By Ann Fontaine
A year ago I wrote an essay for the Episcopal Café, Say No to Christian Seders, outlining why I opposed these events. When I saw a friend’s note on Facebook announcing Meredith Gould’s Come to the Table: A Passover Seder for Parish Use, I retorted with my usual negative comment on the practice of holding seders in Christian Churches. Being a good friend, he asked if I had read it. Then the author joined the conversation and intrigued me with her ideas. While I am still not convinced, the following is an interview with Meredith Gould, who answers many of the questions about her book and the issue of seders in Christian churches. I do recommend it for those who wish to explore the issue and perhaps hold a type of seder that might be appropriate in a Christian church. From the book’s web site the author, “invites faithful, curious Christians to appreciate the Last Supper as a Last Seder for Jesus and his disciples.”
MG: Several factors contributed to my increasing sense of urgency about writing Come to the Table: A Passover Seder for Parish Use, a project I started well over a decade ago. Key among these was, of course, my growing awareness that many churches were cobbling together seders that were. . .strange. But to be fair, what resources have been readily available?
In my experience, it’s usually someone from the Women’s Club or in an interfaith marriage rather than a liturgist who makes church-based seders happen. I tend to be more charmed than offended by such efforts, recognizing them as earnest expressions of interfaith outreach rather than a venal expropriation of Jewish ritual. Many years ago, after a supermarket encounter with someone whose cart was filled with yeasty baked goodies because, “dessert is after the seder is over,” I simply prayed, “Forgive her Lord, for she knows not what she’s doing,” and redoubled my efforts to get Come to the Table written, vetted and published.
Since parishes were already holding seders despite elegant formal statements issued by church hierarchy, I felt compelled to make my own contribution, one providing more education about the significance of Passover in the life of Jesus. I also decided to write a seder that I hoped would help Christians better understand the structure and meaning of Holy Eucharist.
In fact, most of my published work is an ongoing effort to help my sisters and brothers in Christ better understand just how much of Christian praxis is anchored in Judaism. A couple of years ago, I wrote Why Is There a Menorah on the Altar? Jewish Roots of Christian Worship (Seabury) to provide this information and education in more detail.
AF: Many Christians and Jewish people argue against seders put on by Christians – what do you say to them?
MG: First, I want to find out what they’re arguing against and learn a bit more about their experiences to date.
From Christians, I want to know if they’ve ever been to an authentic Jewish seder and, if so, within which movement of Judaism. (Judaism has movements, not denominations). Their experience at a Reconstructionist seder will be quite different from one at the home of a Conservative family.
From Christians and Jews, I want to know more about their religious tradition growing up; if they’ve changed denominations/movements (if so, which and when and why); what their interfaith experiences have been so far.
From Jews, I want to know if they’ve ever been to a church-based seder. If they have, I want to know what they might have found disturbing. I also want to know if they’ve ever invited Christians to their family seder. If they have, I want to know if they felt equipped to help their guests make connections between ritual actions of the seder and what goes on during Holy Eucharist. Did they encourage active midrash?
I want to get this information before responding because I know it will help me engage in a more authentic conversation. It’s also my way of creating more space for me to calm down after having my first, second and third reactions to what I generally perceive as an attack.
AF: What is your personal history with the issue of holding seders in Christian churches?
MG: My personal history with this issue and Holy Week especially has been, in a word, painful. As I’ve written elsewhere (and often), I consider myself Jewish by identity and Christian by faith. As a Jew, I remain keenly aware of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Passover and Holy Week were difficult for me before being baptized and that seems still to be the case.
When it comes to church-based seders, I think it’s important that everyone understand that only the structure and some – but certainly not all – of the content can be replicated. Christian faith makes using the traditional Jewish seder totally inappropriate as well as impossible.
With this in mind and heart, I created a Christian observance for Holy Week that draws upon core Christian concepts and verses from Christian scripture to help participants understand the Last Supper as Last Seder. This meant removing some rituals entirely (e.g., proclaiming, “Next year in Jerusalem.”) I provide extensive notes to reference and unpack scholarship in this area for laity.
AF: What field testing did you do in preparation for writing and editing your book? What about getting it published?
MG: Revealing the years of field testing would mean revealing my age! Let’s just say I’ve spent decades attending and creating authentically Jewish seders in Jewish homes. (I sought and received baptism during my early 40s.) After baptism, I became much more aware of what Christians were actually doing for and to Passover. I elaborate my personal history in the preface from the first edition in this revised one. Yes, this is a blatant request for readers to buy my (very affordably priced) book!
Come to the Table was written and rewritten over a period of seven years before it was published by Plowshares Publishing in 2005. During that time the manuscript was vetted by Jewish and Christian reviewers before being submitted to religion publishers.
The first edition was rejected by every religion publisher to which it was submitted. I received comments like, “we don’t want to offend the Jewish people” so frequently that I was tempted to snap back with, “Hey, my mother is a Jew and she’s not offended.” Actually, I did finally say this and ended up being in an ongoing dialogue that resulted in Come to the Table being picked up by one well-regarded Catholic publishing house. It was pulled from the schedule (a nicely symbolic) three days before going into production. I received the news via terse email. At that point, I set up Plowshares Publishing.
Come to the Table has been used by many Roman Catholic parishes during the past five years since it references prayers and blessings in the Roman Missal. I’ve even had the privilege of presiding over one parish-based seder using my own haggadah. That experience as well as the positive notes I’ve received from those involved in adult formation has reinforced my commitment to this project.
I almost retired this title in 2010 because the Roman Missal was being rewritten but decided instead to revise the liturgy for use by any Christian congregation called to deepen its appreciation of Passover in the life of Jesus. I have Twitter in general and @Virtual_Abbey (more specifically) to thank for my growing commitment to ecumenism. That’s another story; more megillah than a haggadah.
Meredith Gould, PhD, is the author of seven books The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today (Morehouse); The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions (Doubleday); and Deliberate Acts of Kindness: Service as a Spiritual Practice
The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar,St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, Manzanita OR, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.
Come to the Table: A Passover Seder for Parish Use invites faithful, curious Christians to appreciate the Last Supper as a Last Seder for Jesus and his disciples. Since 2005, Come to the Table has been used successfully by parishes throughout the United States. Now, in response to enthusiastic requests, it has been revised to help any congregation called to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in His tradition. Includes:
* Historical and Biblical details about Passover with citations to scripture.
* The meaning of Passover symbols and their significance relative to Eucharist/Holy Communion.
* A traditional seder liturgy adapted for Christian use.
* Hebrew prayers in English.
* Easy-to-follow instructions for preparing the Passover meal and conducting a seder for small and large groups