boredom. He brought me to a place of complete dependence on Him, taught me about obedience to spiritual authority and He used this time to stir my heart to a renewed love of traditional prayer, through a change in attitude about how I view worship, an attitude that is taught and cultivated at Sha’arei Shalom.
At Sha’arei Shalom, we call our worship Avodah, a word that translates to “work” in Modern Hebrew. In a more traditional sense, it means to serve G-d. Historically, this word was used to describe sacrificial offerings made in the Temple and with a particular focus on the epitome of sacrificial rites, the complex and emotional main service of the high priests on Yom Kippur. Our attitude towards musical and liturgical worship stems from a mixture of the emotions stirred up by these definitions. They blend and move together to create a deep need to engage people in the beautiful and meaningful traditions of our ancient faith. Our liturgy, our practice of Jewish tradition, is what separates us from the larger body of believers in the Church and should be what attracts Jewish people to our synagogues. How we practically apply this attitude is the practice of placing the same importance on liturgy as musical, song based worship and pouring just as much energy and creativity into our planning and practice sessions regarding its use. This comes to life in researching or creating new melodies, not separating the liturgy and the music in our order of service or set list, reciting the prayers with musical accompaniment and changing things up every often. In fact, we try not to do the same melody in secession, pulling from several versions of each liturgical piece that we have in our song book. We also seek to fully understand the origination and theme of the prayers and to see our Yeshua in them.
I believe liturgy is essential in showing non-believing Jewish people who Yeshua is. As I mentioned, it’s comforting to walk into any synagogue in the world, sing the familiar words and tune of the Shema. This comfort is what allows people to relax within our congregational doors and makes them receptive to new thinking. This comfort and familiarity creates a peace that flows into the soul, one that longs of a home not forgotten and of a Father calling out to His children in Truth and Love. Our mission as believers in Messiah is to walk out that Truth and Love in excellence and to point the non-believing people Jewish people in our midst to the reality of our Jewish Messiah, that He was a Jewish man, who engaged in Jewish traditions and that belief in Him does not make you less of a Jew. He was not just a nice Jewish carpenter who came to do good things to hasten Tikkun Olam. He is foremost the Son of G-d and our great Salvation, He came once already to redeem the world and He is coming back for His bride, to buy us back once more and to take us home with Him! Spreading this news is our great Commission and in order to accomplish this goal we have to meet people where they are. We must speak to them in a language they understand and I truly believe traditional liturgy is a language we all have in our arsenal to use. To use it effectively, we must love it and put energy and effort into it. With this energy and effort we can revive our traditional worship and remain relevant and attractive to our non-believing Jewish people so that they will have the opportunity to know what we know; that Yeshua is our King and He Lives!