I often joke that our Passover Seders are a bit like dinner theater, and if it were truly theater, that is what we might have said. After more than 20 years “on Broadway” to sold out Seders, our Passover Seder this year was not well attended, 50 adults and 13 children, but we still had a good time. The upside was that while we’ve never had less than 100 before, we had several new people who got a chance to celebrate Passover with us. And of course, I led the Seder in three other churches this year, with about 200 people in those other three churches together, sort of “off Broadway,” and I got to go home from one with matzo brie. So this morning, I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of leftover matzo brie and salmon. Yum!
But it does leave me to wonder why we had less interest this year. While I don’t believe that social media has that much impact on peoples’ opinions, the election not withstanding, it is interesting that this year there was so much on social media objecting to churches celebrating Passover. Two prominent Lutheran theologians weighed in, agreeing with an article that was published in Christianity Today, written by two Jewish rabbis who contend that “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal.”
The rabbis’ contention centers on the fact that the traditions associated with the Seder meal were not instituted until after the destruction of the Temple, long after Jesus was crucified. Yet in the same article they claim that Jews “have been celebrating the Passover Seder for millenia.” That is plural, meaning thousands of years. You see, the rabbis want to have it both ways. What they are not telling you is that the Hagaddah and other rituals of Passover may not have been written down until after the destruction of the Temple, but are part of the oral tradition that, according to them, goes back to Moses. But it is convenient to disconnect anything Jewish with Jesus by playing the “destruction of the Temple” card, effectively removing Jesus and the early Christian Church from any Jewish ritual.
Apart from their faulty logic, the most disturbing thing from them is their charge of insensitivity by Christians who are appropriating their customs. This is part of a larger arc on their part that seeks to deny Christians any continuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament. The unstated claim is that the Old Testament belongs to the Jews, and the New Testament is Christian, and “n’er the twain shall meet.” For this reason, ministries such as ours are deceptive by using Jewish symbols in worship, etc.
There are Jewish cultural symbols that are not biblical. But there are many biblical symbols that Christians are allowed to use and explore, and truly, even in “traditional worship settings” (whatever that is), much of what goes on is Jewish. Look around your sanctuary and you will see many things that come from biblical, Jewish, roots. Seven-branched candelabra, eternal flames, albs and stoles, and Hebrew words like Hosanna, Hallelujah, etc. You see, if you define adopting anything that is “Jewish” as being insensitive, you then are restricted from using any of the prophetic utterances of God that promise the Messiah and so clearly point to Jesus as Him. And that is the honest agenda of these rabbis.
Sadly, even prominent Lutheran theologians fall into that trap. One argues that the Passover Seder is akin to our practice of communion, and that those who celebrate the Seder “should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith. Call this ‘closed Passover.'” I don’t hold that remark against him, but I also don’t expect him to understand the Jewish ethos. In Judaism though, there is no such thing as a unified ecclesiastical community nor any corporate confession of faith. Judaism is not that dogmatic. The only true confession that Jews hold to be common is that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” (Yes, there is Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith, but very few of those who celebrate the Seder even know these much less believe them.)
The worst thing that comes from this whole online discussion is the disregarding of the value of celebrating the Passover Seder. Most objections by Christians about celebrating Passover lead from St. Paul’s counsel to Peter in Galatians 2:14, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'” The operative word here for Paul is “force,” and leads to a fear of anything Jewish as being Judaizing the Church.
But compelling and exercising freedom are two different things. We become so afraid of being Peter to Paul that we forget how to be Paul:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
The Passover Seder encourages faith, teaches theology, helps some understand culture, and most importantly, points to Jesus. And an honest reading of the texts make it very clear that Jesus did celebrate the Passover, along with many if not most of the traditions associated with it. The rabbis argue for respect of their cherished traditions, but these are ours too.