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Should Christians hold seders?

White House Seder, April 2015

(RNS) When Chase Darr gathers with his family and nearly 20 friends from his congregation at his home in Columbia, Mo., to celebrate Passover, they’ll drink the four cups of wine.

They’ll ask why this night is different from all other nights and watch each others’ faces across the table as they taste the bitter herbs and dip the parsley into salt water.

And they’ll remember Jesus Christ as the Passover lamb. They’ll remember his body, broken for them, as they break the matzo together.

That’s because Darr and his wife, Katie, are Christians.


RELATED: Passover, the most beloved Jewish holiday


Darr, a 31-year-old research scientist at the University of Missouri, has celebrated the beloved Jewish holiday since the Calvary Chapel church his family attended when he was in high school in Arkansas was reading the parts of Scripture shared by both Christians and Jews and reached the descriptions of festivals in the Book of Leviticus. It was spring, nearing Passover, and the pastor encouraged his congregation to seek out a seder, the ritual meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday, he said.

He and his family attended a meal hosted by a Messianic Jew at a nearby church (Jews consider Messianic Jews to be Christians because they believe in Jesus). They were so moved, he said, they invited the man to host a seder at their church the next year, something that since has become a tradition there.

Darr has hosted his own seder, using a copy of the church’s Haggadah (the book with the seder liturgy), for the past seven years — since he moved to Missouri, where he now attends The Crossing, part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

To him, the Passover story is a story of spiritual freedom, and the four cups, a reminder to him of God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus.

“It provides a rich context for Communion, and it helps to explain Jesus’ words,” he said, referring to the sacramental meal of bread and wine Jesus instituted at his Last Supper, which many believe was a Passover meal.

“I think there’s a lot to be gained just in understanding what Communion means and it really is a form of taking it. … It’s been celebrated for a very long time in similar forms, and Jesus did it, so what’s not to like?”

Darr and his family are not the only Christians who have adopted the Jewish holiday of Passover, which celebrates God leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.

In fact, Rabbi Evan Moffic said he’s noticed a greater interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity from Christians over the last 10 or 15 years.

That may be partly because of the evangelical embrace of Israel, and partly a search for roots in newer Christian traditions less grounded to history and place, according to the Reform rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Ill., and author of “What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover.” It may be just because we live in a “much more open world,” one in which, he pointed out, the U.S. president, a Christian, hosts a White House seder.

“The lesson of Passover is a universal lesson, and it’s something that is true for Christians just as it is for Jews,” Moffic said.

“Knowing the Passover story, knowing the journey to freedom, experiencing that journey to freedom can enrich one’s faith as a Christian because the Exodus story is part of the Christian Bible, as well. It’s part of the whole package. So that story resonates for Christians just as it does for Jews,” he said.


RELATED: Why this rabbi wants Christians to know about Judaism and Jews to know about Jesus


But not all Jews, or even all Christians, think it is appropriate for gentiles to host their own dinners.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, priest associate at St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church in Nehalem, Ore., points to the work her denomination’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has done in recent years to counter what it calls “Christian anti-Judaism.” That includes language often used during the Easter season that make Jews out to be the “bad guys” who killed Jesus, she said.

To Fontaine, Passover “comes from a history of people who have suffered at Christian hands.”

“It’s a lot like people doing a sweat lodge or sun dance that are not Native American. To me, you haven’t walked that path with that people. You’re taking the benefits without having suffered,” she said. “I don’t mind if a Jewish family invites you to a seder or if a Native American group invited you to a sweat lodge — that’s OK. But to start one yourself, that’s stealing.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also has warned its congregations that “taking a tradition that does not belong to us and practicing it in our congregations could be an imitation that is not welcomed at best and very offensive at worst.”

Moffic has heard similar arguments, and he acknowledges people will disagree with him. But, he said, “To me, as a Reform rabbi, I believe our customs and stories are open to interpretation, and Christians can interpret a story just as we can.”

“I think we all read our own personal story and experiences into the Passover seder. That’s what makes it so powerful. We see our own story in it. There are as many interpretations as there are people,” he said.

Not to mention, he said, Jesus himself observed Passover. While the seder wasn’t instituted until much later, he would have shared a Passover meal with his family of disciples, traveling to Jerusalem and eating dinner and retelling the story of Israel’s freedom.


RELATED: The ‘Splainer: Was the Last Supper a Passover seder?


Darr said he hasn’t met with opposition to his family’s seder — just some quizzical looks.

He had planned to host the meal for his church small group on the Sunday before Passover (April 17), but they’ve had to reschedule because of illness. Moffic discourages Christians from hosting seders on the traditional first and second night of Passover in order to avoid the suggestion the Christian seder is replacing the Jewish seder.

Other Christians host seders on Maundy Thursday in the week leading up to Easter, the day Christians commemorate the Last Supper.

“It’s such a rich and rewarding experience. I wish more Christians would partake in it,” Darr said.

“It has the potential to hold quite a bit of meaning to anybody who participates, and I think it’s a really worthwhile pursuit for both Jews and Christians to continue to celebrate it.”

(Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

20 Comments

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  • Jews who own stores still sell their stuff during Xmas…many Jewish musicians record Xmas music, and have performances on TV during Xmas….why shouldn´t Xtians hold seders

  • Its a bit tasteless. Especially when the Easter narrative is rather derogatory towards Jews (and was used to justify attacks on Jews for centuries). Its smacks more of appropriation than homage and respect for the Jewish traditions. Christians have a habit of giving unintentional offense to other faiths, especially Jews, in efforts to be friendly.

  • I have never fully understood the divorce from Jewish holidays or high days by Christianity. After all, Jesus was not a Christian, but a practicing Jew. While we celebrate Easter, some years it coincides quite handily with Passover, other years not so much, we ignore Passover unless TCM is running the Ten Commandments or the Greatest Story Ever Told. We have a different day of rest in complete conflict with G-d’s commandment. Not suggestion, but Command!. So yes, we should seek out a seder, hold a seder.

  • What would Christians think (and do) if some Muslim groups annually performed a Christian ceremony (such as an Easter sunrise service) and explained that they did this because the ceremony was _really_ about Muhammad?

  • The dirty little secret of Christianity is that it was mostly spread by people who weren’t Jewish nor had much interest in the practice of Judaism. Christianity always had more in common in practice with the Greek, Roman, and Gothic faiths most of its adherents converted from than Judaism.

    The concluding statement of a seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it among Christians as it does Jews.

  • is there supposed to be something wrong with finding meaning in your neighbor’s religion?

  • I thought Christians (and I am one… a Roman Catholic in fact) already had celebrations commemorating this great saving and liberating acts of God in the history of the Jewish people and also in our own tradition and perspective of Jesus as Messiah and Paschal Lamb.. The Easter Vigil service is particularly powerful we we have 7 reading from the Sacred Scriptures: 5 from the First Testament (Creation, Exodus, and prophets) and then from the Second Testament a letter of Paul and a Gospel of the Resurrection). Before the reading we have the blessing of the new fire and the paschal candle. with the singing of the powerful Exsultet which clearly reminds us of what makes the Exodus story to integral to our own faith. We should respect and prayer for our “older brothers and sisters…the Jewish People” who were the first to hear the word of God and who were the first to share a covenant with God and whose covenant is still valid. But we should not usurp their own celebrations like a Seder. It disrespects them and it disrespects us.

  • why is this a “dirty” secret???? IN fact, it is not a secret at all. If you read Christian scriptures (i.e. the Acts of the Apostles) there is a lot information about the acceptance of Gentiles into the early followers of Jesus and the painful discussion of adherence to some aspects of the law (circumcision, diet etc) while recalling the universalist visions of the great Jewish prophets.

  • Are the Jews that celebrate Passover thankful for the blood of Christ?
    Passover is not about FREEDOM, which Jews worship, but about death for disobedience & rejection of 1GOD.

  • It also means that Christians have far less in common with Judaism than they say nowadays. Remember for most of the history of Christianity (and in some cases continuing until present day) hostility to Jews was considered not only justified but a holy duty. There is something of an air of colonization and appropriation in Christians having Seders.

  • Nothing like reviving old Christian anti-semitic language when the subject is a Jewish holiday.

    “Are the Jews that celebrate Passover thankful for the blood of Christ?”
    Are Christians that celebrate Easter thankful for the words of Mohammed as God’s prophet?

    Didn’t think so.

  • The Last Supper was a Passover meal, but Jesus took it a step further and clarified what the fulfillment of it is, when He declared”this is My Body, which I given up for you.”. He was instituting the Holy Eucharist of the Catholic church. Then He took the fourth cup, which is called the cup of redemption and declared,”this is My Blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. do this in rememberance of Me.” The Catholic Mass is in effect a Passover seder as Jesus celebrated it the night before His Crucifixion

  • Christianity is God’s plan for both Jews and Gentiles. Why did He have Jesus born into Judaism? Jesus is the Messiah, that is why Messianic Jews have accepted Him.Anyone who reads the Old Testament prophets and knows about the life of Jesus, cannot deny Him.He fulfills every Old Testament concerning the Messiah.
    Read it colselyand that can be seen without a doubt.

  • Excuse me, but you need to spell Christmas correctly. That is definitely offensive and uncalled for.

  • And there is the unintentional offense typically given to Jews by Christians. To Jews, there is no God’s plan in accepting Jesus. That claimed “prophecy” is self serving and proof texting. Therefore to every Jewish sect, Messianic Jews are really Christians who keep the trappings of Jewish custom. The idea that one MUST accept Jesus is offensive to those who are not of the Christian faith. You may not intend offense, but you also do not intend to understand faiths other than your own.

  • There’s a fine line between finding meaning in something Jesus would have found meaning in, and usurping or appropriating a post-antique Jewish ceremony into a new Christian reinterpretation. It should, however, be kep in mind that the Jewish seder is quite messianic, just not how Christians understand that term. It is filled with the promise of redemption. “Next Year in Jerusalem” doesn’t mean let’s go on vacation to Israel next year for Passover (although that is a fine idea).

  • Spuddin,
    Try reading the Bible, Jews know thruugh the Old Testament prophets that a Messiah wa to come. If they don’t believe those prophecies than they do not believe the religion that came rrom Yahweh.

  • The most important yearly religious event Jesus directed his faithful disciples, some of whom became apostles, to commemorate, on the same date, was the Last Supper or memorial of his death.

    This occurs every year on the date that corresponds to the Jewish calendar on Nisan 14, since 33 C.E., with the wine and unleavened bread (representing Jesus’ perfect body to be given as a ransom sacrifice and his blood to be poured out on behalf of imperfect mankind).

    That important event occurred this year on March 23 in the evening. Jesus also told his disciples then that he was making a covenant with them for a heavenly kingdom, or God’s government, of which they were to later become a part. Jesus never instructed them to memorialize his resurrection, which corresponds to Easter today.

  • Well that is the story according to Christians, who add their own book to the Bible and reinterpret the previous one in order to harmonize the two. But the reality is your view is entirely framed within ideas unique to your religion, not any others. 20+ centuries later, there are still Jews and they feel no need to accept Jesus.

    Although you probably don’t mean to give offense, you show a definite tone deafness to the idea that people may have different takes on religious belief than yourself.

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