Within the last few decades, “Christian seders” have become a trend. The traditional matzah is broken into three parts to represent the Trinity, and the cup of wine becomes Christ’s blood. Many Jews find this modern practice offensive, if not anti-semitic.
What strikes me as odd about this practice is that evangelicals, the group most known for practicing Christian seders, aren’t exactly known for being liturgy-friendly. Many see sacred rituals in general – the Eucharist, the “smells and bells,” the standing and kneeling – as too “Catholic,” which might as well be a synonym for “satanic.” It’s not uncommon to hear them decry these practices as rote motions that pander to a God who wants performance over genuine worship.
But the Christian version of a seder involves partaking in the eucharist. It involves reading liturgies aloud, incorporating the senses into the worship practice. Why do Christians desire to do this at Passover, but not at any other time of year? What is missing from their own tradition that makes them want to borrow another religion’s rituals to enhance their worship practices?
For some, this is an attempt to connect with the Jewish roots of Christianity, a noble albeit misguided desire (more on this below). But I suspect that this is a symptom of a deeper problem within Protestantism.
For all their issues with Catholic practice, it seems that some Christians need ritual in their worship more than they’d care to admit.
In his book Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation, Winfield Bevins writes:
I come from a “low church” background, from a church that believed in the power of the Bible but had little interest in a more structured worship service…I always felt like something was missing. I longed for a deeper, broader expression of my faith…I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed what liturgy had to offer.
One day I stumbled into a local Episcopal church…To my surprise, I encountered the risen Christ at the Lord’s table that day in a way I had never experienced before. What was different? I found that the liturgy enabled me to experience Christ, not just in my head and heart, but also through my bodily senses…This Episcopal church had created a sacred space through the reading of Scripture, and the recitation of historic prayers. I felt the burning sensation of the wine down my throat as I sipped the fruit of the vine from a chalice. In that little parish church, I fell in love with the beauty and mystery of liturgy.
Bevins’ journey mirrors my own in many ways. My first exposure to Christian worship as a new believer was in Campus Crusade for Christ, where we sang songs as a group and then sat and listened to someone talk for half an hour. It took me a few years to understand how individualism is one of the few sacraments that Protestantism has to offer, although they’d never admit that.
But think about it: many Christians focus heavily on a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. I noticed that the Cru staff, while well-intentioned, wasn’t trained to provide new converts with more than new Bibles and a recommendation to “plug in” at a local church. At that point, our job as missionaries was done. We only had to get people saved; finding a community was now their responsibility.
To be fair, new believers were also recommended to join a Bible study, which is also a form of communal worship. But the common refrain that Christianity is “not a religion, it’s a relationship” still keeps the focus on the self more than the body of Christ as a whole. For better or for worse, “religion” is a community affair, and Christianity was never meant to be a solo endeavor.
Liturgy isn’t just about following the traditions of our spiritual ancestors, but organized communal worship. The tradition of kneeling, reciting, and confessing as a group is what it looks like to act as Christ’s body. We are not only worshipping together, but engaging with the legacy of the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us, adding loops to a chain that stretches back to the early Church.
Sure, communal worship can happen through singing, which is a practice in nearly all denominations. But it’s not the only way to worship. The lyrics of hymns can be biblically sound, but isn’t quite the same as professing together the Creeds that define our faith, as well as communal confession and prayers, during which people can make their requests out loud if they choose.
Many Christians are unaware of just how closely these traditions follow the same liturgical patterns of weekly services in the synagogue. If you’re interested in worshiping “Jewishly,” a liturgical denomination, such as Anglicanism, is the way to go. There’s no need to add explicit Jewish practices into Christian worship — something that heavily strains our relationship with the Jewish community — when those liturgical connections already exist in our faith.
It’s also important to remember that many Jewish traditions that Christians have adopted actually weren’t even practiced by Jesus at all. If the point is to connect with Jesus’ Judaism, it’s a swing and a miss.
It may sound strange, but the truth is I have felt more connected to my liturgical Jewish heritage by worshiping in an Anglican church in this way than I ever did participating in a Christian “seder.”
Christianity has centuries of rich, sacred symbols and traditions to fill the hollowness of a modern individualistic faith. Christians who want to be historically accurate in their observance should take note of this, and consider joining a liturgical church to get their fill of ancient ritual.