Every year, Dan and Leslie Shingleton and their children, Sabrina and Scott, look forward to joining their Jewish relatives and friends for the Passover Seder meal.
The Shingletons are Byzantine Catholics, and until about nine years ago, they had no idea what a Seder was.
Then Dan, who was adopted as an infant, met his birth mother for the first time. He was surprised to discover that she is Jewish. Ever since, observing Passover with her has been a red-letter date on this busy family's calendar.
"This has really broadened my understanding of my own Christian faith," says Dan. "It's like a doorway into the traditions that Judaism provides for us."
Leslie is impressed that this ancient tradition "has been so faithfully carried on. It brings biblical events right into people's lives today. That's really powerful!"
The Jewish Passover. The Jewish Passover meal celebrates Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 1-15). The story is familiar: Moses presents the Lord's demand, "Let my people go," and stubborn Pharaoh rejects it and suffers the consequences. He relents only after the tenth plague, the death of every firstborn male in Egypt. The Israelites alone are spared, having been warned to mark their doors with lamb's blood. Death "passes over" them.
More than three thousand years after this first "passing over," the Jewish people still celebrate it by observing the customs laid out in Exodus 12 and 13. In their homes, they have a festive meal, featuring lamb and other foods with symbolic meaning: bitter herbs (recalling slavery), for example, and unleavened bread (recalling the hasty departure from Egypt).
Following an "order" of service (in Hebrew, seder) laid out in later Jewish writings, they praise and thank God with blessings over wine and bread. They tell the story of their deliverance in a way that makes it alive and present to each new generation, saying, "This is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt" (Exodus 13:8; emphasis added).
Fortunately, it's possible to participate in such a Passover even if you have no Jewish relatives! Many synagogues and Jewish organizations organize Seder meals to which all are invited. Check out the possibilities in your area as Passover approaches (April 19-26 this year). Your family, too, might benefit from this opportunity to recall our shared roots of faith and to celebrate God's mercy and power with his chosen people.
The Christian Passover. Sabrina Shingleton was only three when her family attended their first Seder, but she sensed its connection to foundational truths of the Christian faith. This came out in her shocked exclamation at the part of the service she was given to say, which blesses God for creating "the fruit of the vine."
"No he didn't! Jesus did!" the little girl exclaimed with disarming innocence. For Sabrina, "fruit of the vine" could only refer to the cup over which Jesus said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many" (Mark 14:24-25). Her understanding was incomplete, but she had caught the echo.
Indeed, familiarity with the Passover illumines the meaning of Christ's redeeming sacrifice. Jesus, an observant Jew, died at Passover. His Last Supper—where he gave us the Eucharist as a way to remember and receive him—was a Passover meal (Luke 22:7-38). And so, a commemoration established to recall God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt finds its definitive meaning in the Messiah's "passing over" to his Father by his death and resurrection.
Every Easter celebrates this new Passover, when "our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7). Every Eucharist reenacts and makes present the saving act of Jesus, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), and who continues to lead his disciples out of bondage to sin and Satan.
A Christian Passover Meal. During Holy Week especially, many Christians like to ponder and celebrate these great truths with a Christian Passover meal. They are not attempting to replicate the Jewish Seder, the Last Supper, or the Eucharist. Rather, this festive meal and ceremony highlight the Christian significance of elements of the traditional Jewish Seder.
If you're interested in attending a Christian Passover meal, see whether a parish near you is hosting one. Or have your own at home. While this takes advance thought and preparation, many resources are available, including programs for the entire event (see "Resources," page A15). Experienced parents advise against scheduling it on Holy Thursday: Getting the family to the Mass of the Lord's Supper is enough for the evening. Try for earlier in the week, or even the week after Easter.
The Passover celebration is meant to be enjoyable, so do whatever works for your family. The service has a basic structure but is easily adapted. Maximize opportunities for the children to participate by having them do readings, ask questions, sing—whatever will keep them engaged and enthused.
"In Remembrance of Me." However you do it, celebrating a Christian Passover highlights the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection is a new exodus. What does that mean for us? How can we live out this reality more fully? These are good questions to discuss around your supper table.
Recalling God's saving actions throughout human history leads naturally to praying for the Jewish people and for our relations with them. You might use your Passover celebration as an opportunity to intercede for God's continuing plan in their regard.
Finally, if you hold your Passover celebration early enough, it can also be an opportunity to discuss and explain the upcoming liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. In the context of this enjoyable ceremonial meal, it is especially appropriate to talk about the Mass.
"Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus said at the Passover where he instituted the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). And so we follow his command: We remember, we relive, we are made new and alive in him. n
Louise Perrotta is a Word Among Us editor.
Resources for a Christian Family Passover Service
Come to the Table: A Catholic Passover Seder for Holy Week (Plowshares) by Meredith Gould, a Catholic convert from Judaism. Adapted traditional Jewish Seder service with instructions, practical advice, recipes, explanations, Scripture references, and commentary on Jewish-Christian relations.
Family Worship (The Sword of the Spirit), eds. Mark Kinzer and Jim Berlucchi. Resource for year-round family prayer, including a Christian Passover service with instructions and menu. Features pithy explanations of historical origins, Exodus events as prophetic types, and Passover symbols and customs.
catholicculture.org: Search the site for "Seder" and "Passover meal." Many ideas and resources, including several Christian Passover services for the home.
domestic-church.com: Search "Christian Passover Seder Meal"
wf-f.org/Seder.html: A "Christian Passover Seder for Holy Thursday"
ewtn.com: Search for: "Seder Meal for Catholics."