It’s becoming relatively common for Christian churches to observe a seder meal on Maundy Thursday, followed by Holy Communion. Since the gospels describe Jesus’ last meal as held during Passover, these churches attempt to honor the occasion by teaching about Passover. Some believe they are honoring Jesus’ Jewish roots and seek out Jewish texts and rabbis for help in making the meal feel “authentic.”
But Passover meals don’t belong in the Christian Holy Week.
One reason is historical. The Passover seder had not reached its current form at the time of Jesus. It was substantially shaped in later centuries under the direction of rabbinic thought. Jesus may have eaten a meal at Passover, but it didn’t look or sound just like today’s seder. Using modern haggadahs (the texts for Passover) as a window into an ancient practice isn’t “authentic.”
Another, more important, dimension of this issue is interfaith sensitivity. Many Jews find Christian use of the seder during Holy Week offensive–yet one more case of taking a distinctively Jewish observance and superimposing a Christian meaning on it. If Christians are truly interested in Jewish practices, they should separate the seder from their own liturgical practices. Pay attention to Passover sometime other than Holy Week. Ask what it means to Jews. Learn when and why the haggadah was formulated.
This sensitivity is especially important during Holy Week, historically the time of greatest anti-Jewish violence by Christians. For hundreds of years, Christians in their fervent reenactment of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion have made the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the gospel of John their own–to disastrous results.
Assuming that modern Judaism is exactly like the Judaism of the first century doesn’t honor Judaism as the living, rich tradition that it is. Nor does it help Christians think clearly about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Christians give uncritical support of all policies of the modern state of Israel simply because “Jesus was a Jew.” Such thinking denies the role that politics has played in creating modern Israel and in determining its policies toward Palestinians. Indeed, many Palestinian Christians believe that Christian Zionism remains the greatest obstacle to just peace in the Middle East.
So, Christians, let’s celebrate and honor our own story and traditions rather than taking others’ as our own.