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Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Christian Passover – Hopefully Something More than an Exercise in Self-Justification

I fully realize that this may be an exercise in self-justification.  I recognize that, but it’s where I’m at, at least for now. 

For several years now I have lead my congregations in a Passover dinner – connecting it to the last supper of Jesus with his disciples.  I’ve shared the Haggadah that I’ve cobbled together (and continue to tinker with).  I have even made my own matzoh a couple of times. And I have found the practice to be very rewarding, spiritually and educationally.  And my church people have appreciated it too. They have experienced new foods, new customs and new traditions that help them to better understand their own faith, and to better understand the faith of their Jewish brothers and sisters.

(And yes- I do recognize that the gospels are not clear that the Last Supper was a Passover dinner, and that the Seder traditions that exist today were developed well after the time of Jesus.  I make these caveats known to my people.)

But earlier this week Theoblogy blogger Tony Jones shared Five Reasons You Probably Shouldn't Attend a Christian Seder.  This post troubled me a great deal.  Of his five points, it was number five that nagged at me.  
5) How would you feel if a rabbi or imam performed a mock baptism? That’d be pretty weird, right? That’s pretty much how it is when Christians take a practice that is central to Judaism and attempt to recreate it with Christian meaning. Virtually every Jew I’ve ever asked about this finds the practice offensive.

Here, and here, and here, and here are a couple more articles posted on line that debate the issue back and forth. Some rabbis say “sure, it’s fine” other say “no, absolutely not” others are somewhat ambivalent.

I take seriously the concern that a Christian Seder could be understood as a form of cultural appropriation, and as offensive.  I don’t want to do that. That has never been my intent.  There has been a terrible long history of Christian offenses against our Jewish brothers and sisters.  I do not wish to continue that.   I don’t want this to be a “mock” Passover – to ridicule or denigrate the faith and customs of anyone.

However I have chosen to continue with our plans to host a Passover /last supper dinner with my congregation tonight (fully recognizing that my Jewish friends celebrated the official Passover dinner Monday night) for the following reasons:

1) I believe in a continuity between the Hebrew bible /Old Testament and the New Testament. 

 2) The earliest Christians were Jewish; they did not consider themselves converts to a new/different religion and it seems very likely that they would have continued to celebrate the Passover and would have invited their gentile brothers and sisters to join them. 

 3) Religious borrowing is not a new thing – and not exclusively a Christian thing. Psalm 29 seems to be a “Yawhistic adaption of an older Canaanite hymn to the storm-god Baal, (Dahood, 175).”[i]  Proverbs 10 - 22:16 includes much material that is directly borrowed from an Egyptian source - The Instructions of Amenemopet.  And Paul (a Jew’s Jew, if there ever was one) ‘appropriated’ the statue “to an unknown god” at the Areopagus (Acts 17: 22 – 31).

 4) While recently in Israel, I was invited to pray at the western wall in Jerusalem - even if I was praying to God with an altogether different understanding, and offering my prayers in “Jesus’ name…”

So this is where I am –at least for now.  I have shredded the horseradish for the maror; I have mixed the haroset; I’ve set the tables with the nice dishes, and laid out the Haggadah books. In a few moments I’ll go back to the kitchen to finish a few more preparations before this evening’s celebration.  But my thoughts on this issue are not finished.  Whether or not I will do this again next year is not yet clear. 

Next year in Jerusalem...maybe...

(EDITED slightly - to qualify point number 2 a little and to add the Egyptian proverbs to point number 3)

[i] Dahood, Mitchell Psalms 1 – 50 Introduction, Translation, and Notes Doubleday & Company, Inc, Garden City NY, 1966.

1 comment:

  1. I shared this post with Theobloggy blogger, Tony Jones via email. And he responded thus:


    I appreciate the engagement! But, alas, I'm unconvinced by your post. For one, we have no way of knowing whether the first Christians continued to celebrate Passover. The other reasons are outlined in my post. And a Pew study I read this week said that Jews in America consider Passover their most sacred holiday. So this isn't Paul pointing at an altar to an unknown God during a speech or even using Santa Claus. This is the equivalent of the cross. That's how central it is to them.


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