Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Friday, April 02, 2010

Why I Won't Go to a Seder

As I begin writing this, it is the night of Maundy Thursday. Traditionally on this day the church has remembered Jesus' upper room discourse and the establishing of the Eucharist. This has usually involved a standard corporate worship service in which the congregation has partaken of Communion. It has sometimes also included the practice of the washing of one another's feet, and/or the "stripping of the altar", which involves the removal of all celebratory items from the altar and the sanctuary.

It seems to have become more common in recent years, however, to observe the Passover Seder feast on or on a day near Maundy Thursday. I've known of individual families to do this in their homes, but I hear more and more of local congregations observing it together. The Seder is still a traditional Jewish practice. But I'm a bit baffled as to why Christian congregations would want to do it. I can't pinpoint the origin of observing the Seder in modern Christian churches exactly. It might have begun among Messianic Jewish congregations; I'm not certain. But the idea seems to have really taken off in Evangelical (that is, non-Reformed) churches. And now, I find some traditional liturgical churches are taking up the practice.

The logic seems to be thus: Christ celebrated the Passover feast with his disciples on the night in which he was betrayed, i. e. Maundy Thursday. It is reasonable then, it is thought, for us to celebrate it as well. Also, it supposedly brings us more in touch with our Jewish heritage.

The fact that it has been predominant among Evangelicals, though, suggests to me that a couple of other things are going on. For one thing, there is the obsession with all things Jewish that is common among Evangelicals, and which is fueled by a Dispensational misunderstanding of Scripture. In spite of the clear teaching of the New Testament that the Church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, is now God's Chosen People, we hanker after Jewish practices with the jealousy of the second favorite child. ("Oh, to be loved as much as the Jews! Too bad the Church is Plan B." Thankfully, that isn't the case.) I also think the dearth of a deep liturgical practice and culture in the Evangelical church is to blame. In ancient cultures - Jewish or otherwise - there is a strong draw upon modern American Evangelicals who find a great lack of the nobility of age in their own culture and church life. The answer to this, of course, is the ancient Christian liturgy (we are Christians, after all) and not a Jewish - or non-Christian - liturgy.

Beyond this sort of socio-theological analysis, though, I would suggest that this is an inappropriate thing for a church to do. And the reason is simple - we aren't Jews. We live in the New Covenant, and the Seder is an Old Covenant practice. Just as it would be inappropriate to sacrifice bulls and goats to God as an offering in the manner of the Tabernacle system, so it is inappropriate to observe the Seder. At the Last Supper, our Lord replaced the Passover with the Eucharist. That is now our ritual meal. In it, we feed on His Body and Blood, as he has commanded us to. To go back to the Passover Seder is to return to the shadows of the Old Covenant, a thing which Scripture strongly condemns.

Now if a family wants to do a mock Seder as a sort of homeschool learning tool, I could see that as permissible. The original Seder was celebrated in individual homes anyway, so why there would be a trend to bring it into the church is a bit strange anyway. But it must be clear that it isn't a ritual meal for today. The Old has gone away; all things have been made New.


Anonymous Onward, Forward, Toward… said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your article especially the part where you stated

"...we aren't Jews. We live in the New Covenant, and the Seder is an Old Covenant practice..."

That should be enough already to make the point. The 'evangelical' church I attend held a seder last weekend and I did not go because of living in the New Covenant.


However there is a reason (besides the Easter / Ishtar stuff) why many churches are now observing the Passover seder. It is:

(1): A misapplication of Exodus 12:14 where it states (NKJV version here)

"‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance."

combined with

(2): The fact that many within the evangelical mindset teach that Israel in the old testament is the church in modern times and therefore, is ok to substitute the words 'the church' in place of "Israel'


I find it amazing that the more and more I am discovering and accepting of the grace of God, the more and more others are trying to 're-legalize' me back into the 'messy-anic' stuff.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Your point (2) is interesting. I can see how some could arrive at that, but I don't see it as a foregone conclusion. I believe that the Church is the New Israel, but if the People of God are transformed, then so is the feast they are to partake of. So the Seder, as it once existed, is no more. It has been transformed into the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist. That seems to me to be Scripture's teaching on the subject. I appreciate the thoughts, though, and the encouragement.

7:23 PM  

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