Christians Celebrating Passover

One of the things my small group from church has done during the Lenten and Easter season is to celebrate Passover with a Seder meal. Generally, we've used a Christianized Haggadah connecting Jesus to the Passover lamb. It's interesting, in this regard, how the gospel of John arranges the chronology of the Passion week to have Jesus crucified at the exact hour when the passover lambs were being slaughtered on the Day of Preparation before the Passover. In this, Jesus is seen as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

(Fun Fact: The Synoptic gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke--have the Passover synced with Jesus eating the Last Supper with this disciples. The disagreement between John's placement of the Passover--Jesus on the cross when the paschal lambs were being slaughtered--and the Synoptic placement--the Eucharist as the new "Passover" meal--has, as you might suspect, being a subject of much discussion and debate.)

Anyway, my small group has been talking about the Haggadah we might use, Jewish or Christian, and I've been comparing and contrasting. So I was wondering, does anyone have a Haggadah they have used, online or print, that they have enjoyed? And why?

Second question for any Jewish readers: I'm curious about your take about Christians celebrating Passover. How is this viewed in Jewish communities? Is it a compliment, a sign of rapprochement? Or is it seen as seen as co-opting and a distortion? Do you think it's nice or mildly insulting?

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

24 thoughts on “Christians Celebrating Passover”

  1. Have you seen the Haggadah at the Velveteen Rabbi - it is superb

  2. My thinking is that it is improper, outside of fellowship with actual Jewish persons (of Christian faith or not), to celebrate Passover as gentiles. In relationship or fellowship with Jews, perhaps; the more important point, however, is that Christians have their own paschal feast -- it's called the Eucharist!

  3. I can't wait to see if any Jews respond. I have spoken to several and read several and not a one has had anything good to say about it at all. The essence of what I hear is, "First you stole our crazy guy (that's OK, we don't really want him, you can have him) and called him God -- blasphemy! Then you stole our Bible and called it the 'Old Testament' and said that it doesn't really mean much without your special spin on it. And now you steal our most beloved tradition and re-define it in terms of your blasphemous theology." Yeah. Don't blame them. Have you ever read the Declaration of War against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality? Same thing.

    Frankly, it seems silly to me.

    First, it is sad that we Christians are so often utterly unaware that we actually have a history re the Seder and have produced well-reasoned statements (well, some of them were just reactionary against the Jews who persecuted us in the very beginnings, but still) about why we don't do it. I mean, there are reasons we don't do the Seder. I'm leery of Christians who jump on the Passover bandwagon without being informed of our own Christian history and theology and tradition on the subject.

    Second, what's wrong with celebrating Holy Week as Christians do, starting with the Palm Sunday procession and the reading of the Passion Gospel, followed by all those daily Masses/communion services, including Tenebrae with its dark and gloomy mystery, then the Mandatum Novum (washing of feet) on Maundy Thursday, the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday with those hard-hitting Imprecations, the stark nothingness of Holy Saturday followed by -- followed by! -- followed by -- O the glory!! -- the Great and Holy Vigil of EASTER! At midnight! With the Paschal fire! And the Paschal Candle! And the chanting of the Exsultet! And the Prophecies! And the baptisms! And the renewal of baptismal vows! And the singing and the chanting and the all-round God-awful glory of it all!!!!!!!!

    Whew! Who has time or even need for anything else? Where would you squeeze in a Seder? And why would you feel the need for it?

    But then again, I know that some of my brothers and sisters have, over the years, jettisoned all this glory. So maybe a Seder seems like a necessity. Lord knows, they don't have much of their own to mark the time as special, so I guess borrowing is perhaps the best option.

  4. I've always celebrated the Passover with the Jewish Haggadah. I have a printed text. Because I am a student learning Hebrew it just seems right to observe the passover in Hebrew.

  5. Wow! On re-reading I'm pretty impressed with myself, but I bet I could have made it even snottier and more condescending if I had tried harder. I'll do better next time.

  6. In my church growing up, the most sacred of Easter traditions was the annual Easter play put on by the pitch-challenged choir. I don't know about you guys, but I won't be offended if our Jewish friends borrowed that particular tradition :P

  7. I think some of the people in our small group celebrate the Passover liturgically and sacramentallly. For my own part, I enjoy the Passover educationally. I like learning about Judaism and being reminded of the Jewishness of Jesus and the Christian story.

    I kind of feel about the Passover experience we do the same way I feel about attending Catholic mass. I do both seriously and prayerfully but I don't "own" the experience as "mine." I realize I'm an outsider. Still, I benefit from the experiences.

  8. In my former parish the inter-faith committee group organised, in the last few years, a Jewish Passover which was led by a rabi (however this was not set at the appropriate official jewish passover day). I have also been fortunate enough to be invited to a Passover by a Jewish friend. I approach this experience in educational terms. It is a reminder of where we come from, and that Jesus was a jew. A part from this, as Catholic, I sense that liturgically speaking, I am in no need of anything else than the Easter Triduum.

  9. You know what's the best? Having a dual-faith background where you can celebrate Passover on the Monday night with your mother's family and then celebrate Easter on the Sunday with your dad's family.

    In all seriousness, though, I think Christians need to tread carefully around Jewish traditions. Knowing and understanding Christianity's deeply Jewish roots is one thing; cultural appropriation is another, and the line isn't always clear.

  10. Ideally, if Christians want to learn about Passover, they should attend a real seder as a guest of practicing Jews. I don't believe the celebration of "Christian seders" is appropriate, however. Not only does it smack (as someone said below) of Christians (mis)appropriating yet more from the Jewish tradition; but also it runs (in my opinion) contrary to biblical teachings about Gentile Christians not needing to adopt Jewish law. (The only exception I might see would be "messianic Jews" -- I wish Scripture spoke to the subject of whether Paul's language of "Christ our Passover" meant that the first, Jewish Christians actually stopped celebrating the seder or not.)

    The fact that Jesus' "last supper" (of course, it was really nothing of the kind!) was most likely a seder is important, and should be taught and preached; and Christians can see prefigurings and other levels of meaning in Jesus' reinterpretation of its elements. But Christians should no more celebrate the seder than they should celebrate Hanukkah or Purim -- or Ramadan, or the festivals of any other world religion. Respecting the boundaries is part of loving our neighbors of other faiths.

  11. I have to confess some sympathy for seanlotz's comment earlier. Christians who want seders 'n' such seem always to be Christians who have discarded (and sometimes have contempt for) the historical Christian tradition, yet betray the authentic human need for liturgy and ritual by picking and choosing something else to fill the void they have created for themselves. I'm afraid such picking and choosing serves the ego more than it honors God.

    In addition, the Jewish passover was the type for which Christ's sacrifice is the antitype. To return to the type after its fulfillment has come (and He died *once* for all), is not only retrograde but seems almost -- dare I say it? -- blasphemous.

    Forgive me if I offend.

  12. I am a Christian married to a Jew. I asked my husband your question. His answer lies more on the "it's coopting and offensive" side. He said that for him, the Passover Seder is meant to be a celebration of a particular event (God freeing the people from slavery). To use that same ritual with different words and meanings assigned to the ritual means it isn't a Seder any more. You can do that, just don't call it a Passover Seder, because it is no longer celebrating that event known as Passover. He likened it to taking Kwanzaa, and saying, Okay, we're going to use all the same objects and rituals to celebrate Italian heritage. But we're still going to call it Kwanzaa. When you change the focus or the meaning, it's no longer the same thing.

    I have prepared and participated in Jewish Passover Seders in our family for years. As a Christian, I find that there is plenty of astounding, wonderful theological meaning in the Jewish Seder as it is, and there is no need to add to it.

    I am no historian so I can't say whether the Christian ritual of communion (eucharist) derives directly from Passover. Communion seems quite similar to the weekly Sabbath blessings over the wine and bread. But you could say that we Christians DO have our own 'seder' but we should not call it a Passover Seder. Because it isn't.

    About 5 years ago, I presented at my church a Jewish Passover Seder, using an abbreviated haggadah that I put together myself, pulling texts from other haggadahs we have in our house, with the goal of fitting the experience into a one-hour class. (If you would like to see this haggadah, please e-mail me, or if that doesn't work leave a comment on my blog.) The purpose of doing this was mainly educational. Everyone seemed appreciative, but the following year some other people put together a Christianized Seder. To me, it seemed fake.

  13. I agree with Bob. I am in an EfM (Education For Ministry) group consisting of 9 women. We recently had a Seder using the Haggadah that the Velveteen Rabbi put together. It is excellent and so poetic! A friend of mine who is Jewish, invited us to her house where all of the "proper" dishes were used. It was a wonderful experience for us Christians. She loved guiding us through it too!

  14. Christians were exclusively Jewish for the first 14 years or so (and even afterwards for some time, there were two basic sects; those of the Circumcision and those of the UnCircumcision). So a Passover celebration is more authentically original to Christianity than the Easter/Lent/Holy Week stuff that got grafted in much later (and apart from any Scriptural encouragement for such).

    Also, as you'll recall, during the "Last Supper", Yahshua specifically said, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup..." (1 Cor 11:25,26), indicating that he expected his followers to continue celebrating Passover.

    We Gentiles short-sightedly distanced ourselves from our Jewish beginnings, confusing the injunctions to not seek justification by being Jewish with the idea that we should avoid being "Jewish". We have thus lost much insight we would otherwise have, I believe.

  15. "Christians were exclusively Jewish for the first 14 years or so..."

    No doubt. But the two religions have not been the same for almost 2000 years, and I don't believe it is either helpful or faithful to the fullness of the Gospel to pretend as though all that time (including many centuries of ugly anti-Semitism) hasn't intervened.

    I also think your interpretation of 1 Cor 11 assumes a bit much, since the very same letter also has Paul chastising the Corinthians thus: "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's Supper" (11.20) -- by implication, it should be. The Acts states that the earliest Christians gathered frequently for "the breaking of the bread," suggesting that even in the early days the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus' name had become separate from the Passover seder.

    I am all for learning about our Jewish roots, but education is not the same as practice -- nor, in my opinion, should it be.

  16. Though not uniformly and exclusively, the center of mass of the comments here is decidedly on the "don't be presumptuous" side that discourages Christians from co-opting a Jewish liturgy. And there is no shortage of good reasoning. Neither is there any doubt that Christianity's track record vis-a-vis Judaism through the intervening millennia has been one tragic, inexcusable violation after another.

    But is it possible to bring a sense of generosity to the question, perhaps in the form of assuming that Christians these days - who often buckle under the strain of reckoning with a badly distorted, westernized, consumption-oriented praxis - have discerned a need to walk back uphill to their headwaters in respect and reverence, and thereby to reconnect with a rabbi who, in a great many cases, actually *has* transformed their lives and given them a vision of shalom?

    For qb, this is precisely the effect that Brueggemann has had, who in his Old Testament scholarship gives voice to the Heschels and the Levinases and Levensons, voice that would not have reached Christians but for Brueggemann's affirmative and careful and attentive scholarly work...and for his insistence that the Old Testament be allowed to speak for itself without retrospective impositions on the text?

    Is it possible? And if it were true, would that not be an occasion to rejoice together at the opportunities for cultural exchange (at least)?

    Finally, at least in regard to Mark, Matthew, and John, what if the participatory effort to attend to the Jewish rootage of the evangelists' stories functioned in a salutary way by forcing Christians to explore, learn about, and then reckon with the almost exclusively Jewish historical context of the stories as we have them?


  17. Furthermore, is it not possible that Christians "rediscovering" the Jewish liturgy is an example of how YHWH is fulfilling his promise to "bless the nations" through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

  18. I don't mean to imply that 2000 years of time hasn't intervened. But that history has been mostly one of separation between Jew and Gentile, and Scripture tells us there should be "no Jew or Greek". It seems to me that anything that helps the two groups to understand and identify with each other is a good thing.

    Sure, education might help a Gentile Christian understand his Jewish roots, but until he practices those things, does he really get that education in full? You indicate that you believe so; I think education is greatly enhanced by hands-on participation.

    I'm unsure what you think is a "bit much" about my interpretation. The passage plainly states that Yahshua said this on the night he was betrayed, which according to Luke was Passover night during the Passover meal. It seems that Yahshua expected his disciples to "do this," to celebrate Passover, "often". Paul referring to this Passover night to inform the practice of the Lord's Supper does not change what Yahshua implied.

    It seems to me that if a Christian wants to observe Passover, he does so to the Lord, and if he doesn't want to observe Passover, he refrains to the Lord. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

  19. I realize this is an old post, but please do not celebrate Passover on your own as Christians. If you are invited to a seder at a Jewish home, please do go, learn, and enjoy yourselves. But celebrating Jewish holidays, especially "Christianized" versions of them, is inherently disrespectful to those of us who are Jewish - and who have suffered for being so.

    And please remember that the Judaism practiced during Jesus' lifetime is not the same as the Judaism practiced today. Just as Christianity evolved from the teachings of Jesus and the Gospels, combined with Second Temple Judaism, modern (primarily Rabbinic) Judaism also evolved from the Judaism practiced in that era. When you use our modern texts, you are co-opting modern Judaism in an attempt to learn about Second Temple Judaism, which doesn't even make sense.

  20. Frankly, as a Jew, I find Christians celebrating Passover Seders with a "Christian twist" to be appropriative and deeply offensive. The seder as it is known today is a product of rabbinic Judaism, and would have been unknown to Jesus and his followers. Christians over the centuries have burned Talmuds, accused Jews of blood libel, forced Jews into ghettos, and done everything in their power to oppress and silence Jewish liturgy because of Christian anti-Jewish sentiment that culminated in death on a scale that should make anyone hang their head in shame. But now, we're supposed to share one of our most sacred holidays because Christians want it and promise to be nice? That's frankly insulting and insane.

    Christians, you have 2000 years of liturgical traditions and holidays to pick and choose from. Use your own holidays, texts, and liturgies to celebrate your religion, and stop appropriating Jewish rituals. They are not yours. Judaism and Christianity come from a common origin point, but they are not the same -- and appropriating Jewish holidays and rituals just continues in the same historical trend of silencing and oppressing Jewish people at the convenience of Christians.

    Attend Jewish seders all you want. Talk to Jews about the meaning of Passover. But stop taking our holidays and warping them because you think they're "so meaningful." They might be meaningful and lovely, and you might admire them. But you have no more right to them than you have a right to your neighbor's car because you admire it.

  21. Richard, I asked my brother-in-law, who is Jewish, about this. He pointed out that my roots as a Christian are Jewish. I think it's important to clarify that when we as Christians celebrate Passover "in a Christian way," we're not trying to celebrate a Jewish Passover. We're celebrating our own redemption and the rich symbolism that must recognize our Jewish roots. It might be a little like eating American "Italian" food. People who have been to Italy tell me that our version of "Italian food" is a farce. I reply that it's not really Italian food ... it's a completely different thing: It's American-Italian food. It's a celebration of Americans who came from Italy ... or at least their food. Yes, we Christians are very different from Jews. But we can't deny that Judaism is our heritage. When we celebrate Passover, we aren't playing at being Jewish, we're trying to understand our roots better and how they nourish our Christianity. We understand our own Scriptures better when we discover the holy days of our Old Testament. Our own Apostle Paul told us, "Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are
    unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." (I Cor 5:7) How can we understand that if we ignore Passover because it isn't "our" holiday? You asked about Haggadahs. Here's mine:

Leave a Reply