“They Say Bread is Life:” Moonstruck, the Passover Narrative, and Why Judaism is Just Fine

Some I am technically writing on these Scripture passages, but it is a wild ride to get there: Exodus 12:1-12; 13:1-8

And, there are plot spoilers to Moonstruck  contained herein but if you haven’t seen it by now I can only offer a double tsk, a shake of the head, and a single hand flicking you away until you have joined the civilized world and have seen the greatest romantic comedy of all time ever; don’t try to argue with me because I will not stop talking and I will win.  

You gotta watch this or the article won’t really make sense, unless you are like me and have the whole film basically memorized. 

I joke around that I am a Mama’s boy. I don’t think many people understand how deep that statement runs. When I was a kid, I had Sunday dates with my mom to watch Moonstruck and Baby Boom before closing out the day with Sixty Minutes and Murder, She Wrote. I think we went through two VHS copies of Moonstruck, and then at least two DVD copies before getting it on Blu Ray.

I’m probably gonna watch it tonight before heading off to Bedfordshire.

I have friends with whom we can, in person or on social media, drop a line from any point in the film, pick up the dialogue verbatim, and go until people make us stop.

pee

Mom and I did other stuff together, like go for night rides in our 1969 VM Beetle with Beddar Cheddars and Orange Crush for snacks (it might be an Ohio thing, I dunno). But watching Moonstruck was always an event for me. The whole film is perfect–except for the one, terrible glaring exception: the goddamn soft jazz in front of the fire; my Struckies, as I have just dubbed us, will feel me–because it takes you on a journey. And I’m not just talking about the narrative arc, the lovable buffoonery of Ronny (Danny Aiello); the haunting, oh-so-sexy darkness of Johnny (the sight of Nick Cage in that wife-beater may have been the moment I knew that my pendulum swings in at least two directions); the hilarity of the family, including an aged patriarch with a gaggle of dogs and shame toward his son; the caddish, but childlike flirting of Perry (John Mahoney) to a long-suffering, but fiercely loyal Rose (a transcendent Olympia “Who’s Dead?” Dukakis). The plot, written by the masterful John Patrick Shanley, author of the greatest play in the history of ever, Doubt (don’t even get me started, because remember I will talk forever and win; oh, I am so good at talking), is satisfying because it takes our characters from a condition of slavery to one of liberation.

Loretta stops being a prisoner of her fear; her regard for Ronny seems like death compared to the life-affirming connection she has with Johnny. The brothers are able to reconnect and put aside the bad blood, perhaps to travel to Palermo to visit the mother who won’t die. Rose refuses to be made a fool of anymore and claims her worth; and Cosmo…well, he’s still a jackass, but one with great lines like this so we still love him, if not believe him unworthy of his family; and Olympia Dukakis, with a single line, channels the pain and humiliation and strength that Italian Catholic women have born for centuries. (As ridiculous as it is, I am crying right now just because the memory of that line give me all the feels: “Your life is not built on nothing! Ti amo.” Oh, it slays me every time.) Moonstruck is about breaking the chains that bind us to pain. To fear. To anger. To disappointment.

Moonstruck says that the fear written on our bodies and minds (I lost my hand! I lost my bride!) that continually convinces us that we are not worthy of love and understanding.

It is such a beautiful film because it tells an ancient story. One that is told first through as Passover.

Here’s what I don’t want to produce. What I don’t want is yet another supercessionist, Christian appropriation of a Jewish story. I’m trying to be clever by connecting it to Moonstruck, but I’m doing that for a reason: Passover is, first and foremost, a Jewish narrative. And not just because it is about Hebrew slaves being liberated by a God identified with the tetragrammaton (please note: Exodus-based historical claims have issues), but because it establishes a fundamental understanding of God that makes possible Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i. It is a radical, reality-altering claim: that at any moment, our liberation can be initiated. And while we could go over a lengthy discussion of the significance of the the lambs, the bread, the manner of eating, that doesn’t help us to understand why the Passover narrative must be retained and respected as a Jewish narrative.

And at its center is bread.

For Christians, we see the bread of life provided to us in Eucharist, as being our unleavened bread. The body of Christ. The bread of Life. We imagine Jesus as the unblemished lamb sacrificed on the cross for us; we see our liberation from slavery to sin to the freedom of grace as the crossing of the new Reed Sea. There are many, many different ways we can interpret each of these themes as Christians, and while we might not agree in the details we agree in the thesis: what God has done through Jesus is like an exodus for Gentiles.

That’s cool. Let’s claim that. But not as the culmination of God’s work. We don’t get to take the Passover narrative and say to our Jewish siblings that the first event was insufficient. That somehow there is an Exodus Part Deux. When we say in communion service that bread is life, we don’t get the right to act as though that would make any sense without the Passover narrative, without the bread taken so fast it didn’t have time to rise. Without the unleavened bread taken into the wilderness because there was not time–bread without leaven because the journey will be so long–Jesus being the bread of life is nonsensical. It means that our savior should be sold in a plastic bag with a twist tie, and while that might work for the Scientologists, our religion is a bit more sophisticated (and an actual religion)

We don’t get to say that our bread replaces the Passover bread because if it does, God’s story no longer has a meaning. If God did not act for the Hebrews as an act unto itself, God is not God. We do not get to treat the Jewish people as though they are God’s stepping stone to the people about whom God is really concerned. While seeing the powerful nature of God’s grace, we can look at our Christ and see his life as a living example of God’s work throughout history. This does not and cannot be seen as a mitigation or a commentary upon the incompleteness of God’s work in the Jewish people. We don’t get to do that as God’s people. We don’t get to act like we are God’s favorite. And frankly, people who want a scripture reference right now need to read more scripture.

I try not to condemn or castigate. I really do, but I know that I fail. And this might be one of those examples. But as First Presby and I make our way through the Narrative Lectionary, I feel like it is incumbent upon me as pastor to encourage our community to respect the Jewish roots of our faith, but not with the intent of finding it insufficient. The Passover narrative is powerful, puzzling, disconcerting, contradictory, beautiful, hopeful and violent. It says so much about God that we really don’t run out of things to talk about so we need not bring up Jesus. Not here. Not now. We’ll have our time when we get there. But for today, for now, let us affirm this most Jewish of narratives, and how it can assist us in the tikkun olam, the repairing of the world.

 

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