US Episcopalian Bishop Forbids Christian Passover Seders
Last week, in advance of Passover, Reverend Deon K. Johnson banned his diocese in Missouri from participating in or conducting a Christian version of a Passover seder, calling the practice “deeply problematic” and cautioned that “it contributes to the objectification of our Jewish neighbors.”
Johnson posted an open letter to his congregations telling members that Christian seders are “banned” because the practice supports the idea that Christians have replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen people. The Episcopal bishop directly forbid anyone in his diocese from “hosting, holding or celebrating Christian seders.”
“In our own time, the proliferation of Christian Seders on Maundy Thursday has taken root in parts of Christianity. Christians celebrating their own Haggadah outside of Jewish practice is deeply problematic and is supersessionism in its theological view,” Johnson wrote. “Christian communities hosting Seders is additionally problematic because it contributes to the objectification of our Jewish neighbors.”
A Christian seder is a concept linked to the idea that the Last Supper was actually like a modern Seder. While Yeshua did eat lamb, unleavened bread, and used wine ritually, the concept of the Seder as it is practiced today did not emerge until decades after Yeshua’s death.
Johnson is not the first leader in the Episcopal Church to call out the practice. Last year, an Arizona Episcopalian bishop, Jennifer Reddall, also warned against Christian seders.
“Jesus did not eat matzah ball soup or gefilte fish, sing Dayenu, or say ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ For Jesus, the seder would have consisted of a lamb sacrificed in the Temple and eaten in Jerusalem, not a brisket cooked in Nashville.”
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko and Rabbi David Sandmel (in a 2017 Christianity Today article) agree. “To put it bluntly, Jesus certainly celebrated Passover, but neither he nor his disciples ever attended a Seder, any more than they drove a car or used a cell phone.”
Social media posts from Christian seders often show elements not found in a traditional seder, such as a cross and bread rather than matzah.
“Jesus didn’t have a seder, Christianity is not Judaism, please respect us and our traditions,” tweeted Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in 2020. And last year, a Facebook post went viral—the Jewish author said Christians are welcome to attend a Jewish Seder, but a Christian one “is an awful thing to do. Please don’t do it,” Talia Liben Yarmush wrote, “You have your own holidays. You have rich and beautiful traditions. I promise to respect them. Please reciprocate.”
On the other hand, Yeshua may not have attended modern-day Seder, He did lead a Passover meal at the Last Supper, as prescribed by God in Exodus. He was called “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” (John 1:29). And no one can deny that the first believers made the connection to his sacrifice and the Passover lamb, as Peter says, that we were redeemed “with the precious blood of Messiah, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet. 1:19).
In addition, today’s matzoh appears to be bruised, striped and pierced—a stunning picture of Isaiah 53’s Messiah. The fact that the leader of the Seder takes a middle piece of matzo and breaks it, wrapping it in a white linen napkin and hiding it for the children to find later makes one wonder if this was not first a Messianic tradition.
Yeshua was broken and also wrapped in white linen. He was also hidden for a season until He rose from the dead. He took a piece of unleavened bread and said it was His body. Leaven symbolizes sin, thus He was saying that He was the sinless Son of God.
The first believers understood this, and Paul even referenced the Passover to the Corinthians. These Gentile believers understood and respected the Passover.
And yet, I do understand how Jewish people feel when it appears that someone is stealing their holiday.