Should Christians Participate in the Passover Seder?

By Michael Brown Published on April 10, 2017

It’s not surprising that two rabbis have argued that Christians should not participate in the Seder, the traditional Jewish Passover meal. What’s mildly surprising is that the rabbis expressed their opinion in Christianity Today.

The article, “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal,” was written by rabbis Yehiel E. Poupko and David Sandmel. Both men celebrate Jewish-Christian dialogue and call for mutual respect between the faiths. It is for that reason — respect — that they urge Christians not to engage in their own version of a Passover Seder, especially if it is led by a Messianic Jew (a Jewish believer in Jesus).

First, they argue, the Seder meal as it is celebrated today contains elements that were not known in Jesus’ day. So, whatever Passover meal Jesus ate at the last supper, it was not the same as the traditional Seder, which was developed in the following centuries.

Second, the rabbis feel that it is inappropriate and disrespectful for Christians to have their own Passover Seders, since it is taking something that is sacred to Judaism and then turning it into a Christian event. Rather, if Christians really want to find out the meaning of the Seder, they should ask one of their Jewish friends for an invitation to a traditional Seder where they can sit and learn as a guest. Or they can ask the local rabbi if he could instruct them about the meaning of the Seder. But this sacred meal must not be co-opted by Christians.

Is It Disrespectful for Christians to Celebrate the Seder?

How should we respond?

I would first ask a question: How many Christians are having their own Passover Seders? How many churches are sponsoring these? My guess is that almost all of these are done in conjunction with Messianic Jews. That, I believe, is the real rub for these rabbis.

You see, it is common at this time of the year for Jewish believers in Jesus to host special church events with titles like, “Messiah in the Passover Seder.” During these events, which can draw many hundreds of people, there will be teaching through the night that points to Jesus-Yeshua, the Lamb of God, as the centerpiece of the Passover. He is the one who paved the way for a deliverance even greater than the exodus from Egypt. He is the one whose blood redeems us from God’s judgment. He is the Passover Lamb!

So, during the meal, the participants look back to the exodus, they look back to the cross, and they celebrate the Jewish roots of their faith.

“But,” someone protests, “that’s the whole problem. That’s what these rabbis are trying to say. Jesus didn’t celebrate this same meal, and it’s wrong to take these Jewish traditions and make them into a platform for preaching a Christian message.”

Actually, as a Messianic Jew myself, and as one who has engaged in serious, academic dialogue with my Jewish community for the last 45 years, I understand this objection. How would we feel if Muslims celebrated communion but saw in it a prophecy of Muhammad? How would we feel if they co-opted something sacred to us?

But that is where the comparison breaks down.

Muslims do not believe in the crucifixion of Jesus, whereas we do believe in the Passover celebration, beginning with the exodus from Egypt and culminating in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. And Jesus did celebrate a traditional Jewish meal at the last Supper, even if it did not contain all the elements that it contains today. (Remember that Jesus was called rabbi, not reverend. For more on this, see my book The Real Kosher Jesus.) And Paul could write of the Messiah as the Passover Lamb (see 1 Corinthians 5:7).

Not only so, but before they believed in Jesus, many Messianic Jews grew up celebrating the Passover Seder. Once they came to faith, the Seder took on much more meaning. That’s why they celebrate Passover in their congregations, and that’s why they teach on the meaning of the Seder at churches. To them, it’s all about redemption, all about deliverance, all about the faithfulness of God, all about His promises to Israel, all about Jesus the Messiah.

Why shouldn’t they celebrate it? Why shouldn’t they teach other Christians about the beauty and meaning of the Seder, from their unique, Messianic Jewish perspective? And why shouldn’t Christians learn more about the Jewish roots of their faith?

After all, the stain of anti-Semitism has polluted Church history for centuries. The more Christians can appreciate the Jewish roots of their faith, the less potential there is for this ugly plague to raise its head again.

Drawing Christians to Their Jewish Roots

Thankfully, Christianity Today posted a response to the rabbis’ article entitled, “Why Christians Can Celebrate Passover, Too,” written by Mitch Glaser and Darrell Bock, both Jewish believers in Jesus.

They note correctly, “The question of whether or not Jesus celebrated a Passover Seder as we now know it today is to some degree moot. He observed the Passover in the same way as any other first-century Jew. This event can draw Jews and Christians closer to one another rather than driving an additional wedge between our faith communities.”

Thus, what concerns them “is when Christians do not see any identification with the Jewish people and the Jewish backgrounds of their faith. But more to the point, we simply cannot rob Christians of their heritage in Jesus — especially not the events of the Last Supper, which was clearly some type of Passover celebration.”

It’s true that Christians remember this Last Supper every time they take communion. But it is only in the context of the Passover meal that they are reminded of the context of that momentous meal: Jesus died as our Passover Lamb.

Again, I’m sensitive to the concerns of these rabbis, and their tone is not antagonistic. But as Jews around the world gather in their homes to celebrate Passover, they have no reason to be disturbed by Christian celebrations of Passover. Rather, I would encourage them to ask the question: Why is this meal so important to many Christians as well? Could it be that they have some insights too?

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • Heather Wells

    In my family, we do not eat Seder necause the promise God in his law has been fullfilled by the Crucifixion and ressurection of Jesus. However, my church does teach about the feasts and this year, hosted an event that tied Seder with the cross as we believe old testament pictures become new testament principles.

  • blackfeather

    why not? as a “goy” I have been invited to a few…I have some nice friends that are jewish.

  • Zmirak

    Funny–I clicked on the title expecting a discussion of whether Christians should do this to experience our heritage in the Hebrew bible, or whether it was “judaizing,” and therefore should be avoided! Thanks for offering this perspective. Part of my prep for 1st Holy Communion at my Catholic school was a Seder, and I found it instructive. Never forgot it, and it reminds me of our links, as Christians, to the Jewish people.

  • Paul

    This kind of junk is why many people are weary of organized religion.

  • Trey Elmore

    No.

  • Bob Brooke

    Aren’t all Jews Messianic, in that they look forward to the coming of the Messiah?

  • Craig Roberts

    Next up: Should Christians Participate in Taco Tuesdays?

    • Paul

      Yes, doesn’t it say somewhere that man shall not live by bread alone?

      • Craig Roberts

        That was a very wise fortune cookie.

  • llew jones

    Probably not. Those Jews, and there are many of them who are Secular and Reform Jews, could best be described, as they also describe themselves, as atheists or sometimes as agnostics. Most of them see themselves as ethnic rather than religious Jews and would enjoy all the feasts including the Passover Seder on the ethnicity basis and are also regular synagogue attendees for the same reason.

    So it’s unlikely they believe in the divine inspiration of the Tanakh (same as the Protestant Old Testament) and the God promised Messiah.

  • Rob Klaers

    Wouldn’t be the first holiday Christians co-opted.

    • Coby Ingram

      Actually it was when we began co-opting pagan holidays that we left behind the one truly Christian holiday, Passover.

    • rainsoul

      christians didn’t co-opt holidays, pagans and gentiles with their own cultures converted to christianity and adopted their holidays and culture to christianity.

  • Coby Ingram

    Some things to remember:
    1) True Christianity is true Judaism (Romans 2:29)
    2) We did not leave the faith. We expanded it to Gentiles.
    3) The inclusion of Gentiles happened in the first century. The exclusion of Jews happened in the fourth. And it is now being reversed, for those Jews who are interested.
    4) Modern Judaism is not true Judaism, so much as it is a post-Christian religion (1 John 4:1-6)
    5) God still has a plan for the Jews, as Jews (Romans 11:11,12)

    Also, those rabbis are correct when they say we should not be imitating the Jewish order of worship. As a Christian, I find many of the traditions in the Jewish Passover Seder unhelpful and even contrary to Scripture.

    * Washing hands twice is something Jesus scoffed at, and rightly so.
    * Long boring songs and readings and staying up till midnight are contrary to the spirit of Passover. It wasn’t just fast food. It was Moving Day! (Exodus 12:11)
    * A Hillel Sandwich? Really? That made the Top 15?
    * Four cups of wine may have been traditional in Jesus’ time. But almost none of the other things on the Seder Plate are in the Bible.
    * God did not bring the Jews out of Egypt because of Matzo. He did it because of the blood of a lamb. Post-Christian selective hearing at work, I think.

    In my family, we are stumbling and fumbling toward a Christian Passover. By that I do not mean a Gentile Passover, but one that is true to the spirit of the original Christian church, that was inclusive of both Jews and Gentiles, and put laws and traditions in their proper perspective. There are a few things we do differentlly:

    * Spontaneous prayers
    * We set a timer for an hour, and when it goes off, we are done.
    * We have a ceremony of mutual hand-washing (John 13)
    * We skip the Seder Plate, the Hillel Sandwich, and quite frankly the whole concept of a Seder.
    * We tell a simplified Passover story. Next year we will try telling the story at another time.
    * We tie the plagues to environmental disasters (red tide, mosquitoes, dust storms) and to the gods of Egypt.
    * We eat bread and wine to remember Jesus.
    * We also eat oranges (to remember the fruit of the Spirit: Gal 5:22,23) and chocolate (God’s promises; Rev. 10:9).
    * We “sing to the Lord a new song.” If time.

    I’m telling others this story “to share our experience, strength, and hope.” I hope that someday Christians will consider Passover their own holiday again.

  • Faye Severe

    I have celebrated and hosted seders for many years as a non-Jewish believer in Jesus. It has been a journey in obedience to the eternal command to observe the Lord’s passover. We celebrate because HE said to! HE said this In the Torah (which Christians receive as the Word of God) and in the Gospels. Jesus said to do THIS in remembrance of Him! Is that command fulfilled in the communion tradition of Christianity? If so, has Christian tradition diluted the remembrance so that the context has been lost and would be unrecognizable to the disciples who were there at its institution? I respect and appreciate many of the traditions incorporated into the Jewish seder and Christian communion but I am journeying away from tradition to engage with the truth of scripture through the revelation of the Holy Spirit. I have not arrived but continue the pursuit! What does that look like in keeping the Passover? I still incorporate the seder plate as a teaching tool of history, tradition, and symbolism but the Exodus account is infused with revelation of Messiah through the Gospels and Paul’s epistles that lead us to the holy convocation of receiving the broken matzoh (afikomen) and His cup of redemption. We rejoice in who we are, as revealed in 1 Peter 2:9, because of what He has done!

  • Kevin Quillen

    the old covenant is over. Period. The new covenant stands alone. The jews must get saved just like everyone else. Israel is just another country, nothing special.

  • Vinnie Mendiola

    Christians are not told to stop attending mass or a celebration just because changes or additions were made to the prayers!

  • m-nj

    I’ve eaten the Seder as a christian a few times, and our church just hosted a Seder last week. And yes, it was a “Messianic Seder”, so the connections between the OT meaning and the NT fulfillment were clearly pointed out.

    What always gets me is that the “instructions” in the OT are not all that detailed. However, it is totally shocking and eye-opening that the detailed traditions that are observed today by the Jewish people have so much Messianic symbolism in them. Here’s just one that blows me away every time [spoiler alert for anyone who has not experienced the Seder]

    1) 3 matza are placed in a single bag or vessel which is called “unity” in Hebrew… “3-in-1” … hmmm, sounds like the Trinity…

    2) the middle or 2nd matza in the 3 is pulled out and broken in half … why the second matza?… 2nd Person “broken” …

    3) one half of the broken matza is wrapped in a linen cloth and “hidden”, to be found later… Who else was wrapped in a linen cloth and “hidden” to be later “found”…

    These Seder instructions are tradition, not in the OT… just shows that God has coded the Gospel even in the Jewish traditions.

    Finally, the man who led our recent Seder said his group is asked every year to lead the Seder for Russian Jewish immigrants… and almost every year a few of them have their eyes opened by the Lord to see the truth that their Messiah HAS come to be broken and pay their ransom, leading them to a personal Exodus from their true slavery and bondage to sin and death into the promised land of eternal life.

    Perhaps THAT is why the rabbis are so upset!

    • Sarah

      The symbolism is awesome….. Yeshua The Messiah is written right through it

Inspiration
Claiming God as Our Father
Tom Gilson
More from The Stream
Connect with Us