Monday, 4 March 2013

Why Christian churches shouldn't celebrate christianised "seders" during Holy Week

For a moment or two, imagine that you’ve just learned that a group within another faith (let’s say, for the moment, Scientologists)  have an annual gathering in which they take the Christian service of Holy Communion, and give each part of the service a strongly Scientologist meaning.  In the process of doing this, they ignore, and at times contradict, the understanding(s) of the Eucharist held by most Christians.

How would this make you feel?  Would you feel annoyed?  Angry?  Hurt?  Would this make you more likely – or less likely – to trust Scientologists when they speak of their good will toward Christians and toward other faiths?

As they say in the old jokes, I have some good news and I have some bad news.
·        First, here’s the good news.  This doesn’t happen.  I am not aware of any group of Scientologists anywhere who celebrate mock Eucharists of the sort I described.
·        Now, for the bad news:  something very similar to this happens every year and, sadly, some Christians are the culprits.

Every year, during Holy Week, many Christian congregations, of a variety of denominations, hold services modelled on the Jewish Passover Seder.  These services impose a Christian meaning on a Jewish observance, frequently ignoring (and even denying) the meaning that Jews themselves give to the Seder.

Most congregations who celebrate christianised “Seders” do so with good will, and with the honest belief that they are making a connection between their worshipping life and the meal which Jesus shared with his disciples during the Last Supper. 

In fact, the present Passover Seder celebrated by Jews today is from a much more recent time than the time of Jesus.  Its current form is from the Middle Ages.  We know very little about the actual shape of the Passover meal used at the time of Jesus, other than that it involved lamb, wine, and unleavened bread.

As well, most congregations who celebrate christianised “Seders” honestly believe that they are promoting good will between Christians and Jews by doing so.  In fact, many Jews believe that the Christians who participate in these services do so in mockery of the Jewish faith.  If anything, these services may be much more of a barrier than an aid to good will between Christians and Jews.

For a church that wants to develop its understanding of Jewish faith and practice, there are many other things you can do.  One of the best things to do is to invite a rabbi or another knowledgeable Jewish individual to speak about Judaism to a study group or a fellowship group in your congregation.

For a church that simply wants to make a connection between their worshipping life and the meal which Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion, the answer is even easier.  You’re already doing it, whenever you celebrate the sacrament which Christians have called the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper.  When we share in this sacrament, we recall Jesus together with his disciples, and we hear the words:  “Do this in remembrance of me”. 

1 comment:

  1. Have led many many Easter camps - the number of times I have tried to suggest/persuade others of the lack of merit of doing Passover Seder as an opening Thursday night gathering activity or introduction to the camp. In the search for 'powerful experiences' to create strong memories of what Easter is about, why do we keep doing something that doesn't belong to our faith tradition and makes a mockery out of other faith traditions. You have articulated the above in a very useful way. I feel better equipped to explain my discomfort at such practices having read your blog on this. Thank you Bob.


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