Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Can We Learn from the Passover Seder?

Seder Plate (photo by Robert Couse-Baker)

My family and I attended a Christian Seder tonight at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. The Seder is one of those events that we have come to find very meaningful. The first Seder we attended was about fifteen years ago at the Birmingham Unitarian Church. Over the years more and more Christian churches are incorporating the practice as a means of acknowledging that they grew out of the Jewish heritage. It is also a way for Christians to learn more about what Jesus and his disciples did at the Last Supper (which was probably a Passover observance), when Jesus is traditionally said to have instituted the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist (The Lord's Supper).   


Some of our Jewish brothers and sisters have taken issue with the way some churches have tried to incorporate the solemn remembrance of their ancestors being led out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. I can certainly see how they would feel that way, but I can also state that for me the experience has been enriching, however imperfectly we Christians may have attempted to observe the Seder.

One of the most rewarding things for me to learn is the the wonderful Jewish concept of dayenu ("it would have been enough") which is declared at every Passover supper. It affirms that any blessing that God has given would have been enough, even if others had not followed. I often consider this concept to remind me of the wonders and blessings I have already received.  Here is an excerpt from the Seder service which affirms dayenu:

If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them, 
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had destroyed their idols, and had not smitten their first-born,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had smitten their first-born, and had not given us their wealth,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors in it,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the manna,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us the Shabbat, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel,
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and had not built for us the Beit Habechirah (Chosen House; the Beit Hamikdash),
     Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!


Growing up as a Baptist, we often sang the gospel song, “Count Your Blessings (see what God has done).” The gravitas and rich heritage of the Jewish Passover Seder, however, brought home that truth in an even stronger way. You cannot go through that service without realizing that there have been times of bitterness and oppression, and that there is hardship, suffering and struggle in this life. In the midst of all of that, we still have cause to be grateful for the blessings we have received.






[Note: Thanks to the clarification in the comment from Bradley Farless, in stead of describing Jesus' Last Supper as  "Passover seder meal" I have changed the phrase to "Passover observance."]

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2 comments:

  1. Just so you know, Jesus may have observed a Passover celebration, and probably did, but he did not participate in a Seder. The Seder was not put together in the order that is observed today, and with all of the components it has today, until after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Bradley. Often when reading the New Testament Gospel passages, we Christians read into them an anachronistic Judaism which, as you point out, developed later.

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