Friday, April 22, 2011

Christians and Passover

A reader of my Reflections on Good Friday at Contentions writes to advise me that not all Christians who celebrate Passover are doing so to “co-op” the holiday or “claim it as [their] own.”

I have every confidence that this is the case. I have written before now of my deep respect and affection for Evangelicals and Catholics who are proud to share a “great spiritual heritage” with the Jews.

At the same time, I must admit that the Christian observance of Passover makes me queasy. I don’t mean those observances that “Christianize” the holiday, which are described so well by Michael Medved in his essay “The Preposterous Politics of Passover” in this month’s Commentary and by Diane Cole in her Wall Street Journal report last week on Passover as the new Christmas. Those are little more than revivals of supersessionism.

I mean that even strictly faithful reproductions of an Orthodox Jewish seder by believing Christians leave me feeling queasy. Perhaps the problem is that I fail to grasp the theology behind such reproductions. Exactly what are these Christians affirming? “B’khol-dor vador hayav adam lirot et-atsmo k’ilu hu yatsa mimitsrayim,” the Haggadah says—“in every generation, a man is to regard himself as if he himself had gone out from Egypt.” In as far as Christendom comes out of Israel, and Israel went out from Egypt, some such affirmation can be faithfully uttered by Christians, I suppose.

But what about the blessings scattered throughout the Haggadah? The melekh haolam, the king of the universe, is thanked for “choosing us from all people and lifting us up above all tongues and making us holy through his commandments [mitsvot].” Do Christians really believe that following God’s commandments, guarding the Sabbath and keeping kosher and observing the laws of marital separation, is what sanctifies them? Or do they not believe, instead, that faith in Christ Jesus is the source of holiness?

Perhaps I will please no one and offend many by saying that Christian Passover seders are in my opinion just as inauthentic and unavailing as the “seder” that my sister-in-law is staging tomorrow night—three and four days after the appointed time—because it is more convenient for friends who work. Offensive or not, I will surprise no one who reads this blog by saying that I am hostile to do-it-yourself religion. To celebrate Passover is to understand that the liberation from Egypt was merely the necessary prelude to receiving God’s law at Sinai.

Passover means nothing unless it means a renewal of the dedication to keep all of those laws, including the obligation to remove the words mashiv haruah umorid hageshem from the daily “Eighteen Benedictions” once Passover begins—something that I would bet not even the most thoroughly Judaized Christians think to do.


Steven said...

Dear Mr. Myers--

I sympathize with these observations. As one who has attended such Christian Seders in the past, I can say that they must be viewed by the Jewish community the way a Baptist "Lord's Supper" is viewed by the Catholic Community.

But perhaps I can offer a little perspective. The purpose of the Christian Passover, in my mind is two-fold. One of these is to remind ourselves that Jesus is first and foremost a Jew. This meal was the meal celebrated at the Last Supper with all of the proper blessings and meanings. For Catholics, that meal is the foundation of the Eucharistic meal we partake of every Mass.

The second, and I think more purposeful intent, is to remind those johnny-come-latelys amongst us that the Jews are the Chosen People. Not were, not would have been, not could be--they are indeed Chosen of God and so there is no justification in any sense for the treatment that they have suffered at the hands of Christians in the past. This meal is that reminder--salvation as Christians understand it comes from the Jews, so what the Jews hold sacred is sacred.

Still, I understand your uneasiness by analogy. I could not partake of the "Lord's Supper" at a Baptist church with the implication that this is all some sort of symbolic and so quintessentially meaningless act. So, I would infer, must a Christian participation in a Seder appear to one who really celebrates a Seder.

I suppose I would say that it has a good purpose if it helps, even a little, to remediate the ignorance that results in anti-semitic acts. However, I have long since ceased attending for precisely the reasons you have articulated. If I am to have true respect for things others hold Holy, then I must allow them to be what they are.

That doesn't stop me from begging at my Jewish friends house for harotset/marror and all the wonderful trimmings of a passover meal.

And I only hope I haven't tendered offense by offering this explanation.



AJ said...

I think that Christians believe that through Jesus they can know God, and this knowing allows for the presence of God in them, which is what makes them holy. Then miracles follow: a real Christian can, according to the New Testament, lay his hands on the sick, who then get better. Thus a real Christian can do the work of uplifting the universe.

Terry Bennett said...

Mr. Myers:
I am a practicing Christian (maybe I'll get it right eventually). I agree with you about the essential inauthenticity of the curious practice of the "Christian Seder". Mind you I am neither outraged nor upset. Not even particularly disapproving. To each his own. But I think its true that the grounding elements of the Passover observance must be missing from a Christian observance. I believe this practise arose from, and continues because of, an honest if naive desire to "get along" "affirm" "share fellowship". I am, of course, all for "getting along". But I think it should be done in some meaningful and genuine fashion, not by co-opting each other's rituals. Or so it seems to me.