No “Christian Seders,” Please!

155NOTE: In March 2013, I posted a series of Facebook Notes about so-called “Christian Seders” and the special obligation Christians have in Lent and Holy Week especially to be vigilant about the way our observances may have an impact on Jews, Christian understandings of Judaism, and related matters. I have been asked by several colleagues to re-post these reflections this year. I am happy to do so. I need to make it clear, however, that I am not an expert on these matters. What I say below is my take on controverted questions, born mostly of my own reading and of my interfaith relationships. Please take them as such.

No “Christian Seders,” Please!

With Holy Week on the horizon,  many Christian congregations have started announcing “Christian Seder” meals to observe Maundy Thursday. People of good will recognize this as a devout and well-intentioned attempt to honor the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewish roots of the Christian communion meal which was, Christians say, instituted by Jesus on the night he was handed over–a night that fell, according to the gospel accounts, during the annual Passover observance. It is understandable, therefore, that Christians would desire to commemorate this institution with a nod to its original context.

There are many difficulties attaching to the practice of a Seder meal by Christians, however (the biggest being that a Seder is simply not for Christians, but we’ll get to that later). Some of them are historical. For example, we really do not know for sure what the “original context” of Jesus’ so-called Last Supper was.  We think we do: since Sunday School we’ve been taught it was a Passover meal, or Seder; but scholars continue to debate the precise character of the meal Jesus shared with his disciples that night. One thing we know for sure, however, is that, although it may have been a Passover meal of some sort, it was not a Seder in the modern sense. We know this because the introduction into Jewish ritual life of the Seder we know today came generations after the time of Jesus

Modern day Jewish celebrations of the Passover are a melding of traditions that arose after the destruction of the Temple, and developed through Late Antiquity into Middle Ages. It is a still-developing tradition, too, with additions being made to the Haggadah even to this day. Ironically, some scholars believe that the modern Seder developed in part at least as a reaction and resistance to the growing influence of the Christian church and its sacred meal, the Eucharist. If that is true, Christians celebrating a Seder in the form their Jewish neighbors are using are celebrating, at least in part, a meal that was meant to criticize them and establish the distinctiveness of Jewish rites over against Christian ones. This anti-Christian critique is no longer prominent in most contemporary Seders, but this curious history of the Seder still makes for a polemical mish-mash that, if known by the organizers of “Christian “Seders, might take away some of the romance of the night!

So for starters, to hold a Seder as a way to commemorate the “background” meal Jesus shared with his disciples and which he “turned into” a Communion meal (as I have heard some Christians say) is anachronistic—it is a tradition Jesus did not know. More precisely and significantly, however, it is a tradition that developed into its present forms after Jews and Christians had taken separate religious paths. It’s a tradition, therefore, that Jews and those who became Christian never shared in the first place. It belongs to Jews only and distinguishes them as Jews in ways that make any Christian usage of it seem presumptuous, especially given the fraught and violent history of Christian usurpation and replacement of all things Jewish that we call supersessionism.  Given this history and this ongoing supplanting of the Jewish covenant, I wonder if we would do better to spend our time reflecting on what often befell Jews in Holy Week in many places in medieval Western and Eastern Europe—the pogrom—than to spend time appropriating one of their characteristic rituals and making it our own.

Holding a Seder in a Christian church as a Christian event during Christian Holy Week is dicey. Dicier still is  celebrating a Eucharist in the course of the Seder meal or finishing the Seder with a Communion service. This  sends an unintentional but real message that the important thing about this Seder is what Jesus did to transform it and make it into something else. In other words, what we imply is that the Seder’s real value is to point towards or usher in Communion– that Communion is really what it’s all about, when all else is said and done. This is to write Jews out of their own story. We have already succeeded in often writing them out by the way we often use “Old Testament” texts in preaching and teaching—let’s not turn their meal into our meal for our devotional agendas, just because it feels more authentic or rootsy for us to do so.

Ritual is, after all, lodged in and arises from a community’s corporate experience; and in this case, it is the experience of suffering and liberation, slavery and salvation that Christian share with Jews in a kind of mythical and mystical sense, but not in fact: we are not Jews (the vast majority of us, anyway) and we cannot and do not celebrate a Seder out of anything remotely resembling the lived experience of Jews, or with the theological and spiritual worldview such experience generates. We can and must appreciate it, revere it, admire it, learn about it, even participate in it (for example, when invited into a Jewish home during Passover), but it is and never will be ours, and we ought not treat it as if it were. Just because we are a “successor tradition” doesn’t mean that everything that “they” have is or should also be ours.

There is a danger that in a well-intentioned attempt to honor the church’s Jewish origins, and (we think) do what Jesus did that night, we may end up caricaturing the Jewish ritual we claim to honor. It can be a kind of pious play-acting that is a very far cry from the profound communal anamnesis that is proper to “this night unlike any other night.” Only Jews can experience Passover in such a way that those who ate in haste and fled the Egyptians through the Sea have no spiritual  advantage over those who sit at the Seder table today.

Beyond all this is the basic question of why some of us feel we need to hold a Seder in Holy Week in our Christian congregations in the first place. The treasure chest of Christian liturgical ritual that pertains to the Paschal season is so enormously rich that one wonders why we would turn to someone else’s. Perhaps it is because so few of our churches celebrate this range and depth of options that we cast around looking for something meaningful and rich like we imagine a Seder to be.

What could Christian do instead during Holy Week if we take seriously the objection that a “Christian Seder” is anachronistic, a contradiction in terms, and a potential offense to Jews today for whom the Passover rituals are a living tradition, and not a sort of curious antiquarianism?

If we really want to understand the mysteries of Jesus’ last days, we might consider participating in the classic liturgies of the Triduum, the Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. It is there, in the experience of those ancient liturgical traditions that we encounter the meaning, depth, and power of our salvation. In the rituals associated with Passover, Jews recount their story of redemption. In the liturgies of the Great Three Days, and especially in the Easter Vigil, Christians recount and relive our own.

In the end, congregations that hold “Christian Seders” may simply desire to learn about Judaism, better understand their Jewish neighbors, and grapple with the Jewish roots of Christianity—all of which is commendable, even urgent. They should go ahead and do so, not with a Christianized Seder, but with a visit to their local synagogue for a talk with the Rabbi about how best to facilitate that understanding with respect. Perhaps the Rabbi would come and talk to a group in that congregation about what a Seder entails and what it means to Jews. Or perhaps a Jewish friend might have an extra place at their Seder table for some folks from the Christian congregation this year.

And if Maundy Thursday still cries out for a meal, hold a potluck, an agape meal, a love feast, an elaborated Communion service—choose from the Christian repertoire of feasts to celebrate with— but let the Jews have their feast. No Christian Seders, please!

More on “Christian Seders”

At the risk of overdoing it (I am not in fact persuaded that we can ever overdo this), I want to add to my previous Note about “Christan Seders” the following precision:

On Maundy Thursday, many Christian congregations hold “Christian Seders” in conjunction with Tenebrae, Holy Communion, and other liturgical commemorations of the night Jesus was handed over.  They give various reasons for doing so, but in general they use the Seder as a way to recall and explore the Jewish roots of our faith, to honor the Jewishness of Jesus, to lend historical context to the institution of the Christian Eucharist, and to learn about Jewish ritual practices (i. e., “teaching Seders”) in an open, interfaith spirit.

In some cases, these Seders are led by Jews—a local rabbi, or Jewish friends of the congregation—but the majority are not. They are a wholly “in-house” affair, for Christians by Christians. My objections are directed at these in-house kinds of  “Christian Seder” celebrations.

Congregations that borrow or adapt the modern Jewish Seder for their own devotional purposes on Maundy Thursday during Holy Week need to understand that what they are doing is not a neutral act. Apart from other significant theological and historical objections that should be made to a “Christian Seder,”  [see my previous “Note”] the long, violent and painful story of Christian appropriation of Judaism itself—replacement theology or ‘supersessionism’—should be enough to make us think twice about doing it.

It is no accident that many a medieval pogrom erupted during Holy Week. It was a time rife with anti-Jewish preaching that placed the blame for Jesus’ death on Jews—not just on the ancient Jews, but on all Jews— and, in some cases, directly called for unsparing violence against them. Whenever Christians celebrate a “Christian Seder” that includes or culminates in Holy Communion, it is also chillingly instructive to recall that one of the great medieval slanders against the Jews is that they routinely committed sacrilege against the communion wafer in all kinds of horrific and bloodthirsty ways. This is the history we ineluctably carry with us whenever we do something like celebrate a “Christian Seder.”

My objection to the “Christian Seder” is not about the potential it has for offending Jews. It has that potential, and it does offend many Jews, and avoiding this offense is a good thing to want to do, and I do want us to avoid giving it! But the bigger issue for me is the insidious impact it can have on us Christians.

Let’s face it, despite years of interfaith  efforts, many Christians continue to assume reflexively that Christianity has supplanted Judaism in God’s plan and affections. We might not say it that way, but it shows in the way we use certain biblical texts, talk about a God of Love (Christian) and a God of Wrath (the “Old Testament God”), and juxtapose Law and Grace—in these cases and others, the clear implication is that Christianity has not only succeeded Judaism, it has superseded it.

In their everyday dealings with Jews (if they have such connections), most mainline Christians probably don’t regard the religion of their neighbors, friends, and coworkers as inferior to their own; but in church, in the course of hearing scripture and sermons on scripture, during certain liturgical seasons, and in devotional conversations, an old reflex asserts itself. Our inner Marcionite emerges, and as long as no one corrects us, we continue to operate in the universe of stereotype and slander that for centuries made it possible for Christians to see it as a religious duty to defame and slaughter Jews. And the fact that we do so often unwittingly makes it all the worse.

This is my point: not only because we have a long history of appropriating Judaism for Christian  ends, making of it a mere preparation for the true faith and regarding its characteristic practices as mere foreshadowings and symbols of the real things, we are still doing it today. The practice of a “Christian Seder” is a good example of just how unexamined this fraught relationship remains, and thus how easily its consequences could be visited on our neighbors again, even in our enlightened, interfaith, tolerant, and inclusive age.

That it could never happen here, that it could never happen again, that we would never do that—these are the lazy assumptions that allow us to meander through Holy Week up to our necks in the dangerous waters of supersessionism, playing out again and again the old patterns of reflex disdain.

Contempt takes many forms: I think the celebration of a Seder by Christians and for Christians for our own Christian agenda is one of them. It may seem devout and altogether benign, even constructive, on the surface; but it is just one more in a long sad line of things we have tried to steal from Jesus’ people in his name, as we have systematically written Jews out of their own story because, we say (not without truth), it is also in a deep sense our story too. And if it is also our story (and here we go wrong) we can do with it whatever we please.

Although holding a Seder (for Christians by Christians for a Christian agenda) may seem like a devout and constructive thing to do, and no doubt for many Christians it lends meaning to the Holy Week journey, it is an unavoidably fraught activity. Our anti-Jewish history has earned us a particular responsibility to make sure that our embrace of the Jewish heritage is serious, respectful, self-conscious and well-considered. We may not borrow, play-act, adapt, or otherwise appropriate anything Jewish like a Seder without carrying with us into that activity this whole history.

Remembering and telling the Jewish story is one of the Seder’s most characteristic features. Maybe instead of holding a Seder we should make time in Holy Week remembering and telling our own story, lamenting and repenting the sad history that haunts us still, and looking to Christ for the grace to change it, once and for all.

Postscript on “Christian Seders,” supersessionism, and reading Scripture

Some of you asked me to make more widely available this comment I left in a thread about the “Christian Seder” business. It concerns supersessionism and the Bible. Here it is:

I do not mean to say that we Christians cannot read texts from the Bible (”Old Testament”) and find in them Christological meaning. I think it is perfectly appropriate for us who hold (and have tenaciously held since the days of Marcion) to both ‘testaments’ as one Bible to read ‘backwards and forwards’ in this way.

Within the household of the Christian church, I believe we can own and interpret Hebrew Scripture faithfully, without  contempt, even when the meaning we find in the texts is not its “original” meaning for the people who gave the world the Bible.

I don’t think it is necessarily a usurpation of a supersessionist variety for us to cherish, for example, the suffering servant text in Isaiah as having something to do with the way we think about Jesus, or the text about the young woman conceiving as having something to do with the way we think about Mary, as long as at the same time we also know that it doesn’t in fact have to do with Jesus or Mary, and that it has a meaning of its own not only for the Jews “back then,” but also for the ongoing community for whom the Book is a living testament.

What we cannot do is say ‘This (Mariological or Christolical reading) is THE meaning of the text.” We must say instead, “This is the way we (Christians) read it in the light of our religious experience and tradition.” There’s a difference, I think, between reading the ‘Old Testament’ in a Christian way and circumscribing its universe of meaning to the Christian reading.

In short, no Christian in the pew should ever come away from a sermon on the suffering servant text thinking it is a Christian passage, even if they’ve been helped to see that, while it does not refer to Christ, it can and does help us think about, know, and love him.

To avoid “writing Jews out of their own story” when we engage in a “Christian” reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, then, we need to operate on two levels at once: on the level of the text as an expression of a particular people’s religious experience, which is not ours; and on the level of the text as the Church hears it in the context of its its particular experience of Christ.

This double-vision may oblige us, for example, to refrain from a too-easy juxtaposition in liturgy of certain texts, “OT” and “NT,” that suggests that the NT text explains or fulfills the OT text in a way that exhausts all other possibilities of interpretation (this happens way too frequently in some lectionary pairings).

It may oblige us to speak of certain figures and events in the Hebrew Scriptures less as archetypes, allegories, or foreshadowings of Christ and his ministry, and more as evidence of the consistent pattern of God’s activity throughout ”salvation history,” with which our Christian experience of God in Christ is wholly consistent .

It may simply mean that we take the time to put a short note in the bulletin giving the original context of  the text, or explaining the way the texts are used in, say, The Messiah or other Christian sacred music.

Before all else, however, it means that we have to spend more time as pastors,  educators, leaders in and of Christian congregations helping people to love the Bible, read the Bible, and to read it with prismed glasses, since for Christians, no one lens suffices.

Of course, this is a super-challenging activity for many contemporary Christians who barely know the Bible at all any more, let alone its hermeneutical complexities, but we can’t expect anyone to read “without contempt” if we don’t teach with urgency.

133 thoughts on “No “Christian Seders,” Please!

  1. Michael Harvey

    Dear Pastor/Professor,
    I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful writing. With Pesach just around the corner, many of us in the rabbinate fear the upcoming “Christian Seders” with less than pure intentions. I’m wondering if you’ve read a book by my professor at Hebrew Union College, Dr. Michael Cook, called “Modern Jews Engage the New Testament.” He devotes an entire chapter to this subject and does it quite well. You hit on many of his points, and I think you’d enjoy reading it. As a soon-to-be Rabbi (this may I am ordained) and one who is heavily passionate about interfaith dialogue and education, I am very grateful and touched by your intelligent words in this post. Many thanks!

    Michael Harvey

    1. sicutlocutusest Post author

      Michael, thanks so much for your comment, and for the reference to Dr. Cook’s book. I have not read it, and look forward to doing so. Congratulations on your upcoming ordination! And have a blessed happy Pesach! M.

  2. Ùr-Fhàsaidh

    The celebration of the Eucharist is (to the Christian) the paschal mystery – the feast and the anamnesis of our delivery from the darkness of sin, alienation, suffering and death. Christianity simply does not exist without this ‘Christian’ seder. Yes, the present Jewish and Christian rituals are different, and these differences must be respected. They are not the same, and nor should they be, but they do find their historical root in the same (or very similar) rite.

  3. David Simon

    The problem with too many Christian Seders is we seek to overlay them with our expectations or liturgies, rather than discover the richness and fullness of a tradition which has endured through not centuries, but through millennium. Christians short-circuit the Seder by making one cup all important; to the Jews there are four (or five!) which are all required in order to tell the whole story.
    If Christians attend the meal with the question of the second son, “What does this ceremony mean to you;” (Ex 12:26) rather than the inquiry of the wise son: “What are the testimonies, the statues, and the judgments which the Lord our God commanded us;” (Dt 6:29) the meal only becomes an event to reinforce a practical practice of shallowness experienced by many Christians. [Some ideas on how a “Wise Son” can prepare for the Seder are found under the blog tab of beginning March 7, 2015, please read and comment.]
    The Passover meal is ancient! Although the earliest Haggadah date merely to eighth century AD, the order of today’s service is related in the Mishnah of the second century AD. Hints of the service are found in the book of Psalms (800 BC) and in Exodus 12-13. Through the Passover (when presented correctly) celebrants can find motivation for thanksgiving, celebration of freedom (and salvation), proper perspectives on treating the alien (who might reside illegally in the US), a method of passing our faith through the generations, and the compassion to reach out to the poor.
    A great lesson for Christians, who in this day and age practice their faith often solely in the church building led by ordained clergy could be taken from Exodus 12, where Passover originated in the home led by a non-ordained facilitator called “father.” The lesson is staged for children (not adults) in order to pass on the heritage, with fantastic teaching tools (Salt water = tears; through bitter herbs we can taste the feelings of a slave).
    To hold a Christian Passover as a “well-intentioned attempt to honor the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewish roots of the Christian communion meal” misses the point. Great spiritual lessons can come through Christian and/or Jewish observance of this meal … and these lessons are multiplied when holding the meal becomes an annual tradition (Is it Biblical to make this an annual tradition?).

  4. Devra Ariel

    Pastor/Professor Luti, as an Orthodox Israeli Jew deeply devoted to building bridges with Christians, I found your article fascinating, encouraging and even exciting. Supersessionism, and replacement theology (if they are not the same thing), remain as tremendous barriers but I am happy to meet more and more people devoted to breaking down those barriers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and best wishes at this holy season.

  5. Ginna Watson

    While I understand your comments about respecting the origins of the Seder, I think any chance to find a shared ground between religions should be celebrated, not discouraged!

    Ginna Watson

  6. erin

    I love this and your thoughtful and careful comments about our clumsiness in usurping Jewish traditions for our own benefit. Too many ordinary Christians are sloppy in their exigetical work when preaching from Hebrew scriptures. They all too easily hijack passages like Isaiah 53 and say they were prophecies about Jesus, the suffering servant, when they are nothing of the kind, as you say. We make the passage fit our preconceived notion about the fortelling of Jesus and the suffering he would endure instead of doing the hard work of study. I preached recently on Is 53 and made a point to say this was about Israel, not Jesus. I appreciate you nuancing this issue and being diligent strident about your cautions. I have attended both a “christian seder” and a seder at a synagogue, explained by a rabbi and elders of the church. The difference was night and day. To listen to our Jewish friends explain their faith and tbeir rituals helps, but you sense you are just stratching the surface. Jews are people of the earth and by that they embody the word in a way I don’t think we ever can. We live in our head, not our heart, per se. There’s a big difference. Well done. Thanks.

    1. Bowman Walton

      Since readers of scripture in Second Temple Judaism were not polarized to messianic or rabbinical poles as they came to be in later centuries, neither were their readings of the prophets. At the very end, for example, the rabbi Akiva could say things about his messiah Bar Kochva that would have been strange to most sages of the Babylonian Talmud. Thus such Jewish scholars as the Berkeley talmudist Daniel Boyarin argue reasonably that the ordinary midrashic exegesis of readers concerned with Daniel 7 probably found the ‘representative suffering messiah’ reading of Isaiah 53 before the lifetime of Jesus. Indeed, because the person/people ambiguity that you mention is a feature of both texts, they were a quite logical match for midrashic interpretation. Read Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 together yourself and you will find a messianism more robust than that of the contemporary Christian preaching you mention. What those preachers retroject into Isaiah 53 is not so much their weak messianism, as a modern, culture-bound way of reading the scriptures of ancient Israel foreign to their authors and first readers. Of course, if that much of Christianity actually preceded Jesus, then many commonplace suppositions need reconsideration.

    2. Olga

      Except there is a nuance. Whenever Israel is spoken of in the Hebrew version of the Bible, feminine forms are used. Yet in Isaiah 53, the suffering Messiah is clearly described as a man. Look it up.

      1. ProclaimLiberty

        What do you mean, Olga? Israel’s actions regularly use masculine-gendered Hebrew verb forms. I haven’t checked every single instance, so I can’t say it is never feminine. I can think of circumstances where a feminine form might be used, to express a certain aspect of relationship with HaShem, but this is not true as a general case. Even in Isaiah’s servant songs, you will generally find Israel as masculine. The distinction in Is.53 is that of a singular individual who suffers on behalf of plural entities such as “we” (also masculine) who erred or turned away (“we” being the collective of Israel), rather than other cases where it is the collective entity Israel that suffers.

  7. Jamie

    I get this. I think a church near my parents holds a “seder,” and I don’t know how closely it strives to uphold Jewish seder traditions. I also know lots of Jewish families that celebrate Christmas, in a commercial and shallow way that has nothing to do with the Christian rite. Appropriation is everywhere.

    1. thathat

      Jewish families celebrating Christmas “in a commercial and shallow way” isn’t appropriation–it’s assimilation. If you look at early 20th century immigrant history, you can see it taking root, but even now, just imagine how much Christmas is a part of the entire American culture from November through December. It’s inescapable. And in America, at least, it’s as much a secular holiday as it is a religious one. Santa, elves, and Christmas specials (that inevitably talk about the vague-but-warm “Christmas Spirit”) about, but have very little, if anything, to do with Christianity as a religion. They become part of the American culture, and are generally very difficult to avoid.

      Participating in a dominant culture’s practice isn’t appropriation because when a practice becomes so pervasive, it’s sort of socially enforced. Whether or not someone’s Christian, in America, celebrating Christmas with gifts or parties or visiting is just “the thing you do” during December, and anyone who doesn’t do those things is seen as strange. Adapting to a dominant culture because of social pressure is very different than seeking out practices from a marginalized culture and adapting them to fit your own lifestyle.

  8. george613

    I am a Jewish educator who is often asked to conduct Seders in church settings as an educational tool. One of the first things I say is that the Last Supper looked nothing like the modern Seder and we go from there. I conduct a Jewish Seder and I focus on the changing aspects of the ritual and its importance to Judaism and why it resonates will so many Jewish people who may not do any other ritual. It is a perfect teaching medium for learning about the Jewish experience historically, the Jewish ancient history and connection to the Torah but also the modern Jewish experience.

    1. sicutlocutusest Post author

      This is the sort of thing I am heartily encouraging. So different from a Christian appropriation of the Seder, and so useful for the education of Christians who often bring a lot of (mistaken) assumptions to these things because we think we know all about Jewish stuff because of what’s in the gospels. Thanks for this beautiful work!

  9. Melanie Lee

    Now are you going to say the same thing to the African-Americans whose slave ancestors “usurped” the story of the Exodus and sang songs like “Go Down, Moses” and “Oh, Freedom”?

    1. sicutlocutusest Post author

      Of course not! There’s a big difference between using the text to illumine and make sense of your life and condition– i. e., to see your story in that story–and using the texts and rituals of Jews to erase them from their story–i. e., to say that their story only has meaning (or that it acquires ‘the true meaning’) when seen through a Christological lens. This is what Christians do when they celebrate a Eucharist as the culmination of a “Christian Seder.” It’s as if they’re saying that the Seder (and the Jews) is a mere foreshadowing of the real thing, and that now that we have the real thing, the old thing is rendered essentially obsolete.

      1. Melanie Lee

        As a Christian who regularly celebrates some form of Passover, I don’t agree with most of what you say. However, you do raise some good points. In my own church, I was disturbed when some congregants would refer to OT people as “Christians”. I understood what they meant: they saw these characters as people who did God’s will and paved the way for Christ. I was concerned that they were taking away the Jewishness/Israeliness/Hebrewness of these characters.

        Come to think of it, except for the model seders I’ve made for myself or my family, I don’t think I’ve ever attended a seder not hosted by a Jew, whether a traditional Jew or a Messianic Jew. The very first seder I ever attended at Riverside Church in NYC in the 1980s, was hosted by a young female rabbi who sang and acted the story.

        (to be continued)

  10. Howard

    I very much appreciate the desire to maintain the truth that there is, was, and will be a Jewish people who are still the covenanted people of YHVH God. The Passover, and the Exodus from Egypt is the mighty act by which God said that the nations would know Him, and the God of Israel is still remembered for that.

    Yet, as one who is Jewish, is a believer in Jesus, and lives in Israel among my own people, Messiah came as our Passover, which my people in the flesh still reject, but, thankfully, by the grace of God, I now know and believe. The last Passover which Jesus/Yeshua held with His apostles was not following what we today would call a Hagadah; in face, the Jewish hagadah of Passover may well have been written up in reaction to the truth of the New Testament gospel, which, till now, Israel rejects. But, praise God, the day is coming when they will repent and believe!

    God is moving on in His plan of redemption, and He calls the present regathering of the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel a greater thing than His bringing us up out of Egypt. And, of course, Jesus has brought those who believe from death to life, an even greater Passover exodus! And we look forward to the final redemption of our bodies at the resurrection. Israel will still celebrate the Passover during the 1000-year Millennial reign of Christ upon His return, and the Lord’s Supper is for Christians until He returns.

    All this to say, the continuing foundation which the Passover paradigm provides is still relevant, both for Jews and for all who believe that Messiah is our Passover.

    Some years ago, I wrote up a hagadah, which our congregation uses as a ‘working tool’ when we celebrate the Passover and the Resurrection of the Lord. We do not go through it all each year, but take from it to emphasize what seems particularly relevant for the occasion each year. You can read it here, and it can be printed out:

    God bless you all as you rejoice in Jesus, who died and rose again!

  11. Bowman Walton

    “Thou shalt not steal.” The unilateral theft of another people’s rituals puts one in a decidedly wrong relationship to them of symbolic conquest. If one doubts that said people actually are ‘another people,’ then one should simply go to their rituals, if invited. This universal ethical principle requires no theological justification and admits no theological excuse. If you are not a shoplifter or an embezzler, neither should you steal another people’s rituals. Therefore: no ‘Christian’ Seder– and no ‘Christian’ haj to Mecca, no ‘Christian’ Santeria sacrifices, etc.

    Some Christians who see this ethical reality without difficulty wonder, however, what to make of the whole post-Marcion Church. Is it not all one vast appropriation of the religious traditions of ancient Israel? Indeed, it is. To this very day and in this faraway land, there are Christian seminarians, clergy, and scholars studying and explaining writings about God written or collected in the ancient Roman province of Palestine. Most congregations go so far as to read from those writings at every Eucharist. Marcion hated this practice. What do the people of ancient Israel think about it?

    Or, more provocatively yet, what are Christians today to do about Jewish sages and scholars writing about Jesus, the Resurrection, Paul, the New Testament, etc, not to us, but to fellow Jews? One rabbinical body recently had the audacity to cite the words of a certain rabbi, Saul of Tarsus, as an authority in a responsum on the rite of circumcision. And the eminent Gershom Scholem went so far as to identify this same rabbi– famous for a vision on the road to Damascus and for visits to the Third Heaven– as the first known practitioner of the merkaba mysticism that evolved into kabbala. These Jewish scholars, with a flagrant disregard for centuries of Talmudic disdain and Christian supersessionism, dare to write about Jesus and the apostles as though they were Jews practicing Judaism. Because, of course, they were.

    The historical reality, which neither tradition has fully engaged in recent time, is that both the Jews who followed Jesus and the Jews who founded rabbinical Judaism began as sects in the exuberantly creative but doomed world of Second Temple Judaism. As sects, they both reimagined the Israelite whole in distinctive ways– apostles with an eye on universalizing prophecy, rabbis with an ear to oral tradition– but both were equally Jewish parts of it. Of course, there were many other sects in Israel besides– did one worship Enoch?– but, when the Romans finally lost patience with their rebellious province and destroyed the Second Temple, these were the two that survived. The universalizing apostles came to see ‘Israel’ as including faithful Gentiles, though not without a fight. To their ancient scriptures, they added new ones– the New Testament. The traditioning rabbis likewise came to see matrilineal descent and male circumcision as markers of their community’s boundaries, though this too was settled through debate over time. And they too completed old Israel’s scriptures with new writings– Mishna and Talmud. The bright red lines that we take for granted today were once only penciled in.

    The Passover Seder is itself a part of that mitosis, one marked by the rabbis’ understanding of their new tradition’s identity. Christians need not deny their own equally organic roots in the traditions of ancient Israel to respect that boundary.

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  13. Nick Doversberger

    Many, many years ago, in the remote community where I was living in southern Oregon, our tiny Christian congregation decided to do a Seder. We involved such Jewish people as we knew who were living in the area as participants and leaders. The Seder was not a “Christian”
    Seder as such at all as we used a prepared Haggadah out of the Reformed tradition, without changes. Our purpose was not to coopt anyone else’s rituals, but to experience rather than merely discuss, those rituals. Our people discovered first hand many common themes that are shared with and arise out of Judaism. It was a rich time together and led to some lasting friendships. Perhaps it was only a lame attempt and probably could have been done better, but I have never regretted the effort to build bridges.

  14. Pingback: Gentiles explain things to me – Sarahbeth Caplin

  15. Susan Katz Miller

    As a Jew, of course I find supersessionist “Christian Seders” conducted without the involvement of actual Jews to be problematic.

    But I am equally concerned that this type of post, which has become very popular in recent years, will discourage or intimidate the many progressive churches who do invite rabbis or other Jewish leaders to lead Seders for them. I know a (Conservative!) rabbi who will be co-leading an Interfaith Agape Seder on Maundy Thursday, with a minister. And yes, it will involve the sharing of matzo and wine. Even those who understand that the Last Supper did not involve a fully-articulated modern Seder will acknowledge that it probably involved those two essential blessings. Also, take a look at the work of Rabbi Evan Moffic, who has written several books on how Christian churches can honor the Jewishness of Jesus.

    I also object to the repeated assertion that Passover is “only for Jews.” First of all, the Exodus story belongs to all three “Abrahamic” faiths. Second, it is not so easy these days to separate Jews from non-Jews on Passover–we are married to each other, we are going to celebrate together, and some of us have complex non-binary religious identities. But also, for many Jewish families, Passover has always been a teaching experience, and has always included inviting friends of other faiths to share the experience. I am happy to be going to a Jewish and Muslim interfaith Seder this year. Religious differences are important. But we do, in fact, have common ground. Religions are inherently syncretic and fluid. And celebrating together, and acknowledging what we do share, is not appropriation or usurpation. It is, in fact, vital in this time of increased bigotry, racism, and intolerance.

    1. sicutlocutusest Post author

      Thanks for this comment, Susan My objection is ONLY to “seders” conducted by Christians for Christians, especially when they are followed by the Christian Eucharist, as if to say: Now let’s do the real thing. I not only have no objection to seders hosted by synagogues to which Christians are invited, or seders led by rabbis in Christian congregations with or without Jews in attendance, or any other such experience, whether it be a teaching seder or simply sharing the meal in a Jewish home, I actively encourage these things. I write only to try to persuade Christians that holding a seder by themselves for themselves runs a strong risk of coopting a practice that isn’t our own.This practice of holding “Cbhristian seders” is widespread–it may appear harmless, and it is a simple and sincere attempt to “get inside” the last night Jesus spent with his disciples and “appreciate” the passover meal, but given the fraught history of supersessionism, I think it best to actively discourage them. Which is why I make the arguments I make.

    2. ProclaimLiberty

      Shalom Susan — While I appreciate your interfaith sentiments, I must demur from your assertion that the Exodus story belongs to all three “Abrahamic” faiths. That is patently untrue. Just as the Holocaust was a uniquely Jewish catastrophe, despite the deaths of millions of others in WW2, so also the Exodus was a uniquely Jewish event applicable only to the covenantal descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob/Israel. Even the “mixed multitude” did not necessarily include Egyptians or other sorts of non-Jews, but rather Jews whose tribal lineage was mixed across multiple tribes such that they could not identify any particular one of the twelve tribes as their own. We see that by the time the Sinai covenant was promulgated there are no further mentions of a mixed multitude. It appears that everyone managed to be absorbed into some one of the tribes, if they did not go elsewhere to seek their own people. Generalizing the Exodus is just as mistaken (and dangerous for the Jewish people) as is generalizing the Holocaust as merely one more genocide among others.

      1. ProclaimLiberty

        But notice, Susan, that Tziporah did not accompany Moshe during the events in Egypt nor the departure of the Israelites therefrom, consequently you cannot cite her as if she played any part in those events. In fact, Moshe had sent her away, back to her father’s home in Midian, because of a disagreement over the fundamental Jewish covenantal rite of circumcision, before reaching Egypt to confront Pharaoh. While that action was virtually equivalent to divorce in that era, her father Yitro later tried to effect a reconciliation with Moshe, after the Exodus, when he had brought the people to mount Sinai where he had seen the burning bush and received his commission from HaShem. We can infer that this location was not far from Yitro’s home in Midian, because Moshe had been tending Yitro’s flocks when he first noticed the bush. Despite that, no Midianites nor Ishmaelites nor Moabites nor any other gentiles played any part in the Passover redemption — despite what some might mistakenly infer from the film “Prince of Egypt” or from the generations-earlier film “The Ten Commandments”. Consequently, non-Jews 3500 years later who wish to honor the commemoration of that event, and the Jewish civilization that it engendered, must do so with a clear perception about those whom are its only true subjects, as well as of the conditions by which “foreigners” (see Is.56) may approach and embrace it.

        Christians in particular are subject to confusion about it because they fail to recognize that the demonstration meal that Rav Yeshua celebrated with his disciples the night before Passover, after which he was arrested, was not the actual seder but only a midrashic teaching that augmented the meaning of some of its symbols — and that even so it was celebrated only with Jewish disciples. It was years, perhaps decades, later that one of those disciples had a vision leading him to accept G-d-fearing gentiles to enter a similar form of discipleship. And it was centuries later that gentile Christians began to interpret some instructions from Rav Shaul to gentile disciples in Corinth as a symbolic pseudo-Passover-seder, thus inventing the Eucharist. It is out of this confusion that Christians attempt to co-opt the seder as either a glorified expanded Eucharist or as a ceremony that belongs to them because the Torah-observant Jew Rav Yeshua celebrated it. They should rather recognize it for what it was, and that any participation in it that may be afforded them is still a secondary one not their own, solely by grace, as it were. Incidentally, Muslims have no inherent reason at all within Islam to celebrate this commemoration. Consequently, interfaith efforts to increase understanding about this Jewish event, by which it is hoped to diminish long-standing misapprehensions about it, and thus prevent related historic resentments against Jews, must not make the mistake of trying to universalize it and must insist that it be respected as a characteristically-Jewish event.

      2. Jordan

        Mr. Proclaim Liberty is partly correct and partly incorrect. He is correct that the most ancient understanding of the Exodus is that it was a Jewish liberation story, and that the “mixed multitude” was a mixed group of different tribes of Israelites. It is also true that the Hebrew Bible takes a positive view of non-Israelite monotheists such as the Midianites, who were descendants of Ishmael, and apparently were pre-Islamic Arab monotheists.

        But while the celebration of Passover was not originally universalized to all peoples, it certainly began to take on that character long before the modern era or the emergence of what we call progressive Judaism. It’s been customary for centuries to invite all who hunger for redemption with a literal open door. That obviously includes non-Jews. We pray that no other people may be oppressed as we were. And other groups of people who hold the Hebrew Bible as scripture naturally see the Exodus as a story told for all people–a prototype of many liberation movements. Think of the way Christianized African slaves in America naturally saw themselves in the story. No faithful Jew who has absorbed the meaning of Passover could possibly object to this.

      3. ProclaimLiberty

        Shavua Tov, Jordan — While certainly there need be no objection to viewing the Passover redemption as an archetype, that is a far cry from changing the interpretation of the seder itself in ways that diminish its particularly Jewish meaning. The African slaves didn’t bogart the Jewish seder when they adopted its biblical theme of liberation. The original Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua merely added to the seder a midrashic gloss upon its existing symbols; they did not neglect the “pshat” of their original meaning. And later gentile Christians were not the inventors of the interpretation that similarly envisioned a personal departure from enslavement to sin as a metaphorical or symbolic parallel to the departure from Egyptian enslavement. That appeared first in the rabbinic environment. I believe the author of the original essay above was also pleading for a similar emphasis on authentic seders, regardless of who might attend, and to eschew the conduct of ersatz seders.

  16. Nancy

    This article speaks of Christian Seders, which is used as part of Holy Week. The appropriation of the Ceremony into the Christian tradition/teaching. But you do not address if the Seder is held as a Jewish one, not connected to Holy Week but rather to teach the Passover Story. Or the help Christian children to understand what their Jewish friends are learning and celebrating with their families, with respect. As a Christian with 2 Jewish Sister In Laws and 3 mixed religion nieces(Jewish/Catholic) and many friends with mixed households, the honor paid to the Jewish tradition by Christians was greatly appreciated. Jewish father accompanied his children happily to church and Jewish mom whose child was being raised in the Catholic Church attended with her child and was trilled with the dedication to the Passover lesson and the respect shown for the Jewish faith. So does the teaching of the Passover Lesson change the opinion of the tradition taking place in a Christian setting vs. a Christian Seder?

    1. ProclaimLiberty

      Dear Nancy — I don’t know how “Sicut Locutus Est” might respond to this; and I hardly know how to respond to it myself. But if I understand you correctly, you have described three (or four) Jews in your extended family who have cut themselves off from the covenant of Israel or have been cut off by the actions of their parents. You describe a Jewish father who happily attends a Christian church with his children, whom I presume are two of the three “mixed” nieces, and a Jewish mother whose technically-Jewish daughter is being raised under Catholic Christian church teaching, as well as a second Jewish sister-in-law whose children, if any, you haven’t mentioned. I don’t see how any of these people can produce or raise children who will contribute to the continuing existence of the Jewish people. Any “respect” that they may feel toward the Jewish people must occur from a position entirely outside the boundaries that define that people and its eternal covenant with HaShem.

      How, then, do you imagine that they may understand the primary lesson of the Passover, which is a story of HaShem’s triumph over the false gods of Egyptian idolatry, and His establishment of His Torah covenant with the descendants of Avraham, via Yitzhak and Yacov, whom He had rescued from Egypt by means of extraordinary miracles and power? Can you grasp the damage that these cut-off Jews have done to the Jewish people? Can you grasp the magnitude and severity of the loss that they themselves have suffered, whether or not they are able to sense it? Can you not see the parallel between their condition and that of the segment of Israelites in the desert who complained that they wished they had never left Egypt and wanted to go back? HaShem punished these folks severely because of their disaffection from all that He had done for them. Somehow I doubt that this lesson is emphasized in the Passover presentations that your in-laws are likely to attend in a Christian setting.

      The Jewish Prophets describe a role for non-Jews in these latter days, by which they assist Jews to return to Israel, even carrying some of them. It may be that early stages of such a return must include a return to Jewish praxis and fellowship even in the diaspora. That cannot happen in a church environment, no matter how respectful and supportive it may be. The Jerusalem Council, in Acts 15, exempted the gentile disciples from full obligation to Jewish Torah praxis, despite Rav Yeshua’s observations to Jews in Mt.5:19 that greatness in the kingdom of heaven depends on keeping and teaching such praxis, and his observation in v.18 that the finest details of the Torah and the Prophets remain unchangingly valid as long as the present heavens and earth endure. Consequently, churches of gentiles who are not bound under the Torah covenant cannot provide a suitable working environment for Jewish disciples who do bear that responsibility. Nonetheless, modern gentile disciples may provide other kinds of encouragement.

  17. anice chenault

    so… a group of christian feminists using a feminist haggadah to create a seder for a small group – not tied to the eucharist, but for the seder ritual itself – would this be OK? I’m very aware of and interested in avoiding cultural appropriation… this is the kind of thing I’ve done many times in small faith communities – but never as a part of/replacement for/lead-in to eucharist. I’m wondering your take on that. thanks.

    1. sicutlocutusest Post author

      I think I’d avoid doing it–for all the reasons I stated. With or without a Eucharist, I believe that when Christians celebrate the seder in the complete absence of Jews, we appropriate a ritual that does not belong to us and step onto shaky ground. I know this is debatable, and even some Jews I know don’t seem to find it objectionable (altho’ the vast majority do…). But here’s the thing–given the long hard awful history of Christian erasure of all things Jewish, including the repeated attemped erasure of Jews themselves, wouldn’t you want to err on the side of caution here? Why not find a group of Jewish feminists and join them for the seder? THEIR seder. Let them lead and host and invite you in to their observance.

      1. Nancy

        I understand your experience that the vast majority of Jews find it objectionable. I have found just the opposite. Possibly due the number of mixed marriages (religious and race) I am surrounded by. As a learning experience regarding Passover, I found, Jewish conservative Elders willing to review and correct the Seder so it would be accurate, mixed religion families grateful for the program (attending with their children, both worshiping families and outsiders: Jewish father with his daughter being raised with both religions & Jewish mom attending with her son who was being raised catholic), Solomon Schechter kindergarten teacher shared in teaching the lesson as well as family members who thought it was awesome that gentile family member was exposing non-jews to the lesson of Passover. But I did review a Christian Seder program once years ago and I found it objectionable due to the distortion of the content of the lesson.

    2. ProclaimLiberty

      so… a group of feminists, Christian or Jewish or both, using the story of the Jewish liberation from bondage under idolatry as an archetype for liberation from … what? … the bi-gendered human reproductive and relational system created by HaShem and declared by Him to be “very good”, in favor of bondage to an alternative humanistic idolatry? The ancient liberation of Jews had a clear target of entering into a covenant with HaShem in obedience to His Torah. Feminism would seem to represent an antithesis to that goal, hence co-opting the seder for such a purpose is an insult to the Jewish people whose story needs to be remembered for its own sake and not submerged under other agendas.

      Incidentally, the notion that human beings, both male and female, ought to cooperate with one another rather than to struggle against one another is not a characteristic of “feminism”. It is, however, characteristic of HaShem’s Torah. But that is another discussion a bit off-topic from the present discussion about misuses of the seder.

  18. Pingback: Things I’m Verbing: Christian seders, future ruins and rappelling for suffrage – Esther Bergdahl

  19. Marianne Allison

    I really love your posts in general, and this one resonated with me especially. I am an Episcopal priest and my brother is an Orthodox rabbi (a convert) — a tremendous gift of learning for me. I asked him about this topic as it was raised in another article. He doesn’t relate so much to the point of view that Christian seders are triggering trauma of past anti-Semitism and the like. But, perhaps by virtue of being Orthodox, he is not a fan of syncretism, and he sees them as syncretizing Jewish and Christian traditions in a way that distorts them both. He pointed out that the Last Supper could not have been a seder anyway (they didn’t really come in until the Rabbinic era). Nevertheless, he certainly gets the Jewishness of Jesus, and the historical link of Easter to the Passover season and to our ideas about Jesus. He offered that Christians might go to an unadulterated Jewish seder as a guest and ask our hosts not to change anything they do except possibly to explain. Of course his would be in Hebrew–when I am with his family, they find a transliteration and translation of whatever Haggadah they are using. He recommended reading a good Hagaddah that is not (again) overly modernized or adapted for Christians. He is a Chabad rabbi, and they are naturally fairly extraverted in their theology and look for universal themes, so he offered this theological bit on Passover, which I rather liked and share: “the Lubavitcher Rebbe would make a connection between the word Mitzrayim, Egypt, and metzarim, straits. Egypt is the narrow place you are stuck in, it’s the metzarim *and* Mitzrayim, and we all have these tight places in our lives. He would also bring together the word Pesach with the word lifsoach (which has the same root letters), which means to skip, as in skipping steps, leaping over boundaries that we normally could not manage–that is the special quality of Passover–that it has a special spiritual power, if you will, through which we can escape limitations which have been holding us back.”


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