In this season of popular holy days from Passover to Easter, the little known Christian Seder seems to get little recognition. Even our admittedly “Christian” president, Mr. Barack Obama, has been observing Passover for the past three years. Will this year make a fourth year? As interesting as that may be, what common themes can we find in Passover, Easter Sunday, and Resurrection Sunday?
What may not be known by many is that Christians observing Passover is as old as Christianity itself and even predates the observance of Easter. In this season where believers of both faiths are eating contrasting meals—hot cross buns and Easter ham vs. matzo (Unleavened Bread) and lamb—maybe there is more in common that we can learn from our shared traditions.
Recently I came upon a really intriguing book by Gabriele Boccaccini titled Middle Judaism. Boccaccini taught Oriental studies at the University of Turin in Italy. In his book he studied the time period from 300 BCE through 200 CE in which he develops the connection between Rabbinic Judaism and the birth of early Christianity. It is interesting to see the development of both movements as a response to the early Messianic faith.
As we look back upon Middle Judaism and Ancient Christianity we can see the shared traditions that over time have seen revisions and changes and become what we know them today. However they do share common threads. Of course Easter bunnies, hot cross buns, and an Easter ham stand in stark contrast to unleavened bread and lamb. But the common themes of wine (or grape juice in some cases) and unleavened bread (or Eucharist crackers) can be seen in both traditions.
As you follow the early church’s development you find that the early Church Fathers took common Jewish practices of their time and put their own Gentile spin on them. For example, you will see if you study the ancient writing regarding the development of the Eucharist, you will see that the “Fathers” of the Faith took elements from the traditional Shabbat—namely the Kiddush (wine) and the ha’Motzi (bread)—and incorporated it into their worship liturgy. The Church Fathers took the themes from the Feast of Unleavened Bread set during Passover and combined it with the Shabbat feast and created the Eucharist liturgy. In the ancient Catholic tradition the Eucharist and the Easter (Paschal) liturgy are separate, much like the Shabbat and Passover traditions they borrow from.
Protestants however, during the Reformation, combined the themes of the Eucharist and Passover into one tradition which they’ve named “Communion.” Much like the Eucharist, it uses the elements of wine and unleavened bread as found in Shabbat and Passover but combines them into one single celebration. The Protestant Communion, unlike the Eucharist or Shabbat which are weekly offerings, may be done at whim whenever one feels the desire to. And unlike with the Passover or Easter traditions, many Protestants observe Communion at intermittent intervals; some do it monthly, bi-weekly, weekly, or even quarterly.
In contrast the much-overlooked tradition of Christians observing a Passover Seder on Nisan 14th can clearly be seen in the Apostolic Constitutions. Even Church Father Epiphanius noted the early Roman Christians who were still observing Passover during his time, even if it was a small number who were increasingly looked upon as heretics according to the Roman tradition.
Middle Judaism, caught between Hellenism and Christianity, was seeking to chart a course that may be beneficial to us in modern times. As the dates and calendar tabulations have changed, the festivals of Pesach and Easter do not fall on the same day yet share common themes.
In recent years an annual celebration of Resurrection or Easter Sunday has become very common in Evangelical circles. In many Christian circles it shares the elements and story of the Communion liturgy and Easter tradition. I find it interesting that the Easter festivals and Passover come from the same Paschal tradition. Even the Shabbat liturgy and Eucharist share common themes and traditions.
I believe that in this season we can look upon our shared traditions and find some love and harmony in reflecting on Moshe leading the People of God out of Egypt. Though Jewish believers do not accept that Yeshua became the Passover sacrifice or martyr for the Christian faith, at least the theme of Passing Over from the Angel of Death and crossing the Red Sea to push toward the Promised Land of Life is a common theme that we can share.
Maybe in the Christian Seder we can see the keys to unity between these Judeo-Christian faiths. Maybe we can pass over our traditional bias and find some life in us to show charity among the differing faiths.