Four Answers

Kate writes out her discomfort with the increasing frequency with which Christians set up and proceed to “enact” seders. I’m with her on this (with certain reservations), though with different emphases and concerns; Christians just setting up and observing a seder feels every bit as creepy to me as would any non-Christians saying the words and performing the actions of the Eucharist — it’s a mode of ritual tourism, and if someone asks me about it, I firmly discourage them.
Answer number one: I except from my disapprobation the many people I know for whom Judaism constitutes a defining element in their identity, even though they now adhere to faith in Jesus. None of these is a Messianic Jew in the sense of “I converted and my Jewish friends and relations should, too”; all of the folks I have in mind approached Jesus in a way similar to the first generation of Jewish Christians, recognizing in Jesus an articulation of what they cherish about their heritage and identity as Jews (pardon me for speaking for y’all in theological ventriloquism; I’m going by what I’ve heard and observed, and first-person testimony would be more to the point, but this is my blog, so I’m doing my best). I do know people who have emphatically converted from Judaism to Christianity; they are not, as best I know, inclined to perpetuate their observance of Passover. Anyway, though, I’m not troubled by people observing a seder as one of several expressions of a living Judaic identity within Christian faith. I respectfully acknowledge my Jewish friends’ prerogative to declare that these are not truly Jews, that they have separated themselves from their heritage, but that’s not a call for me to make. From where I sit, this looks legit; your mileage will in all likelihood vary.
Second, I don’t meet many Christians who imitate a seder in order to experience what Jesus did. In fact, I don’t remember ever having been told that that was someone’s motivation. Overwhelmingly more often, I have been confronted with people who could not imagine why they might not do such a thing. They adhere to a deracinated spirituality that regards anything that a “religious” person does as fair game for appropriation, since every path leads to the same goal, all are equally valid, blah blah blah. I don’t know what to say about this except that I can’t offer a charitable account of how such a direly wrong-headed trivialization has attained so predominant a cultural ascendancy. Rather than blame-shift to other folks, I’ll simply say that such an attitude within the Episcopal Church bespeaks the erosion of our ministries of education and deliberation. If there are profound, theologically-rich explanations of why seders should be OK for Gentile Christians, they have not been called to my attention.
Third, I do see a value for Christians to learn more about Judaism from Jews (from sympathetic Gentiles where that’s needed, as some White folks teach African-American history and criticism). I whole-heartedly affirm their participation in seders on that basis, as invited guests of Jewish hosts. I’ll also reserve a space for deliberate simulation for strictly educational purposes, more comparable to stage performance or informal walk-through; these could be badly done, of course, but I think they fall under a different category.
Fourth, whenever Christians participate in such an observance, they should undertake concomitant soul-searching about the power dynamics and cultural politics to which Kate so forcefully points. Christian theological bigotry has built a system within which Judaism persistently figures as an exotically misguided Other, even when Christian-dominated cultures offer (sometimes “liberal-like-us,” sometimes “traditional-like-Others-should-be”) “good Jews” a share of approbation. The U.S. has elected an African-American president, and increasingly relegates racist talk to the deprecated outworlds of uncivilized discourse — but anti-Judaic prejudice persists and runs deep (always complicated by political considerations involving the state of Israel, a state whose existence was catalyzed by Western willingness to allow anti-Judaism to run rampant — so Christians can’t glibly slough off their complicity even in policies they may deplore).

14 thoughts on “Four Answers

  1. Would it be okay if we took a particular instantiation of this meal, truncated and ritualized it, sanitized it of most cultural markers, and then practiced it on a weekly or monthly basis as the core of Christian worship?

  2. I’m with you on all this, AKMA, but on your #2… “we should do a seder because Jesus did” is exactly what I hear most often from colleagues – especially when done on Maundy Thursday. Not that its an interesting spiritual practice to be appropriated, but that we can only really understand Maundy Thursday (and apparently, then, the Eucharist) if we do some version of a seder. Care to help me refute that claim too?

  3. I was just going to point again to Kate’s post, but I see that she’s pulled it down. Among the points she made in her original post, she included our uncertainty about what Passover observance in the first century would have been like; the abbreviated versions of the Haggadah that most Christians probably use; I don’t think she mentioned, but I will, that according to John’s Gospel it wasn’t yet Passover at the Last Supper. (Kate or others, feel free to help me here.)
    I’m surprised that your colleagues are so all-in for doing what Jesus did during Passiontide, Susie, but thanks for the correction. Henceforward I’ll note that I’ve heard of both justifications, both of which I find equally misguided.

  4. Thank you, AKMA.

    Our interim rector this year is “performing” a “Christian seder” to which I have been adamantly opposed. I have been unable to convince my co-parishioners that this is fundamentally offensive. But then, there are many things I have been unable to convince them are fundamentally offensive…..

  5. AKMA, I’ve just discovered this post, and it makes me sorry I pulled down my original discussion. The original post was my first attempt ever to publicly assert a potentially controversial opinion about Judaism and living as a Jew in a majority-Christian society. Unfortunately, the proximal result was that two acquaintances went to a great deal of trouble to show me that I couldn’t possibly object to any Christian appropriation of Jewish practice, and that I should indeed be grateful for such. Then a family member found it and was distressed by its “angry and intolerant” tone. I finally sent what I had written to an observant friend, and it was he who, while agreeing with me on the whole, pointed out the way in which I had perhaps been too harsh in conflating ignorance and evil. By this time, I felt too defeated to rework the piece more neutrally, so I took it down.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and considered response, and for the links here that lead to further reasoned discussion of the problem. I thought I was alone in this, but clearly I am not. I hope in the future I will be able to have a greater courage in my convictions.

  6. thanks AKMA, and Kate. I wasn’t offering a correction so much as trying to strengthen my own arguments… my first parish work had a tradition of a “christian seder” that I found so horribly offensive I wasn’t able to argue about it very well. I mostly sputtered “but its so OFFENSIVE” enough times that I ended up getting to design a different worship service for Maundy Thursday. Good result, bad way to get there: next time, I’ll have more to say 🙂

  7. Hi Kate, AKMA,

    I appreciate your thought provoking words, and I too find some of the Christian seders to be offensive or at the very least trite.

    In fact, in my opinion it is the last part of AKMA’s third category that is the most common and least helpful – demonstrations or fake walk thrus done as a show.

    However, I don’t see one category listed that is near and dear to me.

    Is it not a valuable thing for a Christian to, though not actually having any Judaic identity, embrace, enjoy, re-live, explore, etc the great faith tradition from which Christianity sprang?

    For my family, for that past 10 years this has meant a small, informal dinner some time prior to Easter where we, as a family, remember the slavery of the people of Israel and yes at the very end we remember that Jesus too shared a vaguely similar meal with his friends the night he was betrayed.

    I propose that, as an extension of category one, Christian families can be encouraged to create a tradition that respects, borrows from, and indeed loosely joins us to the great Judaic tradition of remembering God’s salvation from slavery. I don’t think this should be found offensive in fact I think it can be very instrumental, in keeping with category 4 above, in overcoming Christian theological bigotry.

  8. I don’t hold a seder every year — when Passover falls during Holy Week, for example, I’ve always been too occupied with church services and preparation for church services. But I deeply value it when I do, or when a Jewish friend invites me to one. I started observing Passover when I was in a long-term relationship with a Jewish partner, and kept observing it in years to come, as I went through a lengthy process to convert to Judaism. I didn’t convert — at the last minute, I backed out of the conversion service at the mikvah and appearance before the bet din — as I realized that at heart, I was a Christian who at the moment was fleeing the church, and I couldn’t with integrity vow allegiance to Judaism to the exclusion of all other religions if Christianity was included as an ‘other religion’). It would feel strange to me if I felt compelled to give up seders after years of attending and, more often than not, hosting (what can I say? I’m a good cook, and my matzoh ball soup is to die for).

    I will say, though, that every ‘Christian seder’ I’ve been to or read the haggadah for has made me feel embarrassed, and usually pretty queasy besides. Passover is the feast remembering and celebrating Israel’s liberation from slavery. Holy Week and Easter are Christian observances remembering Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, his death on the cross, and his being raised by God. Different traditions, difference observances. Trying to turn Passover into an occasion for Christians to suggest (as happens all too often, and especially at so-called ‘Christian seders’) that Jews weren’t and aren’t aware of the significance of their own traditions is incredibly offensive.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post!

  9. I’ll try to be concise. The Passover, to me, is something that has so many important symbols in it regarding the Crucifixion, I think there is much to be learned by having a seder. Even if it is historical and nothing else. However, I think there are very important spiritual lessons to be learned by participating in a seder meal. You really can’t disconnect the Old Testament from the New. Without a proper understanding of the Old Testament, I think your understanding of the New is not, or cannot be, as full. While I agree that many seders are done poorly, and/or with the wrong goal, I disagree that there is no value in a Christian having a seder. More people really need to learn about the amazing parallels between the Passover and the Crucifixion, and just how the Passover was a picture of things to come. Ignore the connection, and you have lost something valuable. At least this is my opinion.

  10. Oh, I should add that I am of Jewish heritage by blood, and a Christian by profession of faith in Christ. I recognize that the Passover week and all that goes along with it was a commanded observance for Israel, in a memorial to what God had done at the first Passover. I still believe that there are spiritual lessons for Christians regarding Passover.

  11. The interesting thing that I find is that beleivers/christians/messianics are not willing to stick with scripture alone, so we have all the other stuff that amounts to creating another gospel, resulting in another Jesus. Which is the road that christianity took when deciding that Paul was not right and that Jesus was not the one to exclusively follow. Thus creating another gospel, per Constantine,..if you look at history. However, Starting at the beginning and testing everything as did the berean’s….we start with Gen. 1:14 where God gave us HIS calendar, later Told Moses how to set it up in Ex. 12. and In Lev. 23 God makes it clear…HE calls all of these Feast/ appointments with men, to be HIS appointments/Appointed times….He is the one who told us in foreshadows and in the completion of his Appointments, that HE WAS AND IS the “Passover Lamb.” All of the Feast/Appointed times were all about him, then and now. Everything else came later thru another source and is NOT found in scripture anywhere! So which Jesus are we talking about??? Search your history on Easter and Christmas…you can’t find it in scripture because it is of pagan origins and has no biblical connection to the Messiah at all…how could it??? It has been christianized only in word.. but means nothing next to scripture. Where is the scripture, that God threw away, that he is the Passover Lamb and now adheres to the Easter story???? etc….No matter what you say..If you cannot find scriptural backing for what you are doing.., starting at the beginning of the story to the fulfillments, repeating..HIM ALONE, then you are lined up with the 5 churchs out of the 7 churchs that GOD had a problem with in revelation. Paul clearly states that he got the word straight from Jesus’s mouth and he said to imitate him. Jesus said to observe all! All of what? GO to the word and find out! here is a scripture to start with and then throw out what is just traditions of men and love after the things that Messiah showed himself in to be Messiah! This is developing in our day now….
    Jeremiah 16:19

    19 O LORD, my strength and my fortress,
    My refuge in the day of affliction,
     The Gentiles shall come to You ? 
         From the ends of the earth and say, ??    
      “ Surely our fathers have inherited lies, ?    
      Worthlessness and unprofitable things.”

    THe Feast/Appointed times are the Messiahs credentials they remain who HE IS and none other…Zechariah 14:16/ The Day of the LORD

    16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

    Lev 23
    1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.

    The Grafting in of the gentiles, into the Israelites Messiah, means just that…not Gentile Messiah. Ruth is a great example of that. ANd also what Jesus told the Woman at the Well…come out of the mountain of your people for you know not what you do FOR SALVATION is of the JEWS!!! He couldn’t get any plainer …COME OUT OF HER!!!!!!
    John 4:22 You Samaritans/gentiles worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

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