Theology

“Christian seders” expose our need for liturgy

Within the last few decades, “Christian seders” have become a trend. But the traditional matzah is broken in three parts to represent the Trinity, and the cup of wine becomes Christ’s blood. This is, needless to say, not how Jews intended for these symbols to be used. Many Jews find this modern practice offensive, if not anti-semitic.

Protestants aren’t exactly liturgy-friendly. They see sacred ritual – the Eucharist, the “smells and bells,” the standing and kneeling – as “Catholic,” which might as well be a synonym for “satanic.” Evangelicals decry these practices as “works,” or rote motions that pander to a God who wants performance over genuine worship.

And yet, these same evangelicals feel a need to borrow another religion’s rituals to enhance their own tradition. For some, this may be an attempt to connect with the Jewish roots of Christianity, albeit in a misguided way. But I suspect that this is a symptom of a deeper problem within Protestantism.

For all their issues with Catholic practice, it seems that 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: we are told to have a “personal” relationship with Jesus Christ. New converts were given Bibles and told to “plug in” at a local church, but at that point our job was done. We only had to get people saved; finding a community was now their responsibility.

The pastor’s teaching may have been biblically sound, but the atmosphere felt catered to that of a one-man show as he commanded the literal stage and peppered his sermon with jokes and personal stories. Before long, boredom set in. My worship, despite having no formalized ritual involved, felt dull and rote anyway.

It wasn’t just liturgy and ritual that was missing, but community. The tradition of kneeling, reciting, and confessing as a group is what it looks like to act as one Body; Christ’s body, the church. We are not only worshiping 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.

It sounds strange, but 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.”

The Christian faith has centuries of rich, sacred symbols and traditions to fill the hollowness of an individualistic faith. We should dig in to those instead of stealing from a tradition that isn’t ours.

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