At both Easter and Passover, the meal is more than just food. It is the bridge between generations and the signifier of a story. … At Passover, flat matzo, rather than regular leavened bread, recalls how the Jews were forced to leave Egypt in such a hurry that there was no time to wait for their bread to rise.
In the Christian Passover service the unleavened bread is used to represent Jesus’ body, and wine represents his blood of the New Covenant (Luke 22:19-20). … OtherChristians celebrate the Passover as the Jews celebrate it. They roast and eat lamb, bitter herbs, and the unleavened Matza.
Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal
Both of these meals—Jesus’s Last Supper and the first Passover meal—are launch events. Each of them inaugurates a new religious civilization. Thus, for the believing Christian, it is no coincidence that Jesus convenes the disciples at the very moment of the Passover meal to signal that this meal is the fulfillment of and successor to that first Passover meal, and that like the first one, the Last Supper inaugurates a new faith community. For most of Christian history, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, replaced the Jewish Passover Seder. For Jews, however, the most important Passover meal is the very first, described in Exodus 12. It is the meal by which Israel celebrates its liberation from the pagan culture of Egypt/Mitzrayim by serving the One God and bringing an offering to the One God. That first Passover meal is eaten home-by-home, family-by-family. The guest list consists of all the members of the family, men and women, old and young, wise and foolish, learned and ignorant, boys and girls. In other words, present at that first Passover offering was the whole Jewish family in all of its delight and complexity. When Jews today celebrate the Passover, they are reenacting that moment and connecting with all Jews across time and space who have been celebrating the Passover Seder for millennia.
Should a Christian want to know something of a Passover Seder, there is many a readily available Jewish host who would set a fine table for his or her Christian friends and neighbors. We have often welcomed non-Jewish visitors to our Shabbat dinner tables, our Passover meals, weddings, bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies, and the like. In these settings, it is clear that the ritual is a wholly authentic Jewish experience. There is a world of difference between being a guest in someone else’s home or house of worship, and the expropriation of another’s ritual for one’s own religious purposes.
The Seder is uniquely Jewish, born of the Jewish reading of the Torah, shaped by the architecture of our magisterial Perushim-Pharisees and their rabbis, and given artistry and beauty through 2,000 years of Jewish experience. Christians best honor their Jewish neighbors, to whom they wish to express the love of Christ, by recognizing that the Seder meal is the unique spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and respecting it as such.
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is rabbinic scholar at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. He serves as director of interreligious engagement for the Anti-Defamation League.