What is a Seder and Why should Christians do it?

March 15, 2018  |  Craig St. John

By Deana Rogers

Hey church —

We have been invited to a dinner party.

Celebrating Passover every year was God’s idea. Way back in the time of the Exodus, God instructed his people to take a week off every spring to remember the night they were freed from the oppressive bondage of Egypt. The first night of this annual celebration begins with the Passover meal, or Seder dinner.

The menu not only includes a mouth-watering feast but is beautifully designed to tell the story of God’s redemptive work in the world. From the taste of the food on our tongues to the way we want to dance to the music, the interactive retelling of Israel’s freedom march out of Egypt transports everyone gathered around the table back to that remarkable night. Best of all, when we celebrate Passover as believers in light of the redemptive work of Jesus, we are reminded of the beautiful narrative God has been telling so patiently for thousands of years so that we would understand his redemptive love for us.

God must have known that the best way to remember stories is to hear them shared around the table.

Seder (סֵדֶר) is a Hebrew word for arrangement or order.[1] A Passover Seder lays out the pattern for this annual dinner celebration. God wanted families to tell and retell their redemption story. He wanted children to hear and rehear the story so that someday they would be able to pass it along to their children. Ancient rabbis left instructions for the children around the Seder table to ask these questions:

     Why is this night different from all other nights?
     On all other nights, we eat any kind of bread, but tonight we eat only matzo.
     On all other nights, we eat any kind of vegetables, but tonight we eat only bitter herbs.
     On all other nights, we don’t dip our food even once—why on this night do we dip twice?
     On all other nights, we eat sitting or reclining—why on this night do we only recline?

As the questions are answered and the story is told, children as well as adults remember the story of Israel’s deliverance. We get caught up in the drama, following along in our Haggadahs—the booklets at each of our place settings that record the telling of the Passover story. We listen. We break bread, and sip wine (kids get kosher grape juice). We read psalms. We remember.

And then as followers of Jesus our Messiah, we recall the night Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples before he was betrayed. As their intimate community reclined around the table eating bitter herbs and unleavened bread, sharing the roasted lamb, and sipping cups of wine, Jesus began to unfold the greater redemptive story he’d had in mind since before the beginning of time. When God instructed Moses to teach the Israelites to celebrate Passover, he knew that more than a century and a half later, in a small upper room in Jerusalem, the familiar feast was going to take on a whole new meaning. Redemption week for Israel would become redemption week for all of us. What was that week like for Jesus? He had waited so long to announce the new covenant, yet he was fully aware of the cost required to make it possible. It must have been his eternal love for those around the table, and for us, that led him to say, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15).

During their Passover celebration, Jesus took a piece of unleavened bread and broke it. And as he gave it to his disciples, he said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). The cup taken after the meal was known as the cup of redemption, representing the blood of the Passover lambs. After supper, when Jesus took the cup, it was of this cup to which he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25).

What a brilliant, perfect, love story into which he has invited us.

So we choose, as new covenant people, to remember God’s story at Passover time because God had a purpose in beginning his redemptive story with the concrete story of a nation. We understand redemption best through Israel’s story. Their rescue from bondage in Egypt through the blood of those first Passover lambs paints a tangible picture of how Jesus rescues us with his blood. Jesus became our Passover lamb, and we understand that because of Israel’s story. We have been invited to “keep the feast” (I Cor. 5:7–8).

God doesn’t just want us to understand his story with our brains; he wants us to taste it and experience it within the context of community. He knows that his story will become our story when we tell it and sing it and dance to the music of it.

It is a fabulous way to teach our children and share God’s story. When God gave Moses instructions to celebrate Passover he said, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt” (Ex. 12:26–27). The Passover Seder is designed to pique the curiosity of children, and it is within this evening that they begin to understand that this is their story, too.

Someday, there is going to be a kingdom feast (Mt. 8:11). When Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples, he said he would not eat it again until he ate it in the Kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16). We are going to be sitting around that table, and we don’t want to be the people wondering if it has anything to do with broken up pieces of gluten-free crackers and little bowls of wine or grape juice.

Are you in? There are a few ways to celebrate our redemption with a Seder meal this season:

  • Sign up to attend the Seder dinner offered at Redemption Tempe on March 29th here.
  • Gather with your RC to celebrate a Seder dinner together. It is really a ton of fun this way, because everyone can participate. God’s original instructions were to celebrate within the context of family groups.
  • Celebrate with your family and friends.

There are lots of online resources. A few are listed below.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7–8).

[1]“Overview of the Seder: The Feast of Our Freedom,” Hebrew for Christians, accessed March, 6, 2018, http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Spring_Holidays/Pesach/Seder/Introduction/introduction.html.

[2]The Jews for Jesus website has instructions for a model Passover Seder and a full Passover Seder dinner. Both are fun and informative. The whole dinner takes at least a couple of hours, so make your choice based on time and the amount of people you have who can pitch in to pull it off.

[3]There has been a lot of recent opinion writing online about why Christians should not celebrate a Seder dinner. For an informative and gracious response, see Why Christians Can Celebrate Passover, Too, in Christianity Today.