Continued from Next Year in Jerusalem! (part 1)
Next Year in Jerusalem!
Translation: Jerusalem is ours! We will take it over! And we will rule The World!
For Armstrongites, the meaning of the phrase wasn’t simple. But neither was it nuanced by any long-standing tradition. The meaning had layers, but those layers hadn’t evolved slowly over hundreds of years within a tradition or a practice.
What “tradition” the Worldwide Church of God had (in its mere decades of existence) could be described more aptly as culture. Except, the peculiar cult(ure) of The Church hadn’t grown in ways similar to most cultures and sub-cultures. Ours was constructed for us through authoritarian edicts that came from one person: Herbert W. Armstrong. Those edicts were disseminated through propagandistic publications and a hierarchy of ministers. And they were based on lies, namely a false lineage of Anglo-Israelism, a manufactured “history of The One True Church,” and apocalyptic prophecy.
For members, Jerusalem was an idea – a loaded idea. And invoking it meant a whole host of things not obvious to those outside The Church. For one, it acknowledged our disjunction with “This Present Evil World.” Jerusalem (and our imminent return to it) reinforced that we were out of place, that our place was always some other place, and that we were displaced – always in The World but not of The World.
For another, the phrase and other appropriated traditions gave footing to members and seekers who were stumbling and fumbling for a past (like the Enochs of the previous post). It gave a lift to those who had fallen in The World and to those who had never been up off the ground with any sort of standing in the first place. The appropriated traditions returned those members to an inheritance – a place among God’s Chosen – that they didn’t know was theirs until Armstrong told them so.
Finally, the phrase gave members a future. Its meaning was as much about the destiny of The Church as it was about claiming an Edenic past. Members were promised an eternity of unlimited power. They looked forward to recreating that perfect Eden in The World Tomorrow (Armstrong’s other name for The Millennium). They looked forward to never again stumbling or needing a hand up in The World. They looked forward to the destruction of The World.
“Next Year in Jerusalem!” meant (in the longer version): Next year, the tribulation! Our enemies will be destroyed! In 3½ years, we will be revealed as God’s Chosen! We will be transformed into God Beings! We will sit on God’s Throne in Jerusalem! We will rule The World with a rod of iron for a thousand years!
The Church observed both the Passover Eucharist and the Passover Seder, although they didn’t call them the Eucharist or the Seder. The Eucharist was commemorated on the 14th of Nisan and was referred to simply as Passover. The Seder was celebrated on the 15th and called the Night To Be Much Observed or, sometimes, The Night To Be Much Remembered.
The Passover Service was exclusive to the baptized adult members of the group, so I never took part in its rituals. From what I gathered second-hand, it was an intimate and solemn service. Members washed one another’s feet and each ate a small piece of unleavened whole wheat bread and drank a shot glass of red wine in commemoration of the broken body and blood of Christ. Women were separated from the men during the foot washing. And there were readings and prayers.
However, baptized adult members could be excluded from the service if they “weren’t right with God.” Ministers were the arbiters of who was included or excluded. If someone was “struggling with a sin,” a minister could refuse that member’s participation. Some members excused themselves from the ceremony (with ministerial permission) if they were “in the grips of Satan,” which meant they were struggling with a visible sin that made The Church look bad. Common reasons for exclusion included: having a bad attitude, disagreeing with Church doctrine, adultery, smoking, over-drinking, working on The Sabbath, being pregnant out-of-wedlock, and being unequally yoked to outsiders. “Not taking part in Passover” was serious and often indicated that a member was close to “being disfellowshipped” – excommunicated and shunned. Members who refused to shun friends or close family members were also threatened with exclusion from Passover, excommunication, and shunning.
Because Passover was a sacred and private event that outsiders – even unbaptized Churchgoers and members’ children – were not allowed to witness, my peeks into the service were only through watching my parents in the preparation – “helping out with Passover” as they called it.
“We’re going to help out with Passover this year,” they’d say. And most years they did.
One year, my father stitched large curtains out of gray canvas to cover the windows of an over-exposed venue. He did this to protect the privacy and sanctity of the service. In other years, he joined some of the other deacons and elders as they retrieved boxes of shot glasses from storage, washed them before the service, rewashed them after, and stored them again. The men also moved stacks of serving trays from another location to our house and then back out again.
Some years, my mother and other Church women baked the unleavened bread for the 200 or so local members taking part in the service. It was the same bread she always baked for The Night to Be Much Observed and for us to eat throughout The Days of Unleavened Bread. My brother and I used to hover in the kitchen and watch her with the rolling pin as she turned lumps of whole-wheat dough into sheets of paper-thin, near-perfect circles. She would put them on cookie sheets and bake them until the edges curled. We loved to eat the bread hot out of the oven. It was delicious smothered in butter – much better than the Triscuits, Wheat Thins, or Matzo Crackers we had otherwise.
If their husbands were “helping out with Passover,” the women would leave later for the service. Sometimes they would carpool together with their long skirts rustling. On Passover, all the women wore slip-on shoes and long skirts or dresses that touched the floor or grazed their ankles. They dressed this way out of convenience and modesty, since their usual pantyhose would have gotten in the way during the foot washing ceremony. Some of the women wore formals because those were the only long skirts they could find. Others stitched their own skirts. In the early years, my mother would have stitched her own. I remember one year when I was a teen, my mother wore a store-bought skirt made out of a gold taffeta that crunched and crinkled when she walked or sat down.
Passover was the one time of year when my brother and I were left on our own or (when we were younger) left with a babysitter. The babysitter was always a non-baptized Churchgoer, never anyone from The World. She was also a woman or a girl. Men and boys were not allowed to be alone with children lest they be tempted to do sexual harm or otherwise “give the appearance of evil.”
Next Year in Jerusalem! (part 3) will be about The Night to Be Much Observed and the High Holy Days. Part 3 will probably be picked up next year.