Tonight we’re grateful to celebrate Passover with some new friends, many of whom have not experienced it before.
Since before our eldest daughter was old enough to remember, we have celebrated Passover together as a family. The tradition is now cherished, with fond memories, by all of us. It began in 1988, our second year of marriage, when a Messianic church held a seder, open to the public, at the local Denny’s. Candace and I eagerly seized on the opportunity to participate and learn more, and resolved to make a Messianic seder a regular tradition. Unlike some strands of Messianic Christianity, we were not motivated by any sense of obligation to biblical law; our conviction then as now was that there is one covenant of grace uniting both Testaments, and uniting Hebrew and Christian believers into one people of God. We saw celebrating Passover together and with our children not as an observance of law, but as a celebration of God’s grace through countless generations.
As a young Christian, I was much taken by books like Peter Gillquist, The Physical Side of Being Spiritual,, Francis Schaeffer, The New Super-Spirituality,, Udo Middelmann, Pro existence, Edith Schaeffer, Hidden Art, Hans Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification, or Ranald Macauley & Jerram Barrs, Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience, all of which encouraged thinking about how God loves ordinary, physical and tangible things, and uses them to embody his presence with us. The Incarnation provides the paradigm for creation, and the sacraments are exemplary of his hidden presence with us through other people and all that he has made. For me, this longstanding interest in God’s presence mediated through creaturely life and physical things was part of the reason I wanted to better understand the Hebrew celebration of Passover. It also didn’t hurt that I was an avid reader of Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s other books, including Christianity is Jewish which taught me this poem: “How odd of God to choose the Jew. But odder still are those who choose the Jewish God and hate the Jew.” When their daughter, Susan Schaeffer Macauley, wrote a book on pedagogy, For the Children’s Sake, I was immediately attracted to the Charlotte Mason tradition it articulated, even before we had children of our own. As I’ve noted here before, Mason likewise emphasized the pedagogical value of direct and ordinary experience. So it seemed natural to us that a regular celebration of Passover would impart to our children, as well as to us, a deepened understanding of the one covenant of grace revealed in the Old and New Testaments.
Christians may expect many benefits from the celebration of Passover. Our children may learn what grace looks like in a multi-sensory, participatory manner, repeated throughout the short years of their lives with us. But even if we do not have children of our own, celebrating Passover may help us develop a greater sympathy toward our Jewish brothers and sisters, particularly in the post-Holocaust epoch in which we live, when the need to actively repudiate anti-Semitism remains an urgent imperative (sadly, even within some churches). And, in addition, experiencing this Hebrew tradition promises to provide us with a clearer understanding of our Lord, as we learn to see him through non-Latinized eyes:
“We put a Gentile mask on the face of Jesus…. We need to go to school with the People of Israel, as it were, in order to share with them the training they were given by God through many, many centuries until a matrix of understanding and thought and worship was prepared in Israel appropriate for the reception of God’s ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ.” Thomas F. Torrance, in The Witness of the Jews to God, ed. David W. Torrance (1982), p. 97.
After all, Jesus grew up celebrating Passover year after year, and chose that occasion for his own Last Supper. Any Christian’s understanding of the eucharist will surely be deepened by a greater appreciation of how the first disciples experienced Christ’s final Passover meal.
Passover, 1993 (20 years ago!)
Here’s a great glimpse of the contemporary Jewish experience of Passover by Mona Charen: Festival of Denial? (March 25, 2013).
In figuring out the logistics for this new family tradition, we relied upon The Messianic Passover Seder Preparation Guide by Barry Rubin. For every participant around the table, we obtain a copy of Rubin’s Messianic Passover Haggadah to follow along with during the seder.
Because the meal is a major undertaking, we celebrate Passover at whatever time is most convenient for us during the month prior to Easter, so it has become a waymark on our Lenten journey. The Passover meal has become for us a part of spring in the same way that fall and winter wouldn’t be the same without Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. When we were diagnosed with an allergy to gluten, Candace was not deterred, but quickly perfected the art of making gluten-free matzah and other Passover recipes!
Tips: Identify beforehand six readers, in addition to the leader and the child who asks the four questions. If a pastor is present, ask him or her to read the Leader texts from p. 27 through the top of p. 29 (the Cup of Redemption, after the meal). So that all may eat or drink together, mention at the beginning that the leader will indicate when to drink the cup or eat the matzah, since there are times when either might be poured or distributed and held a little while. Sometimes, to accommodate extra guests, we set up several tables where each table has its own seder plate, pitcher of grape juice, afikomen and ransom (a prize of chocolate or jelly beans for the children who recover the afikomen). Each table will need a designated “father” to point out items on the seder plate, pour the grape juice, etc., and a designated “mother” to light the candles.
While reading Rubin’s edition of the Haggadah, I frequently insert the following additions. Page numbers are indicated for the 2005 revised edition. Quotations are from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism (1984).
Page 3, before paragraph 1:
We begin by reciting the prologue of the 10 Commandments:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)
Page 3, after paragraph 2:
“You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)
“We retell the story and symbolically relive the events. We are to feel as if we ourselves were just delivered from Egyptian bondage… ‘For God did not redeem our ancestors alone, but us as well.’” (Eckstein, 96)
Page 3, after paragraph 4:
“The Pesach festival bears eloquent testimony that God hears the cries of the oppressed and redeems humanity. ‘And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob’ (Exod. 2:23-24). Curiously, although Moses was the key figure in the exodus drama, his name is not mentioned even once in the entire Seder service. For we are not to confuse Moses, the divine instrument of God’s salvation, with God himself. It was God who heard Israel’s cries. It was he who interceded in history to redeem them.” (Eckstein, 103-104)
Page 5, top:
“Let all who are hungry come eat with us.” (Isaiah 55.1-3)
To save time, begin with the leader lifting the basin of water. Read the passage at the top of the page, from Psalm 24, while the basin is being passed. Add:
Only Messiah is clean and pure. Only Messiah can truly pray this prayer. Only through Messiah do we participate in worship together tonight.
Page 14, first sentence.
If other families are participating in other tables, change “I” to “the fathers”.
Page 16, (lifting the kharoset, the brown apple mixture).
The kharoset represents mortar:
“So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.” (Exodus 1:13–14)
Page 17, before “Leader: The children of Israel…”:
“As we drink the wine, we recline slightly, as was the manner of Roman emperors, to demonstrate our freedom on this day. Even if we live under conditions of oppression, and are not in fact physically free, we are to feel as if we were. Pesach reminds us that true freedom also involves the inner, spiritual realm. It cannot be externally denied, nor can a condition of slavery and servitude be outwardly imposed. The physically oppressed must also recline and feel like emperors on Pesach night…. Nothing must stand in the way of fulfilling the mitzvah of feeling free on this holiday. (I have often marveled at how it was humanly possible for Jews living in concentration camps during the holocaust to fulfill this mitzvah of ‘feeling free’ on Pesach. And yet, the amazing testimony to the power of God’s spirit moving within humankind is that many Jews did find the spiritual strength and courage to fulfill it, despite their wretched conditions.)” (Eckstein, 101)
Page 21, within paragraph 1, after “…slavery of Egypt.”
“When your enemy falls, do not be overjoyed.” (Proverbs 24.17)
Page 24, after paragraph “Leader: Since the Temple…”
Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, sacrificed once for all for us.
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1Corinthians 5:7)
“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” (Hebrews 7:27)
Page 26, end:
Eat desert now also; no additional food after the afikomen.
Page 27, top:
If a pastor is present, ask him to read the Leader texts here through p. 29 (top).
Page 27, before first “Leader” paragraph:
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all humanity.” (1 Timothy 2.5)
Page 29, end:
Re Elijah: “It is also customary to pour a fifth cup of wine…. For centuries Jews have poured but not drunk from this fifth cup to symbolize that God’s promise for their return to their homeland remains unfulfilled. It came to be called ‘Elijah’s cup’ since, according to tradition, it is the prophet Elijah who will usher in the Messiah….” (Eckstein, 100)
“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:17–18)
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)