Passover is Here. Why are Some Christians Celebrating this Jewish Ritual?
April 15, 2022
Jesus never sat at a Seder table. But thousands, perhaps millions, of his followers do today. The phenomenon of the Christian seder is taking hold, particularly within Evangelical streams of Christianity and poses an enduring question for contexts well beyond this one: what is the difference between appreciation and appropriation?
It is evident that not all Christians engaging in seder rites are going about the process problematically. Bishop Robert Stearns, a pastor who roots his ministry in the study of Jewish traditions and calls upon hundreds of rabbis for their input, sits at the seder table as a sign of connection to the Jewish people and the wisdom that Judaism can bring to followers of Jesus. He has become so knowledgeable as to support his Jewish colleague and friend, Mark Gerson in the writing of The Telling as a guide to the Passover seder.
Far be it from me to admonish Bishop Stearns or to criticize his approach to Jewish tradition. It is one of respect, admiration, and heartfelt appreciation. If Christians seek to learn from his example and follow it, then they are welcome to the seder table.
By contrast, many Christians conflate Jesus’ last supper and that of the Passover meal. This anachronistic retelling appropriates Jewish rituals from centuries later and conflates them with Christian theology and symbols. A baked challah in the shape of a cross for a Christian seder showed that went viral, amid disgust from Jewish onlookers who forego leavened bread at Passover and do not view the symbol of the cross as compatible with Jewish tradition.
Such misuses of the Passover Seder for Christian purposes not only misappropriate Jewish tradition but demean Jewish culture, history, and wisdom as an incomplete version of Christianity. They are also dangerous. The misappropriation of Jewish tradition resides within a longstanding history of “supersessionist” theology and has created the pretext for anti-Jewish hatred and violence since the time of the Roman Empire. It presupposes that Christians are the “real Jews,” while Jews continue to practice an outdated tradition unworthy of respect and acknowledgement as a religion of its own.
The difference between the efforts of Bishop Stearns (and others like him) to honor the Passover Seder as a Jewish ritual and those who seek to appropriate it is that of intention. If a seder is a path to deeper learning of and appreciation for Judaism, it should be respected. If it is part of a longstanding effort to erase Jewish history, culture, and values, it should be rebuffed.
For Christians considering a Passover seder this year, please reach out to a rabbi or knowledgeable lay person before doing anything else. Or, better yet, see if there is a Jewish seder near you, so that you can go, learn, and listen deeply before attempting one of your own.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life