These things have become increasingly popular, particularly around this time of year. The idea is that someone, occasionally a Messianic Jew often a Christian who has done some research sets out a demonstration of a Jewish Passover meal. As the Last Supper was Jesus’ sitting down to eat the Passover, it is felt that this can be a helpful way for Christians to remember and reflect on the events of that Thursday night 2000 years ago.
However, this year, it seems to have got a little controversial with people on social media noting that the concept of a Christian Seder (Seder being the technical term for the meal observed) doesn’t go down at all well with the Jewish community. It is seen as a form of cultural appropriation.
I must admit that I’ve never been that keen on the concept. To be clear, I’m not saying that this is some wicked, heretical ide you should never do. We’ve had them at churches I’ve been part of. However, its not something I would advise and personally I wouldn’t lead one.
Now, first of all, I want to say that my reasons here are not so much about appropriation. Indeed, I’m not sure that I saw all those people currently getting upset about Christian Seders being too worried or outspoken about the problem with the rise of AntiSemitism over the past few years. But furthermore, it is central to Christian thinking and practice that our beliefs are rooted in and a fulfilment of the Law and Prophets (The Jewish Scriptures) and explicitly of the Passover. Paul in Romans 11 tells us that we are grafted into Israel. God’s people have not been replaced but Gentiles have been brought into that people.
Indeed, it was a little ironic to see a tweet where someone said “Our Jewish brothers and sisters do not want us to appropriate their seder.” I think the whole point of why they don’t want us doing it is that they specifically do not consider Christians to be “brothers and sisters.” We are of course welcome as guests at the family meal but cannot take on responsibility for the family meal ourselves. For the record, this is a legitimate argument for them to make. The point is that we cannot on the one hand attempt to claim that all religions are one and then start to split hairs about which bits of those religions are available for everyone else.
However, I have two specific issues with the Christian Seder. First of all, it seems to be based on a misunderstanding that it will get us closer to Jesus. You see, the meal as now practiced and what is demonstrated at these seders is not necessarily an example of how Jesus would have observed it. In its current form it seems to go back to the Rabbinic period and to forms of liturgy and practice instituted after the destruction of the Temple and after Christ. If you want to get closer to Christ, then the best thing to do is open the pages of Scripture.
Secondly, I think we need to start from the point that, yes, Jesus has fulfilled the Passover and that means that the focus of our attention is somewhere different. Jesus used the Passover to focus in on bread and wine as pointing to him as the true Passover lamb, the one who delivers not from Egypt but from the slavery of sin and death. The early church took up those symbols and incorporated them into weekly life and worship. Observing a Passover meal is not taking us back to the early church.
Here at Easter, I want our focus to be laser like on the work of Christ on the Cross, without distraction. The Gospel writers are careful to put their attention on that one specific element of the meal. They could if they had wanted to have picked up on each and every element of the Passover theme and observed what Jesus did with it but they didn’t. Because what we need to remember, not just tonight but weekly and daily is that Christ gave his body and shed his blood for us and that this means there is a new covenant.