The problem with Christian seders

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Source: Food Network

The observance of Passover seders in churches is a fairly recent trend, as more Christians seek to connect with the Jewish roots of their faith. While this seems like a good idea, my conviction is that this well-intentioned practice is better left where it began: within Judaism.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with Christians wanting to learn more about Jewish rituals. The flaw is typically within the execution of these seders, not the intentions behind them.

Here’s just a few reasons why I don’t think church-hosted seders are a good idea:

1). They appropriate Jewish culture

I’ve attended a few Christian seders before, the last one being at seminary, where I was a student for a year and a half. Hosted by the Messianic Jewish department, this seder meal was less a commemoration of the Jews being freed from slavery in Egypt, and more about how Christians are freed from the bondage of sin with the death of Jesus on the cross.

As a Christian practice, this is perfectly fine. As a seder, well, it’s not quite honoring of Judaism when it instead commemorates an event that happened over a thousand years later. The matzoh bread (or cracker, more like), which Jews remember being hastily prepared for the journey, so fast that it didn’t have time to rise properly, was broken into three pieces to represent the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this is a nitpick over semantics, but it is my opinion that this particular ceremony be called a Last Supper Commemorative Dinner (or something of that nature), rather than a seder.

2). Jesus may not have even celebrated Passover

Scholars are divided on this, but it’s worth bringing up as a distinct possibility. According to Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel, writing for Christianity Today,

The seder ritual, as it is practiced today, did not exist at the time of Jesus. It was only fully developed by the rabbis in the years following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., in other words, at least two generations after Jesus. Many assume that Jesus, at the Last Supper, conducted what we now know of as a traditional Passover seder with the pascal offering of the land, matzoh, bitter herbs, the telling of the tale of the Exodus from Egypt, and other rituals as found in the Jewish Passover Hagaddah. This is incorrect. To put it bluntly, Jesus certainly celebrated Passover, but neither he nor his disciples ever attended a seder, any more than they drove a car or used a cell phone.

As a history buff, I am a stickler for accuracy, so it seems worthwhile to mention this perspective.

Lastly,

3). Church-hosted seders rob Christians of the opportunity for meaningful interfaith dialogue

Given the fraught relationship between Christians and Jews throughout history, it is imperative that churches today extend an olive branch for meaningful communication. Easter time is especially difficult for Jews, as Good Friday is where the accusations of killing Jesus originated, resulting in blood libel and hate crimes.

Co-hosted seders with a local synagogue are an excellent way to bridge this gap. This way, Christians can understand what this holiday means to Jews and why it’s important. I would encourage a Q and A session from both sides during or after the meal.

Though my beliefs have evolved over the years, I am still the only Jewish person that many of my Christian friends have ever known. This needs to change, and interfaith events are a great way to bring people together who might not cross paths otherwise.

This blog post is another good resource on how Christian seders can be misguided.

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10 thoughts on “The problem with Christian seders

  1. As a Black Pentecostal Christian who celebrates the Shalosh Regalim* within the context of the Christian/Church Year, I offer a few reflections from a different perspective. I believe that the
    REAL problem with some Christians celebrating Passover is the tendency to “skip through” the
    Exodus event in the haste to make the connection to the Last Supper. Yes, we “get it” that
    Yeshua was/is the Paschal Lamb, slain for humanity at Passover. However, when the Exodus
    narrative is truncated or rushed through, we miss other valuable lessons that YAHWEH Elohim
    taught us, including the message that WE SHOULD NEVER TOLERATE SLAVERY AND
    INJUSTICE. The God Who “raised Yeshua from the dead” (Romans 8:11) is ALSO the God Who “loves the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:18) and is attentive to the “the poor, the widow, the
    orphan” (Deuteronomy 16:11). Passover celebration sensitizes us to the plight of human
    suffering, and challenges us to alleviate it. PASSOVER REMINDS US NEVER TO ACCEPT SLAVERY AS “BUSINESS AS USUAL.” This profound value is lost if the Exodus narrative is
    seen as ONLY a “prelude” to the Gospels, or ONLY as “types and shadows.” Yeshua “earnestly
    desired” (Luke 22:15) to celebrate the Passover with His disciples and their families; we should ALSO earnestly desire to proclaim “God’s mighty acts” (Psalm 150:2) in the Exodus event and remember the refugee, the homeless and the sojourning “stateless immigrant” among us. Passover observance also reminds us to EXTEND HOSPITALITY toward those “who don’t look like me” or “speak my language.” The God Who “executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103:6) demonstrated His extravagant love toward ALL the slaves who toiled in Egypt. Whenever we celebrate Passover, we celebrate the FESTIVAL OF FREEDOM for all
    nations, created in the image of YAHWEH.

    *Pesach/Passover; Shavuot/Pentecost; Sukkot/Tabernacles

    A few other reflections–

    1. PASSOVER SEDERS–whether traditional, non-traditional, Messianic/non-Messianic–are all
    re-enactments and celebrations of biblical events. The Bible is the heritage of all nations, and
    all nations are “entitled” to its contents, including its festivals. Churches certainly use the Tenach
    for worship, teaching, proclamation and celebration. Biblical festivals teach biblical concepts
    in a multi-sensory way; in Passover celebration, we use all five senses to literally “taste and
    see that YAHWEH is good” (Psalm 34:8) and enter a more experiential dimension of the
    biblical stories. Since 1985, I have had the privilege of constructing a Passover celebration
    that essentially uses a “double seder” scheme, in which participants “walk through” both
    the Exodus and Gospel narratives, ending with “Next Year in the New Jerusalem.” I first used
    this seder with friends and later introduced it to my choristers, when I was a children’s choir
    director. I will NEVER forget that “AHA! moment” when the choristers first ate that lamb
    meat and experienced the sharp sting of the horseradish! There’s something special that
    happens when participants literally EAT their way through beloved Bible stories and “make
    that connection” to what they SEE, SMELL, TOUCH, TASTE and HEAR. Not only do we
    enter Passover, Passover literally enters US through the use of our five senses. The cozy,
    intimate worship-at-the-table is the most endearing–and enduring!–aspect of Passover that
    I enjoy. When the Last Supper–a Passover celebration–is experienced in this context, it
    really SLAMS into you that liberation of humans was won at the tremendous cost of thousands
    of lambs/kids, and ultimately, by the Lamb of God.

    2. GENTILES certainly have “the right” to celebrate the Passover, as thousands of Gentiles
    also left Egypt with the Hebrews. (Exodus 12:38) YAHWEH Elohim clearly purposed to deliver
    ALL the slaves of Egypt, and this demonstrates His chesed toward all humans created in His image. The “Story of the Mixed Multitude” is not “tangential” to the Exodus–in many ways, it
    is the heart of the Exodus story and clearly shows us what God thinks of human oppression
    and societies built on slavery and genocide. The Gentiles who left with the Hebrews were
    African, Mediterranean and Western Asian peoples who were enslaved. Starting with the
    seventh plague of HAIL, many non-Hebrews began to obey Moses’ instructions and by the
    time the tenth plague hit–the death of the firstborn–many were convinced that YAHWEH,
    the God of the Hebrews, had power over nature. The Exodus narrative informs us that
    Moses was highly esteemed in the eyes of the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36) This explains
    why Egyptians and other ethnic groups listened to Moses. YAHWEH Elohim clearly set
    His heart on delivering ALL the slaves–Gentile and Hebrew–because He declares: “All
    souls are Mine.” (Ezekiel 18:4) These peoples eventually became amalgamated with the
    Afro-Asiatic Hebrews, who themselves were a mixture of African and Mesopotamian
    peoples. The Exodus narrative reminds us that ALL THE SLAVES ESCAPED BONDAGE.

    3. IT TOOK TREMENDOUS FAITH AND COURAGE FOR THE GENTILE SLAVES TO
    ESCAPE WITH THE HEBREWS. Slaves who were concubines and boy-toys for abusive
    masters had to slip out under cover of night to smear the blood on lintels and doorposts
    before midnight. Other slaves had to flee to the homes of friends who had the blood
    on their homes. As the Egyptians despised shepherds, other ethnic groups had to
    procure lambs and kids from the Hebrews, or at least obtain the blood to smear on the
    houses. Thousands of Gentile slaves who had planned to escape with the Hebrews had
    to believe that YAHWEH would spare them the death of the firstborn, and had to employ
    extraordinary measures to hide the blood from nosy masters and informants; secretly pack
    their meager belongings; and also eat the paschal meal dressed and ready to go in the
    morning. They escaped death the SAME WAY THE HEBREWS escaped death–when
    the Destroyer saw the blood, He SKIPPED OVER THEIR HOUSES. Because these
    Gentiles placed their faith in YAHWEH, they were helped by the God Who “executes justice
    and righteousness for all who are oppressed.” (Psalm 103:6)

    For these reasons and more, we can safely conclude that Passover can be rightfully
    celebrated by Gentiles and Jews alike, in remembrance of the time when YAHWEH Elohim,
    the “God of the spirits of all flesh” (Numbers 27:16) liberated millions of Gentiles and
    Hebrews from slavery by the sign of the blood, smeared on mansions, houses, huts
    and simple cottages. The Festival of Freedom is the rightful heritage of ALL nations,
    created in the image of God!

    NEXT YEAR IN THE NEW JERUSALEM!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear SarahBeth,
    I couldn’t disagree more. I am Jewish and always loved Passover. Our family seders we’re memorable because my dad made the ideas of liberation and freedom real for him. As Conservative Jews, we celebrated the freedom that we experience as American citizens. My mom’s parents were Hungarian Jews, and my dad’s German Jews. My mother’s parents came over in the 20s and my dad and his parents fled the Nazis. That story is for another day. I began to study the Tanach for my Bat Mitzvah and experienced seders with Israelis when I lived in Israel. I also began to study the New Testament when I was in Israel. I did not become a Jesus follower until later, when I was at the University of Chicago. I had a Seder 35 years ago this week, and responded to an altar call at an InterVarsity Easter service when Jew for Jesus Jhan Moscowitz preached in the concept of Tshuvah. I struggled with God over whether or not to obey God and follow Jesus. After a period of fasting and prayer, I accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Although I haven’t built a career as a Second Temple Israel specialist, I have been teaching World Civilizations now for over twenty years. I have read deeply in Jewish and Christian history, I. The original sources and in Arabic. I believe you’ve ingested the false narrative of the parting of the ways. I believe Christ instituted the Seder, which Jewish Christians, many of them Jews from Western Asia from Anatolia to Persia and Yemen, to Africa who like me decided to follow Christ. Judaism and Christianity, as Daniel Boyarin shows us, were deeply engaged communities with a porous liminal zone which was not reigned until the Constantinian church Councils forced their separation. The question of appropriation is thus a misapprehension since one cannot appropriate what is yours. As Edith Schaffer so aptly put it “Christianity” is Jewish. The Seder comes alive when the ancient texts point to the eschatological future in Christ. I prefer to do my seders completely in Hebrew. We are able to live through Holy Week in a fresh way every year as we celebrate the God of History. I pray that you reconsider your view. We need Jewish Christians to support the Messianic Movement among our people and to fully identify as Jews in the Church. Ephesians 3:6, in the NIV version, makes it clear that this must be so.
    In Christ,
    Judith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judith I am very impressed by your credentials and the cogency of your comment. As a Jew (reform) who spent years in leadership in “Messianic” Judaism I am curious how you reconcile your belief with what I now believe to be the theological “train wreck” called the New Testament. Also the doctrines of hell, Satanic rebellion, original sin and most importantly the Trinity, all of which are not just irreconcilable but anathema to Judaism. I ask this sincerely as I still have a nascent faith in Jesus hanging by a thread. Finally I would offer that I left my eldership in messianic not because I was drawn back to my roots but instead to be a better Christian as I recognized with William Varner author of Jesus The Messiah, that Messianic Judaism is invalid historically and theologically at least as I witnessed it being practiced today. I look forward to any thoughts you would offer. Thanks.

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      • Dear Doug,
        All that I can say is that the writers of the New Testament Canon were all Jews, speaking to Jews and their neighbors at a time when the powers were increasing their stranglehold on their subjects. During the Second Temple Period the Jewish people were anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, based on the prophecies of Daniel. I encourage you to read the New Testament slowly, remembering that the authors were spurred to dissent from the Herodian priesthood because of the teachings of Yeshu’a. No one anticipated the death of their savior, but His resurrection changed all that. I accept the historical accuracy of the account. William Lane Craig has done an excellent forensic analysis of the events surrounding the crucifixion. I’m praying that you will be blessed by a new reading of the texts.
        Shalom, Judith

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    • Thank you for your thoughts—particularly your point on appropriation. We cannot appropriate what is ours, as you say. As a Christian who has been profoundly changed by what I have learned at “Christian Seders” I will continue to support them, emphasizing that the practice of connecting the Seder to Jesus as messiah is incredibly meaningful and teaches a lot. I can understand criticisms that others may have, that “Christian Seders” may be clunky, and that a greater effort should be done to learn from Messianic brothers and sisters—we have a lot to learn from them, not just the Seder. SarahBeths use of the term “appropriation” bothers me because it feels like an in-judicial use of a buzzword that denies the historically acknowledged fact that Christianity is birthed from Judaism. Now, the Church is *finally* catching on to how anemic we have made our faith by denying our Jewish roots—and are trying to re-engage what we have lost touch with. We’re in an awkward phase, certainly—the image of a teenager who thinks they know everything certainly comes to mind. In light of this,perhaps the more useful approach for authors like SarahBeth, is to offer council to help the church move toward maturity in this arena. I think there would be a very eager audience for that post/platform. Perhaps Judith could offer one? 😉

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  3. I immediately thought of this famous quote, of which most people only remember the first half:

    “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” ― Oscar Wilde

    I think your points are more relevant to the situation. I had no idea that the rituals of the Seder as now practiced were so recently (in the context of the Jewish people’s history) formulated, and apparently associated with the Daispora following the destruction of the Temple.

    Liked by 1 person

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