The Back Story
For the last 14 years, I’ve been writing and telling stories. Two of my books are short story collections based on Bible stories I learned as a child. My stories are a form of Midrash in the Jewish tradition. For thousands of years, Rabbinic scholars have studied holy scriptures and discussed them with others in order to interpret them for daily living. Undertaking a similar process, I’ve learned that the context of the story – the culture of the time it was written, the setting, the participants – what story tellers call the “back story” – is absolutely essential for us to hear God’s word with understanding today.
Amy Peterson contributed the October 10th reading in Our Daily Bread. With it, she taught me something new about our Easter story. Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples was a seder, a Jewish Passover meal. This celebration gathering is filled with ritual, traditionally ending with the singing of the Hallel, which we know as Psalms 113-118. Jesus, although facing almost certain torture and death, would have sung the Hallel that Passover night, singing about the goodness of God. Jesus would have chanted his willingness to complete the task of loving us even unto death. My imagination tells me that Jesus sang from his heart, not as ritual, but pouring forth a statement of trust and commitment to his calling from God .
In our United Church hymn book are songs of commitment that bring tears to my eyes every time we sing them. As I write this, I remember singing at my ordination:
“Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
(Chorus of “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” Words & Music by Daniel L. Schutte)
Even as I type out these words, I recommit my soul, my life to serving God.
Knowing that Jesus sang the Hallel at the end of the Passover meal brings me a new perspective to our Easter story. In my imagination, I can hear Jesus’ willingness to commit as he sang. Today, as I prepare to lead my workshop on Midrash Storytelling at the Canadian Festival of Biblical Storytellers in Burlington, ON, I reaffirm my commitment to “telling the stories of Jesus” to the best of my ability. Once again, I hear God’s call to bring the “back story” to our beautiful Biblical stories.