I DIDN’T EXPECT HITLER at my first-ever Jewish Passover meal, yesterday.
God help me, I’m not sure if he ruined it or enriched it, in spite of the tragedy he brought: two of my fellow church members shot dead, a grandfather and his 14-year-old grandson.
A few months ago Renay Kessler, a delightful Jewish lady, started attending our Sunday morning RezChat Bible study at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, on our West campus in Olathe, Kansas. She’s a friend and coworker of Barbara Edwards, who with her husband Tim has attended our Bible study for several years.
As Jewish Passover and Christian Easter both approached, one of our class members asked if we could have a Seder (SAY-dur). That’s a meal in which Jews and their guests gratefully recall how God rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt and brought them home to Israel in a great Exodus—free from oppression.
Renay graciously volunteered to host the meal that Jews have been celebrating every spring since the time of Moses, for more than 3,000 years.
We ate cracker-like Matzo bread, a reminder of how quickly the Jews left their slave masters—no time to wait for bread dough to rise.
As best I can figure, we were dipping parsley into saltwater about the time the shooter started killing people 16 blocks south of us at Overland Park’s Jewish Community Center…where Renay’s daughter was working at the theater, as a judge in a talent contest.
At the Seder meal, the saltwater dip for our food represented tears the Jewish people cried while their tormentors tried to wipe them out. Pharaoh at the time of Moses had ordered all newborn Jewish boys thrown in the Nile River.
The Seder was a wonderful education into Jewish past.
And a tragic insight into Jewish present.
We were clearing the tables when Renay got the call.
I can’t remember the words she spoke as she held the phone.
I remember her face.
The look of emptiness. All facial muscles collapsed. Lips parted. Mouth open. Eyes down.
Then the tightening. Eyes up. The look of horror.
We 16 souls stood frozen in her home near the corner of Nall and 99th Street in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City. The call came from Renay’s daughter directly south of us: Nall and 115th.
She said she was in lockdown. Police were searching for shooters. People were dead.
Her co-worker had tried to save a boy.
That boy and his grandfather were both members of our church: 14-year-old Reat Underwood and Dr. William Lewis Corporon. They were going to the theater so Reat could audition for a contest. A shooter killed them in their vehicle in the parking lot.
As Renay listened on the phone, I popped open a local news app. I read the report out loud as the group surrounded me.
“One confirmed dead.”
Gasps in the room.
“Suspect in custody.”
“Arrested, the suspect yelled, ‘Heil Hitler!’”
Gasps. Louder than before. I heard Renay’s gasp that time.
Her daughter is safe now. “Freaked out,” according to Renay. But safe.
There’s a lot of reading during a Passover Seder. Hopeful words like these:
We recall with love…all martyrs of Jewish history who offered their bodies on the altar of faith—faith in the triumph of justice and the reign of brotherly love among all men.
I’ve known about the persecution Jews have suffered over the centuries. But I discovered yesterday that there’s a difference between reading the stories and being part of one.
It’s personal now.
There’s a battle to fight.
It’s not the battle to get guns off the street, though I am so for that—more guns do not mean more protection; they mean more flying bullets from sick and angry souls.
Instead, it’s the battle for “the reign of brotherly love among all men.”
We can’t shoot our way into that kingdom.
I’m not exactly sure how we get from here to there.
But I have a feeling that it may be the other way around.
We don’t go from “here” to “there.” We bring “there” to “here.”
This is to become the place of brotherly love.
- We bury our dead, celebrating their lives—whether short or long.
- We comfort the grieving, more with our presence than with our words.
- We forgive the sick and the angry, as best we can, while treating them for their disease.
Isn’t that what hatred is?