Episcopal Cafe blogger Ann Fontaine is not alone in questioning whether it is appropriate for Christian congregations to hold Seders during Holy Week. J. Mary Luti, a retired seminary professor and pastor in the United Church of Christ, is troubled by the idea also. She writes:
There is a danger that in a well-intentioned attempt to honor the church’s Jewish origins, and (we think) do what Jesus did that night, we may end up caricaturing the Jewish ritual we claim to honor. It can be a kind of pious play-acting that is a very far cry from the profound communal anamnesis that is proper to “this night unlike any other night.” Only Jews can experience Passover in such a way that those who ate in haste and fled the Egyptians through the Sea have no spiritual advantage over those who sit at the Seder table today.
Beyond all this is the basic question of why some of us feel we need to hold a Seder in Holy Week in our Christian congregations in the first place. The treasure chest of Christian liturgical ritual that pertains to the Paschal season is so enormously rich that one wonders why we would turn to someone else’s. Perhaps it is because so few of our churches celebrate this range and depth of options that we cast around looking for something meaningful and rich like we imagine a Seder to be.
She goes on to say:
Although holding a Seder (for Christians by Christians for a Christian agenda) may seem like a devout and constructive thing to do, and no doubt for many Christians it lends meaning to the Holy Week journey, it is an unavoidably fraught activity. Our anti-Jewish history has “earned” us a particular responsibility to make sure that our embrace of the Jewish heritage is serious, respectful, self-conscious and well-considered. We may not borrow, play-act, adapt, or otherwise appropriate anything Jewish like a Seder without carrying with us into that activity this whole history.
Christians celebrating their own Passover do unwitting harm to the Jewish people because they ignore centuries of persecution of Jews—and they do harm to themselves by ignoring their real-life Jewish neighbors, treating them as relics rather than people.
3,500 years of persecution, much of it by Christians, is not negated by the relative freedom from discrimination that Jews in America has experienced in recent decades. The horrific fear that so many Jewish people have felt cannot be understated. From Easter traditions that involved hunting down Jews to pogroms to ghettos to the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust, history is rife with this violent legacy.
Christians mounting their own reading of the Haggadah almost always want to discuss how Jesus is like the paschal lamb, using the occasion to show how all the Hebrew scriptures point to Jesus as fulfilling the prophecies. This theological exercise, known as supersessionism, is problematic enough in a purely Christian context, but as part of a Jewish ritual it is deeply out of place.
What do you think? Is it appropriate for Christian churches to organize Seders as part of Holy Week activities. If your parish has scheduled a Seder or is contemplating one, here is a helpful 2011 post from Ann Fontaine, in which she speaks with Meredith Gould, author of “Come to the Table: A Passover Seder for Parish Use.”