What is the Seder? Should Christians even remember the Seder? Is the Seder the same as the Jewish Passover?
These are all very important questions. But let us first consider what the Seder is before we delve too deeply into the benefits (or potential pitfalls) of Christians employing the Seder as part of their Holy Week remembrance.
In ancient Jewish history, the Lord established the Passover when, as the last and final plague or curse on Egypt, the Lord promised to kill all the first-born sons of both man and beast who did not follow His instructions and prepare for His passing over. The Hebrews (before they were called Jews) were given specific instructions through Moses as to this preparation. It involved the killing of a lamb, preparation of various food items, dressing a certain way, and the smearing of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of each house. The Lord would “pass over” the houses that did this and spare the first-born males.
The Hebrews were also told to “remember” this Passover every year on the same date and in the same way for all future generations. It was a major way of teaching the young the Jewish faith and bringing them up trusting in God. And so, year after year (more or less) the Jews celebrated the “Pasch” or Passover and (more or less) followed the original prescription set by the Lord. I say “more or less” because as time went on, things did change and there were periods of time where the Jews never celebrated the Passover and were very disobedient.
Today, Jews throughout the world do celebrate a form of the Passover and still call it the Seder. The word “seder” means “order,” and relates to the proper order of foods, drinks, and sayings throughout the meal. The seder has 15 sections and each section includes food or drink, a description of the section, a prayer, and a scripture reading. There is even a song or two sung. The whole meal is orderly, purposeful, and explained so that the kids can understand and remember.
But is there a connection between the Seder and Christianity and should Christians even do it?
In the Lutheran church, we reject any notions of Zionism or teachings that the Jews will be saved apart from faith in Christ and His cross. Some church bodies embrace Zionism and believe Jews still play an important part in the overall salvation of God’s people. To be sure, ancient Israel DID play a big role in salvation, for it was through them that Messiah, Christ Jesus our Lord, was born, and it was also by the hands of the Jews (and the Romans) that He was put to death. Even so, Jesus preached salvation by grace through faith to all, that there is no other way to the Father except through Him. So no, Jews do not have a special dispensation which gets them to heaven; they must repent and believe the Good News just as anyone.
However, it is also very true that the various elements of the Passover meal teach something about how God delivers His people, that it is by the shedding of blood that sins are forgiven, namely the blood of Christ. When Christians employ the Seder, it allows them to gaze back into ancient history and see how God used means to communicate His promises — just as He uses means today (Word and Sacrament) to convey His promises.
What is important to understand is that seder meal is meaningless for Christians, other than how it connects us to history and to the origins of our beliefs and doctrines. We are not commanded to celebrate the Seder; we do not have to “remember” it or even remember how the Lord led the people of Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land. Our hope, our joy, our peace, our salvation is in no one else but Jesus Christ.
But we still read about the Passover and study Moses and meditate on the Law of God, don’t we? The Seder can play a part in all of this, as long as we keep it in context. Thus, the best way to conclude the Seder is to include the Lord’s Supper at the end where we get a real foretaste of our Lord’s true body and blood, blood far superior to that of goats or sheep, and remembering who we really rely on for our salvation – Jesus – who is the same Jesus that even the ancient Hebrews were called to trust for their salvation.