Celebrating the Passover Seder

passoverI always find it remarkable how many Christians are drawn to celebrate a ‘Passover Seder’. Around this time of year, I usually start seeing threads popping up on e-mail lists, how this congregation or some neighboring congregation is doing it. Then, the inevitable follows, where the matter is discussed – pros and cons ad nauseum, until finally Easter arrives and people eventually move on.

Several factors make it remarkable to me that Christians would try to celebrate the Passover. First, and most obvious, unless you have Jewish ancestors, you really have no business celebrating the Passover. God neither brought you nor your forefathers out of the land of Egypt, which is the primary commemoration of the Passover. If your ancestry bears any similarity to mine, your forefathers were a whole continent or two away and probably had very little idea of the ten plagues, or that anything like the Exodus was even taking place.

Second, the Old Testament prescribes some very strict regulations for observing the Passover. “No foreigner shall eat it” (Exodus 12:43). “When a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it” (Exodus 12:48). None of the e-mail lists that I follow have ever mentioned that any of their ‘Christian Passover Seder celebrations’ begin with a circumcision ceremony.

The Old Testament Passover meal does not belong to the Christian congregation. It is not your celebration! (The exception to this might be if your congregation is composed of Jewish Christians.) The good news is that the Old Testament Passover was fulfilled by the true Passover Lamb of the New Testament, Jesus. And: Jesus has given you a new meal – in which you eat and drink the Body and Blood of this New Testament Passover Lamb. You are encouraged to celebrate this meal – not simply once a year, but often. And: This meal actually does apply to you – no circumcision required.

 

About Pastor Nathan Higgins

Pastor Higgins was a member of the Bemidji Circuit (one of the best in MNN) of the Minnesota North District when Pastor Joshua Scheer served as a pastor up there in the northland. He is also one of the assistant editors that produced Treasury of Daily Prayer for CPH. The Rev’d Nathan W. Higgins is a 2002 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has served as Pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Long Prairie, Minnesota (emmlp.org) since December 2008 and has participated for many years in the Lutheran Mission Association (lmamnn.org) which provides relief in Haiti.

Comments

Celebrating the Passover Seder — 36 Comments

  1. I don’t think there are any exceptions, Jewish Christians or not. Christ is our Passover. He is sacrificed for us. His New Testament, His Supper, has supplanted the Old, just as surely as Baptism has supplanted Circumcision. It is hardly any different to keep the Passover than to re-institute the temple sacrifices. And one should also consider that most seder celebrations adopt post-Christian talmudic innovations that have nothing to do with the Passover that Christ and the Apostles kept.

  2. I eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ the lamb of God at the Lord’s supper, Brisket is corned and served at St. Patrick’s Day.

  3. Thank-you for this post which has been my critique of ‘Christian seder meals’ for sometime. Further, a congregation will advertise said meal as a “special” service of Holy Communion, as if the Divine Service, as the Lord instituted it, is not always special. Also, I think if I were an orthodox Jew, I think these ‘seders’ would bother me.

  4. The problem with Christians celebrating the Seder is summed up in two words: cultural appropriation. The classic example is when New Age teachers would use Native American practices (i.e. sweat lodges) to describe/supplement non-Native theological concepts.

    Any dominant culture that does this to any minority culture is an insult.

  5. There is one aspect not addressed in the article.
    I have heard the argument that some churches do the sedar to help better understand the context of what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper. How would you respond to that argument?

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, just curious.

  6. I’ve been to two seder dinners. One was held at someone’s home, very informal, and was an awkward experience. The other was done in the church fellowship hall, as a way to teach those in the congregation who attended it what it meant. The pastor had drawn up a “guide” (he didn’t want to call it a bulletin) which explained each part of the seder. It explained the biblical references for each part of the meal (why hyssop? Why bitter herbs?), and why the Jews celebrated it back then. Then (around the third cup, if memory serves), it turned to an explanation of the context in which our Lord instituted the Holy Supper, and why we celebrate the way we do. After that explanation, it was clear that the words of institution were not a metaphorical moment of teaching, but an incontrovertibly liturgical statement of fact: “This is my body,” made at a specific point in the liturgy, to say something specific about the substitutionary atonement. In the end, the pastor used the congregation’s impulse to have a seder meal as an opportunity to teach about the historical and liturgical context of the blessings in the Lord’s Supper.

  7. @Andrew #5

    An answer is that the contemporary Jewish Seder is not the same as that celebrated by the Lord during the Last Supper. Much of the contemporary Seder service developed later.

    Another argument, in the form of a question, is this: Do we have to personally become blind, lame, or deaf in order to understand that Jesus heals us of our sins and, ultimately, of all our diseases?

  8. I’ve traditionally been in the same camp of disagreeing with Christians holding Seder meals. First of all, I didn’t understand the fascination, but mostly I disagreed because they would often do it on Maundy Thursday and this Seder would now overshadow the new meal that the Lord has given us to celebrate.
    With that said, I recently had a Jews of Jesus missionary (LCMS Lutheran) conduct a “Christ in the Passover” presentation at our church. We didn’t hold a full Seder meal, but rather he walked us through the Seder (liturgy) and explained the different parts of the Passover meal. He did this in an hour presentation or so, and he did an outstanding job pointing to the true Passover Lamb and to the Supper of our Lord. Also a major emphasis was that the Jews that don’t believe in Christ missed the point of the Seder. Their Seder is incomplete because they missed Elijah. They missed the true Bread of Life. They missed the one who allows us to drink the cup of salvation. They miss the whole point of the Seder.
    This was a great presentation. It also allows for our people to see some of the Jewish antecedents to our liturgical life. Also, it emphasized the need for Jews to be reached with the Gospel, which is something that some Evangelical theology would reject for the sake of their Zionism.
    Not sure that I would regularly celebrate a Seder meal in my congregation, but I certainly would endorse a good Lutheran presentation on Christ in the Passover.

  9. Thanks for the article. As an ex-Evangelical, I have family and friends, both in America and Austria, who are infatuated with the inner-hidden-deeper-secret meaning of Christianity, supposedly found in its Jewish roots. Those same Christians deny the true presence of Christ Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper while embracing the radical Reformation’s rebellious, imprudent, and adolescent rejection of centuries of good teaching and practice within the Church the past 2,000 years. Anything that sounds or looks like Rome must, therefore, be rejected, including Lutheranism.

    I think that while many find Evangelicalism shallow and ahistorical, they prefer speculating on what the church must have been like as a Jewish movement in the first century. They end up with something speculative and make up by pious imaginations. Such Evangelicals are also often strong Zionists.

    I am puzzled by this whole movement.

  10. Robert #7 makes a good point. I bought a set of Passover Memory Cards (it’s the Memory game with Passover Seder meal pictures on it), I took out all the modern Jewish things (Also a point by Robert #7). My kids have learned all the elements of the Passover meal by playing the Memory game and we didn’t have to act out like we were doing it at all. It was a great set because it included the 10 plagues leading up to the Passover. Nothing like trying to match up sets of dead cows and rivers of blood! My kids loved it, by the way!

  11. @Rob Olson #9

    The “Sacred Name” and “Hebrew Roots” movements are cults as far outside orthodox Christianity as Seventh-Day Adventism and the Watchtower Society are.

    These movements usually teach salvation by keeping the Law and using the “Sacred Name.” Many groups in the “Sacred Name” and “Hebrew Roots” movements reject the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, and teach that He was just a man appointed by God to be the Messiah.

    People involved in these movements are as much a mission field as Mormons, Muslims, et al.

  12. Rob Olson :Thanks for the article. As an ex-Evangelical, I have family and friends, both in America and Austria, who are infatuated with the inner-hidden-deeper-secret meaning of Christianity, supposedly found in its Jewish roots.

    It’s like a combination between Gnosticism and Ebionism.

  13. “First, and most obvious, unless you have Jewish ancestors, you really have no business celebrating the Passover. God neither brought you nor your forefathers out of the land of Egypt, which is the primary commemoration of the Passover.”

    I had trouble with this line. Were Moses and the Israelites not our ancestors in the faith? We are all members of the new Israel (God’s people) through faith in Christ. Being part of God’s people has never been about bloodlines (Romans 9:6-8; we are children of the promise). In that sense, why shouldn’t we be able to celebrate the Passover as a remembrance of what God did for us (His people) long ago?

    To take it another step: could we say that in a sense, we’ve never stopped celebrating Passover? Jesus didn’t say, “Stop celebrating the Passover and have Holy Communion now.” Instead, what he does is transform it into something ever bigger and better than ever before. Now, we celebrate not just how God spared the His people through the blood of the lamb, we celebrate how God spares each of us from sin through the blood of THE Lamb, Jesus. God’s judgment passes over us today, because we are covered by Christ’s blood. An even greater Passover. :)

    I’d be curious to hear any thoughts in response.

  14. Josh,
    I think part of what you said is actually the main point of the original post. We already are celebrating a greater Passover, what’s the point of celebrating the Seder meal?

    And I agree with the first part of your post as well. The meal was given not to modern day “Jewish” people, but to God’s chosen people, of whom we are a part now. Saying that it’s ok if you have Jewish ancestors but wrong if you don’t does puzzle me. The dinner was not given to them (modern Jews) either since they have rejected God. If anyone is Jewish/Christian, then they would be celebrating the greater passover (Lord’s Supper) with us anyway. So they needn’t worry about the Seder meal either. I’m sure I’ve confused everyone now.

  15. I remember Dr. Brighton one day in seminary class responding to a question regarding Christians trying to emulate the Passover Seder, “Gentlemen, when you get to your parishes, don’t do it! It will do nothing more than confuse your people.”

    In Christ, Clint

  16. Is there a difference between emulating/celebrating on one hand and using it as a springboard to teach about the Lord’s Supper? The former seems to vest the Jewish rite with liturgical authority unsuited for the Christian, while the latter seems to use it catechetically.

    I think liturgically performing a full seder dinner might be akin to communing with Jews. But using it to explain the roots of the Lord’s Supper might be… helpful for teaching. Again, if one understands the context of the meal in the upper room, it’s difficult to claim that Jesus was using metaphorical language. Perhaps this is better done in a bible study than as a seder meal?

  17. The Seder supper is an invention of 10th century rabbis and bears little if any resemblance to the actual Passover supper celebrated by Jesus and His disciples. That comes to me from an orthodox Jewish seminarian turned Lutheran. I believe him.
    And if you are going to celebrate the Passover because that’s what Jesus did, then go all the way. Purchase a lamb, ritually cuts its throat, put the blood on your doorposts and do the thing right. After all, you want Christians to experience what Jesus did, right?
    Just don’t do it. We have a much better meal. We have a better table. These were a shadow of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Passover meals are a way to Zionize the Christian community. Let the Evangelicals do it all they want. We have something better. We have the thing itself. IMHO

  18. I come from a Jewish ancestry, and I have only done this once, in an LCMS Church. Never saw, tasted, or heard the Seder, before then.
    The only thing I remember, is both our boys (they were very little) when the “bitter herbs” came up, they tried em, eyes got big, started to “leak” quietly, and tongues were stuck out, for Mumma to get the green bits off w/a napkin. Much water was drank…lol

    Why would anyone would encourage this or play Seder, why? If Christ gave us a new Passover, His own Body & Blood, doing this or justifing this, is beyond me. Ya don’t have to do Seder, to have people taste, show, or explain what it would have been. Save it for Adult Bible class on Sundays or Vacation Bible School, not on Passover, Christ’s Sacrifice has already allowed us, to be passed over.

  19. We eat lamb on easter, but I wouldn’t say we do Passover. Of course, there’s also a ham involved too, so I suppose it’s “Kosher ham…”

  20. I do not think we should celebrate a Passover meal. However I do feel an experiential bible study that goes through the motions to show how each event points to Christ is a very beneficial exercise. We of course are all spiritual descendants of Abraham through Christ. Have a blessed Holy Week.

  21. I would think that the Maundy Thursday service with Holy Communion IS the New Passover? I heard a Pastor say, also, that when Christ celebrated the Passover there was no meat on the table because He was the Lamb. If that is correct, would not a seder meal using lamb be wrong? (Unless they are doing the one prescribed before leaving Egypt and not the Passover Jesus celebrated with His disciples.)

    Teaching the connection between Passover and the New Passover is good but could be done through a Bible class. I have attended seders before. In fact, Apple of His Eye ministry from St. Louis used to conduct seders at churches who wanted to have one.

  22. I was asked a couple of years ago about conducting a seder. We didn’t do it, but thought that the only way I would was in this context:
    1.) There was a CPH Lenten Series called Christ: Our Passover which demonstrated how Christ was the fulfillment of all that was proclaimed and remembered in the Passover meal.

    2.) The meal would be conducted prior to the Maundy Thursday Divine Service, not as a replacement of it. This would merely be a “connecting the dots” session of placing the previous six weeks of sermons, and the sermon they were about to hear, in the context of the meal. In response to Robert’s question (Comment #7), you don’t have to become blind, lame or deaf to understand Jesus’ healing, but sometimes a temporary role play does help give you a better understanding. (I attended an LWML Joy Shop where the presenter was from an LCMS blind ministry. At lunch, every other person at the table was blindfolded and had to eat their meal as though they were blind. It was as helpful for those not blindfolded to learn how not to pamper or patronize as it was for those who were blindfolded to realize just how great the challenge was.)

    3.) I would use the catechetical structure of the Seder to highlight the importance of the father in instructing his household in the faith – not just at Pascha/Easter, but the whole year through.

    I eventually dropped the idea because, as also mentioned in Robert’s comment, all I could find were later renditions of the haggadah. (I didn’t really think that Jesus used the Folger’s Coffee Haggadah at the Last Supper.)

    It was later that year, outside of Lententide, that I did make reference to the insufficiency of the Seder, particularly its modern form, by pointing out that the Dayenu (“It would have been enough…”) fails to take into account that sin is a God sized problem that can only be answered by a God sized solution. Nothing would have been enough, save Christ’s perfect life, passion, death, resurrection and ascension for us.

  23. @Carol Rutz #4

    This reminds me of the local ELCA congregation getting a large photo on the front page of our local newspaper because they are offering a “meditation” maze painted on a canvas rug covering most of the floor of their nave. (Of course, they try to give it more dignity by calling it a labyrinth.)

  24. There is an aspect, that I’ve heard, don’t know, but heard is being missed. The Passover lamb, is hand raised, brought into the house, not just cared for but loved.

    Every day, it was loved & cared for, then at Passover, slaughtered for Seder. Is this true?
    Why would anyone want to play games, with what God did in Egypt that Holy & terrible night? This is the meal of flight.
    This just all seems to be playing games w/Sola Scriptura. Who does that, w/forethought & intent, whatever it may be?

  25. @Dutch Stoeberl #25

    Most of these bapticostal “evangelicals” celebrating mock seders probably just buy some lamb at the grocery store.

    Dutch Stoeberl :This just all seems to be playing games w/Sola Scriptura. Who does that, w/forethought & intent, whatever it may be?

    Enthusiasts, anabaptists, restorationists, cultists, and our modern-day “evangelicals.” It is in fact not Sola Scriptura at all: http://bible-researcher.com/mathison.html

  26. Rob Olson :Thanks for the article. As an ex-Evangelical, I have family and friends, both in America and Austria, who are infatuated with the inner-hidden-deeper-secret meaning of Christianity, supposedly found in its Jewish roots. Those same Christians deny the true presence of Christ Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper while embracing the radical Reformation’s rebellious, imprudent, and adolescent rejection of centuries of good teaching and practice within the Church the past 2,000 years. Anything that sounds or looks like Rome must, therefore, be rejected, including Lutheranism.
    I think that while many find Evangelicalism shallow and ahistorical, they prefer speculating on what the church must have been like as a Jewish movement in the first century. They end up with something speculative and make up by pious imaginations. Such Evangelicals are also often strong Zionists.
    I am puzzled by this whole movement.

    Here are two more good articles related to this subject:

    http://bible-researcher.com/gal6-16.html

    http://bible-researcher.com/tetragrammaton.html

  27. @Andrew #5
    When you consider how Luther reformed the Supper and taught it in his catechisms and elsewhere, you see that he focused exclusively on the words of institution. Not on the prayers and rituals that were once or are now surrounding it in a worship setting. The sufficiency of Scripture leads to the certainty of Scripture in this way: we do not have to chase after some hypothetical ritual context (which may be inauthentic after all, as Pr. Cornelius points out) to understand what Jesus gives us in his Supper. We do not need to look further than his very own words. Btw, as seen already in Zwingli, the Reformed have a tendency to look elsewhere to “understand” the Supper since they will not believe Christ’s words in their simple meaning.
    Blessed Maundy Thursday to all.

  28. @Nicholas #26
    Most of these bapticostal “evangelicals” celebrating mock seders probably just buy some lamb at the grocery store.

    The booklets with the Passover ritual which I was given at the grocery store in NJ years ago, had a picture of the required “artifacts” for the Seder. I say “artifacts” because I don’t think any of it was intended to be eaten. The “lamb” was represented by a cross cut piece of a leg bone.

    What our churches call “Seder” these days is even further from the fact. Our “Lutheran Student Center” put one on and celebrated the Sacrament in the midst of it. Inasmuch as the bread and wine were passed around the table, and the words might be said by a male or female, depending on who was next to you, I have trouble believing it was any more than theatre.

  29. What about Pentecost? Wasn’t that was on OT “holiday”? Should we not celebrate that either? I don’t understand the desire of the “confessionals” to impose their opinion on others and (try to) use Scripture to do it. Why, brothers? Its OK to have opinions that differ from others; why do some of you have to attempt to validate your opinion by distorting Scripture? How is any of this serving the Gospel? Is this not just a matter of eating and drinking- as so much of this post- and the responses- seems to indicate? What does the Bible say about matters of eating and drinking?
    Sometimes I wonder if they ever taught the meaning of the word, “adiaphora” at Ft. Wayne.

  30. With all due respect, the logic used here would lead one to assert that the Ten Commandments are completely irrelevant to the Christian, because they were part of the Sinai Covenant. One’s forefathers may not have been led out of Egypt, but if one is human, and a believer, one has been led out of the bondage of slavery to sin by Jesus, who Moses foreshadowed. One’s forefathers may not have put the blood of a lamb on the lintels of their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over them, but if one is human and a believer, the blood of Jesus has covered us so that death will pass over us for eternity. To assert that the Passover has no relevance for the Christian would seem to be akin to asserting that the foundation has no relevance to the roof, or the root no relevance to the flower. We are certainly at liberty to celebrate or not to celebrate the Passover, as the Lord leads, but those LCMS congregations and/or families and individuals who choose to do so are surely just as firmly planted in the life and heart of Jesus as those who do not. May He guide and bless your meditations on these matters.

  31. It never ceases to amaze me how easily theologians with big degrees can screw everything up. It’s no wonder God had to use ordinary, unschooled men – or babes as Jesus called them – in order to reveal great truths. Acts 4:13; Mathew 11:25.

    What part of did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets do you not understand? The Passover is a law that came through a prophet. Jesus came to fulfill but not to change any law at any point as He clearly stated. Mathew 5:17, 18.

    I’ve provided links to two free booklets on the Internet that explains why serious Christians need to keep the Passover and other Holy Days God commanded, and cease keeping pagan holidays made up by men with power, privilege, and theology degrees designed to mislead the people.

    God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind
    http://www.ucg.org/booklet/gods-holy-day-plan-promise-hope-all-mankind/

    Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?
    http://www.ucg.org/booklet/holidays-or-holy-days-does-it-matter-which-days-we-observe/

  32. @Rev. Clint K. Poppe #16

    We did this dinner for years at the church I attended. I don’t recall anyone getting confused between the two, and certainly I did not but I thought it was a great time to get together to learn about some historical activities that took place. I don’t recall that we were celebrating it in the sense of replacing the Lord’s Supper. I enjoyed every one I went to and in fact we as a family have ventured to other church’s to sit in on theirs too. I would go to another one if it presented itself to me.

    As with anything Christ discussed about these types of issues, we as Christians need to be aware of our belief and faith and not be swayed by other activities around us. I don’t think going to a ceder dinner is going to lead anyone down the darkened path. If it did, perhaps they were leaning in that direction anyhow.
    Peace.

  33. I had the same experience, John E. Every few years we held a seder before the Maundy Thursday service. It was simply done as a Bible Study to help teach and visualize the foreshadowing of Christ and His meal to come…but with food and whole families. It certainly wasn’t done in a way that made it more important than The
    Lord’s Supper and I find it very
    presumptuous to assume many people
    attending didn’t have the proper
    appreciation for the sacrament. Our
    church’s attendance at Maundy Thursday
    service was the same if we had a sedar or
    not. I also have a problem with the “cultural
    appropriation” claim. As a Christian I will
    claim the Old and New Testament as my
    own.

  34. @Former Lutheran teacher #30
    Sometimes I wonder if they ever taught the meaning of the word, “adiaphora” at Ft. Wayne.

    They did. That’s why confessionals don’t use “adiaphora” as an excuse for butchering the historic liturgy, play acting the service, or any other aberration restless minds devise.

  35. Greetings in the name of our risen Lord! I am a Jewish believer. I would like to take this opportunity to wish each one of you a most blessed holy season. I met the Lord as an adult 27 years ago ( I am now 60), and was subsequently baptized and confirmed Lutheran. For many years I have served as the Music Director, organist and choir director of a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. My family joyfully celebrates a Messianic Passover at home, and my church has intermittently done so, to the joy and edification of all who participated. We give thanks that the Lord has led us out of slavery to sin, through the Red Sea waters of this life ruled by the prince of this world, and safely to our new land in eternity with Him. We give thanks that through His sacrifice of Himself as our Passover Lamb, his blood on the doorposts of our hearts and lives has caused death to pass over us. We give thanks that the cup of redemption He drank at His last seder meal is our own cup of redemption. We give thanks that He offered His own body and life blood through bread and wine in the new covenant in exactly the same way that Jewish bridegroom offers them, sealing his betrothal to his bride. He then goes away to prepare a place for her, ready when the time of the marriage comes. He does not drink of the fruit of the vine from the time of the betrothal until then. Even so our Lord has gone to prepare a place for us, His precious Bride. What wondrous miracles! I pray that you each be filled to overflowing with all joy in believing as you celebrate the Resurrection in a few days. I pray that when the worship has finished, the Lord’s shalom shall cover your households and your ministries. In Jesus’ name. God bless you.

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