Last week, just before Passover, Christianity Today posted an article by two prominent rabbis entitled, “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal: Why Christians shouldn’t either.”
Despite the combative title, I found myself agreeing with the rabbis, Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel, on some points, although I disagree with their main presupposition.
When the rabbis write that Jesus didn’t eat a Seder meal, they mean that the Seder as we know it wasn’t in place in the time of Yeshua. He did eat a Passover meal with his disciples, and elements of his meal reflected the evolving Jewish practice of his day (especially the wine, which is a rabbinic, not a biblical, custom). But it’s true that if Christians think they’re replicating Yeshua’s last supper by going through the traditional Seder as we know it today, they’re mistaken.
It’s also true, or mostly true, as the rabbis state, that “The Passover Seder expresses the belief that God who redeemed us once from Egypt will in the End of Days inaugurate the messianic era for the first time, redeem the Jewish people from the Exile in which we now find ourselves, and ultimately bring God’s eternal reign of peace and righteousness to the entire world. It is the meal that celebrates that Jews are God’s chosen people with a unique mission . . .” I say this is mostly true, because I believe that the messianic era was inaugurated “for the first time” through the death and resurrection of Yeshua. The redemption of the Jewish people from Exile and the establishment of God’s kingdom over all the earth are still future, but the process of redemption is already underway in Messiah Yeshua.
I’d also agree with the rabbis that the Seder is a distinctly Jewish custom, and that Christians who attend one do so as guests. (Yes, Rabbis Poupko and Sandmel say they’ve “often welcomed non-Jewish visitors” to their Passover meals.) I’d even agree that it’s best for Jews to host and lead the Seder, although I believe knowledgeable Christians can hold their own Seders if they recognize that they come as guests to a Jewish tradition.
Here’s where I disagree with the Rabbis: They start out with the presupposition of an inherent discontinuity between Jesus and Jewish life and tradition. They buy the supersessionist idea that Jesus inaugurated a new religion at his last Passover. He made allusions to the Exodus, “but that event takes a back seat to his revealing himself as ‘the Passover lamb,’ as the object of a new and revolutionary expression of faith.” Messianic Jews, in contrast, insist that this “new and revolutionary expression” came from and remains within the Jewish world. Yeshua celebrated Passover because he was a Jew, and so do we. He celebrated Passover as the embodiment of its message of redemption past and future, and so we partake of the Passover meal with redemption past and future firmly in sight.When we Messianic Jews share the Seder with our Christian friends, it remains “the unique spiritual heritage of the Jewish people,” as the rabbis say, and it also has deep spiritual meaning for Christians. It’s an encounter with Messiah Yeshua within the deeply Jewish vision of redemption past and redemption to come.
As noted, Rabbis Poupko and Sandmel have “often welcomed non-Jewish visitors” to their Passover meals, so apparently the Seder is not off-limits to Christians. What is off-limits in their view is inviting Yeshua into the Seder. But Yeshua is already there. In fact, if Yeshua doesn’t belong in the heart of our Jewish Passover observance, he doesn’t belong anywhere. But he is already there, right where he belongs.