An Introduction To Celebrating Passover

In 2004, my wife and I were invited to a small rural Christian congregation who offered a  “teaching” Passover Seder each spring.  In Judaism, this meal remembers and celebrates the initial release of the Hebrew Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  In Hebrew, ‘seder’ means “order” and since a Jewish Passover meal is served with an instruction manual rather than a menu, it’s really a perfect word for it.  Being a Christian event, however, our leader accentuated how virtually every step in the ritual also pointed to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah and King of the Jews.  It was also accentuated how closely the themes of Passover aligned with Christ’s teachings at The Last Supper.  In fact, we were taught that this Jewish traditional meal was exactly what Messiah’s disciples were doing on that very night before his death. The teaching Seder slowly explained each step in the ritual, as a few hundred of us followed along in our guides, and slowly ate our dinner together over the course of several hours.  We were blown away.   When we left that night, we likely only retained 10% of the information, but a lasting impression was made that we had been missing out on something crucial and significant. 

Only 5 years before, our Christian walks were launched via our baptism in the San Francisco Bay, which also meant immersion into the lifestyle and traditions of American Christianity.  Even after moving to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the overall Church experience was remarkably similar–endless choices of activities, retreats, guest speakers, book studies, men’s and women’s groups of every flavor and every interest.  On any given Sunday, there were opportunities offered to serve or to be served.  We had completed just about every class that was offered and taken every sort of multiple-choice test to determine our “gifts” or “ministry skill sets”.  For my wife and I, it always felt like we were being drawn “to the next level” without really having a roadmap of what that might be.  Regular overseas mission trips or full-time local ministry seemed to be the next rung up the church-ladder, and we began to pray for clarity for what that next level might look like.

Honestly, at the time of that first Seder, there was no hint that Passover might be related to that next level.  I had left the meal with a sense of wonder—but there was no clear connection to my own walk or life.  Instead, I was in awe of the “blinders” Paul says in Romans 11:25 that God has put over the eyes of the Jews.  They missed the Messiah, to be charitable, and they yet they ironically continue to celebrate the key elements of the gospel, near the exact date of his Crucifixion, each and every year.  “How can Jews NOT see Jesus is their King?!” left my lips more than once during the meal. The “Blood of the Lamb”, salvation from slavery, the bread, the wine?  Hello?  The next year, we invited other families to this same congregation, and without fail, I’d leave amazed, and even more awestruck as to the blindness of 2 millennia of Jews who denied Messiah, despite having remembered and rehearsed each and every sign.  Other than waiting for the next Seder, however, my daily Christian life had not radically changed one bit. 

The third year, however, God had our hearts in a fresh place.  We were going through even more courses and training, this time as we prepared to internationally adopt two beautiful sisters from Haiti. The adoption agency stressed how important it would be for us to not only learn about Haitian culture, but to encourage our new daughters to maintain the language, traditions, and food of their former country. We were expected to seek out a Haitian church (if one could be found in Amish Country). The training manual said that it would help their self-esteem if we radically modified our American Christian cultural lifestyle so it would better align with theirs. The more we prayed about this, the more we struggled with the concept.  We expected them to become Americans, not Haitian-Americans, and furthermore, we ourselves certainly didn’t want to become American-Haitians.  Assimilation is a conservative American value, is it not?  How could it be wise or healthy to add hyphens to people?  A hyphen is a minus sign, after all.  Pick a culture and embrace it.  That’s not just an American principle, it’s a Kingdom principle, for crying out loud.  

That’s precisely when God knocked off our own blinders.  We had been seeing the Passover Seder as the culture of another people, our involvement was from the outside in–as spectators or maybe history buffs.  The Jews may have had the culture of Messiah, but we had Messiah. True, I’d rather have it that way than in the reverse, but what about assimilation?  Even our brief glimpse of Jewish culture, even the non-Biblical traditions, were rich and often far more consistent with the Bible than American Christian culture.  

Romans 11:17-18 “…if some of the branches [unfaithful Jews] were broken off, and you [non-Jews] although a wild olive shoot were grafted in among the others now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.”

How had we not embraced that verse before?  Had we even read it? Could we have studied and taught scripture for years, and glossed over that crucial admonishment? If Messiah kept Passover his entire life, what foolishness had overcome us that made us believe that honoring that day was optional for those who call him King. How can we claim to be closer to him than a brother, but not celebrate or even strive to deeply understand the holidays he himself honored?  If Christ is one with the Father, could that mean that Jesus Himself designed and mandated the Passover rite? All of our Christian classes, and services, tests, and retreats suddenly felt as “wild” as the olive shoot Paul calls us in Romans 11:17—and that wasn’t supposed to be meant as a compliment. Our arrogance, as Paul warned against, was blatant, embarrassing, and astonishing to us.

The English word “Passover” speaks, in a way, to immigration and assimilation.  A passport gives us permission to leave one nation and enter another—and our passport, just like the early Israelite’s leaving Egypt, was stamped and sealed with the Blood of the Lamb.  We aren’t called to be tourists in God’s Kingdom, we are supposed to desire permanent residency. To stay, to contribute, and to assimilate.  Furthermore, we realized that exactly like our formerly Haitian daughters, we were being called to be permanent daughters and sons.  In fact, everyone in my family, regardless of our nation of birth, was being invited to embrace His ways with our whole hearts, not with hyphenated hearts.  This would inevitably mean dropping elements understanding we inherited from our parents or ideas we simply absorbed by osmosis from the world.  This would take study and work, it would take courage and hard choices. We would soon learn that it would often be painful, but we could absolutely feel the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing at our back, both pushing us and guiding us in a way we’d never experienced in the 10 years we’d called ourselves Christians. It was our own unexamined traditions that had made us so blind.  We had been blind, but now we could see.

This coming spring marks the 13th Passover since the scales came off our eyes.  Over the next 9 weeks, in this next series of articles, I’m simply going to describe how our family keeps Passover and why.  I’ll discuss each individual element of the ritual, including some surprising and controversial aspects which are rarely considered. Unlike the teaching Seders we began with, we’ll be using scripture alone as our guide, rather than blindly embracing Jewish tradition (as beautiful as most of it often is).  Messiah points out in Mark 7, for instance, that tradition tends to override scripture.  I don’t want to further that error when it can be avoided, especially when that same mistake had been the source of our own spiritual blindness for a decade. This means I’ll examine both Jewish and Christian practices and explain why we’ve chosen to throw away or adjust several traditions and assumptions from both directions to make room for more accuracy, consistency, and most importantly, truth.  This stripping down and deep examination has transformed our family’s annual ritual into one that barely resembles the Seder we first learned in that small Lancaster County church. If the Lord worked so powerfully in us using watered-down and often inaccurate teachings, my hope is that these articles can help steer the body of Messiah closer to the goal. 

I also plan to focus on the depth of the personal transformation that can take place when we make a determined effort to walk in our savior’s sandals (1 John 2:6) with the goal of understanding the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).  Taking part in this one annual event can have a profound impact on your family if you enter into it with a teachable spirit and let the Holy Spirit work within you.  If you have heard God calling you and your family to the next level, Passover may just be the doorway you’ve been praying for.  

I’m not expecting anyone to drop their lives to follow our model, nor embrace my current personal understanding.  However, scripture tells us that there is great power in our testimony, so I’ll just share transparently and let the Father and Son do what they do.  Even if you’ve already been keeping this feast, either one time or for your lifetime, I pray that a fresh perspective might encourage you, maybe convict you, but one way or another blesses you.    

Shalom.

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