Why bring the religions of Abraham together in worship?
For too long the children of Abraham – Jews, Christians, Muslims – have been at odds with each other, and confronting each other they cause much anguish. The consequences are still with us today affecting the peace and prosperity of the whole world.
Yet this need not be. Instead of all hell breaking loose, heaven should break in. There are many examples of love, understanding, and justice between Jews, Christians and Muslims. If we emphasize our essential unities as well as common causes and concerns instead of trying to put the other down, we can go forward. If we don’t do this, the world we live in could explode unless we learn not only to tolerate each other but also appreciate and enjoy each other as well.
One way to do this is to worship God through the prophets Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad that can be used for God’s praise and work for good causes. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have similar emphases on salvation, forgiveness, morality, and freedom from oppression.
The common sources are the stories of Abraham and Moses in Genesis and Exodus. God calls us through Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah to be his own and form great nations. At various times when the going got tough with slavery in Egypt, bondage to Rome and bad religion, and Arabian economic and legal oppression, God brought deliverance through Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. In turn God demands trust, obedience, and repentance. The major commemorations of the three faiths enshrine these beliefs – Passover, Easter, and the Hajj are celebrations of liberation. Yom Kippur, Lent, and Ramadan are times of atonement and forgiveness. The weekly worship of each faith includes these central elements and it is possible to combine them into one service.
For America, the search for freedom was the most powerful motive for the founding and reference was often made to the exodus traditions. Motifs from the exodus were also used in the fight against slavery and the work of Martin Luther King Jr. Many of these dramatis personae were Mosaic figures and were called so by their friends. To ask God to intervene in difficult situations, and to hinder self-righteousness, Congress proclaimed national days of repentance.
Worship can be held anywhere. Symbolism could include a menorah, a cross, and an Islamic crescent. It might be helpful to show central texts such as the Ten Commandments [Jewish version], the Beatitudes, and The Opening Sura 1. Prayers, Canticles, readings, and music from the three traditions can be used. The choice of texts from the Scriptures will vary but there should be something of the good news of God’s liberation in them, and not just moralisms. I will work on a lectionary in due course.
The congregation or common interest groups could discuss current issues related to the texts of the day and act together on matters of justice, human rights, and peace. Doing this within the framework of worship adds depth and breadth to the thoughts, plans, and actions.
Where am I coming from? Having been involved in religion for 35 years at ‘the home of lost causes’ [Oxford, England] as a teacher of theology, chaplain to the University, activist in interfaith activities, and minister of a village church all concurrently, I want to present some ideas partly developed there but re-formulated at the Institute on the American Dream at Penn State Erie where I also teach college courses on Introduction to Islam, Jesus of Nazareth, and Religion in American Life & Thought. I am helped too by the Girard PA Universalist/Unitarian Church where I take services. Let’s hope this isn’t another lost cause.