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 may seem like a good idea, most Jews are in agreement that the seder meal 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 church-hosted seders are not 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.
The matzoh cracker takes on a new meaning in this ceremony: instead of commemorating the haste with which the Jews fled to escape slavery (so quickly that the bread did not have time to rise), the matzo is broken into three pieces to represent the Trinity. That is not what it was intended for. This is taking a piece of Jewish history, representing a specific time and place, and making it about something else.
Perhaps this particular ceremony should be called a Last Supper Commemorative Dinner (or something of that nature), rather than a seder. Are there parallels between Passover and the Last Supper? Certainly. But these can be recognized and discussed without the need of acting out a seder, which brings me to my next point:
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.
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 I’m a Christian now, I am still the only Jew-ish person that many of my Christian friends have ever known. 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.