Many Christians find the allure of the “Jewishness of Jesus” especially appealing during Holy Week. Desiring to experience a taste of Jesus’ life and honor his Jewish roots, Passover presents an opportunity to pull out a shank bone, gag down horseradish, and proclaim “Our Passover Lamb has bought our freedom.”
Even more, the gospels, particularly the gospel of John, emphasize Jesus’ Last Supper as coinciding with the Passover festival. So why shouldn’t modern day Christians celebrate a part of Jesus’ life? Isn’t Jesus the Passover lamb?
However, there are a lot of problems with these assumptions. For one, we are not sure whether the Last Supper was the seder meal at all. Boston University professor, Jonathan Klawans, has elaborated on the gospel accounts in Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? Ultimately, the gospels are inconsistent and describe very little about the type of meal Jesus ate. It is clear that the gospel authors are using the Passover imagery to assert their theological and metaphorical concerns. And even if the Last Supper were a Passover meal, the passover holiday as practiced today has its roots in rabbinic tradition much later than Jesus.
The first full description of the seder is found in Mishnah Pesachim 10, a document composed around 200CE. According to Baruch Bokser, “both the message and the style were essential to meet the needs of Jews troubled by the destruction of the temple and the paganization of Jerusalem” (Origins of the Seder, 76). The Jewish seder evolved into a rabbinic institution that transformed priestly rites into domestic rituals available to all Jews. Through the seder, Jewish identity could be transmitted to the next generation through the recitation of the words, “We were the slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt.”
Thus, I argue the question is not whether Jesus would have experienced a Passover festival, but whether modern-day Christians, given our long history of anti-semitism, can so easily appropriate a Jewish religious ritual as “our own.” Let me add, it is one thing to host or attend a seder where one celebrates Jesus as the paschal lamb, it is another thing to be invited as a friend to observe and participate in another’s religious ritual. Interfaith relationships are vital, and learning to appreciate each other’s religious customs is a beautiful thing. But when we take it too far, and begin interpreting Passover as a symbol of Jesus or Christian in nature or “the Jewish roots of Easter,” then we cross a line of dangerous religious appropriation. Christian seders are straight up supersessionism.
Christians do not need to claim an attachment or connection to the Jewish seder. Whatever meal Jesus ate, we have more than covered with our own Christian rituals of communion and Easter. To attempt to uncover a “Jewish kernel” behind these rituals, is to haphazardly ignore a violent history of appropriation that we as modern Christians should know better.
*For the sake of brevity, this post does not address messianic Jewish seders directly. That topic requires more than a statement or two in a blog post.