Minister’s Forum: The Seder in Holy Week
Recently, a question was raised concerning the Passover Seder, and why many Christians incorporate it in the Holy Week traditions. It’s a great question, and it’s worth airing from time to time, because we are prone to forget. Seder is a Hebrew word for “order,” and in the Passover observance, it refers to the script that is annually recited during the ceremonial meal.
Here’s my take on what we do with the traditional Seder, with its focus primarily on God’s redeeming act in the Exodus: It also remembers the Covenant given at Mount Sinai and the hope for Messiah. Just hours before his arrest, trial and execution, Jesus and those first disciples met according to their tradition to celebrate the Passover, and this ancient annual remembrance became the setting for the inauguration of God’s new covenant of grace available to all people through Jesus, God’s Messiah. The first-century Christian communities, with their rapid growth within Jewish culture, and outward to the gentile world, often continued to celebrate a form of the Seder with its “fulfilled” symbolism.
The history of God’s people recorded in the Old Testament is our heritage, and we cut ourselves off from it only at our own peril. Whenever I lead our Lord’s Supper, or Communion – basically a Reader’s Digest version of the Christian Passover Seder – I connect the cup, just as Jesus did, with the third cup of wine in the traditional Seder. The third of the four cups of wine celebrated the covenant of the law given at Mount Sinai. But ever since that “Last Passover,” and until Christ (Messiah) returns, the third cup signifies and celebrates the New Covenant between God and all creation given and paid for with his blood.
As Jesus led his disciples in that Passover Seder, the teaching moment that has resulted in our celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly or monthly was when he said, “Whenever you do this (Seder), do it in remembrance of me.” I take the annual Christian Passover Seder as an opportunity to celebrate the “Lord’s Supper” in its full and uncut version. As one of my children once quipped after receiving the crumb of bread and thimbleful of grape juice in our Lord’s Supper service, “Dad, when do we get to the supper part?”
What I appreciate most about our Passover Seder tradition is how it, like the New Testament text of Hebrews, teaches us so much about who Jesus is. Also, the Seder is conducted in the context of family table fellowship – people breaking bread together – which is one of the dearest pictures we have of our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. On that night, Jesus concluded the Passover Seder by declaring that He would not be celebrating it again until they (we) would all celebrate it with him in the kingdom of heaven. In the meantime, we do it – whether as a monthly “Lord’s Snack” or a full-on Lord’s Supper – in remembrance of Jesus.
There are many renditions of the Christian Passover Seder, and I invite anyone interested in incorporating a New Testament Seder into Holy Week to stop by the church office and pick up a copy of the Seder we use.
– Steven Blocher is pastor at Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church.
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