Responses to RW 54 on the Seder
Editor’s note: We asked Arlo Duba, RW editorial council member, to write the following introduction to a lengthy and passionate letter, which is printed below. Duba is professor of worship (emeritus) and former dean of the theological faculty at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
RW 54 contained a “teaching service” on the Jewish Seder by Diane Quintance. The Seder meal provides an intergenerational and integrative interpretation of the exodus, and is, of course, central to our understanding of the first great covenant God made with humankind. When observed in a Christian congregation, this celebration can be viewed as an interpretive family meal.
In a box within that article, Father John Grabner wrote about the use of the Seder as an inter-religious issue, urging us to be particularly sensitive to Jewish difficulties with any uncritical Christian use of the Seder. Grabner is particularly negative about the mixing of the Seder with the celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper on the Thursday of Holy Week. Our Jewish friends might see that as comparable to our reaction if someone used our communion order to introduce a “cocktails and hors d’oeuvres” party—probably not evil, but not appropriate. We would think it sacrilegious. Among the responses to this article was the letter that follows.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
For over a year my mission has been to encourage every possible Christian congregation to observe a Christian Seder/Last Supper, and I have read everything I have found about it, including opposing points of view. Recently Reformed Worship (54) printed an article in which Father John Grabner states that the Seder “belongs to the Jews” and is “not the common property of Jews and Christians” (“Guidelines for the Christian Use of the Seder”).
I have spent time in thought and prayer, trying to determine if my course is correct. I can confidently say that if the Christian world ever lays aside its differences and comes together, it will be around the Lord’s table. The problem is that no one seems to know exactly how to set that table.
I am Protestant, and, as such, believe that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can determine the will of God for us through Scripture. I am Episcopal as well and rely heavily on tradition and authority to guide and correct I am Protestant, and, as such, believe that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can determine the will of God for us through Scripture. I am Episcopal as well and rely heavily on tradition and authority to guide and correct me. But I am also Jewish. And, as an heir of Abraham, I have a passion for understanding my Hebrew roots. When I need to learn about those things that existed before the time of Christ Jesus, I go to those roots.
Father Grabner tells us that the Passover story, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and cups of wine are undeniably from the time of Jesus, but that the Seder tray, haroset, plagues as drops of wine, opening the door for Elijah, the song “Dayenu,” and the terms Seder and Haggadah would not have been known to Jesus.
Haggadah is a Hebrew word meaning “the telling.” Used as a noun, it refers to the order of service of a Passover dinner. Rabbis will tell us that it goes back to (at least) the Mishnah (a.d. 200). Perhaps no First or Second Temple Hebrew needed an order of service. Today we do. Must we give it a new name? Seder seems to be an acceptable word for the dinner during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. A Jew might tell us that King David celebrated Seder. Are we being disrespectful to call the dinner that Jesus hosted a Seder? Do we need a new name?
At my last Christian Seder there was a Seder tray at each table. It was a cafeteria tray holding six plastic bowls. One of our bowls contained a lamb shank. We held it up and explained why our Jewish brothers and sisters have this shank (or, in some cases, whole lamb) on their Seder plate. We, of course, have no need of lamb or shank, as our Passover was sacrificed once and for all.
Father Grabner tells us that the questions of Seder were altered and moved to their present position in reaction to the Christian Jews, who, in celebrating Seder, attached a new significance to the bread and wine. That may be true, but it also tells me that part of the foundation that my church is built upon is the Seder dinner.
And finally, Father Grabner tell us that Seder is a “ritual of home and family around the dinner table.” There is no doubt that the first Christian Seder was a family affair, but not in the usual sense. I cannot say if the Last Supper was an event attended by Jesus and the twelve only, or was comprised of others. I feel certain that the room it was held in was the same room where one hundred twenty people waited for the Holy Spirit. Either way, the family was the Christian idea of family. Though I certainly agree that the aspect of dinner table must be preserved.
Holy Week was a living parable, not told but acted out. In fact, it could be said that the Passover in Exodus occurred in order to prepare us for this living parable. We cannot truly understand Holy Week if we do not partake in the Passover Feast. And we will never truly understand Jesus until we come to understand Jesus as Jew.
Father Grabner concludes by writing that if we persist in Christianizing the Seder, we should celebrate it on Wednesday rather than Thursday. I could not help but remember a line from Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a Christian writing that was almost included in our New Testament. And I believe that this line may have been the reason it was not included:
But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday (Didache 8:1).
Jesus made one obvious and simple request. “Do this in remembrance of me.” This may mean the bread and wine or it may mean the entire meal. I do not really know which, but I choose to do the entire Megillah.
I promote the Seder dinner because I believe that we were requested to participate. I promote the Seder dinner because I believe it is essential to learn as much as we can about our Jewish Savior. I use every source available for recreating this important event of redemption and salvation from Exodus. And I have been most influenced by the Messianic Jewish community. Thousands of thousands of people, mostly of Hebrew origin who, while preserving their Jewish religion, acknowledge Jesus as Messiah.
But ultimately, I promote the Seder because it comes to us as an experience of redemption and salvation. It is our opportunity to experience the highest goal of Christian life. The experience of Christ.
Request for Information on Stoles
I perform a number of weddings and other official ministerial duties at the college and I’m interested in purchasing a stole to use with my doctoral robe. Any suggestions? I would like to get one for “all occasions.” I appreciate any help in this matter. Continue your good work with RW.
Joseph B. Modica, Chaplain & Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Eastern College Saint Davids, PA
Response: You probably saw the wedding stole that was featured in our theme issue on weddings (RW 56, June 2000); see also the story behind that stole on page 1 of that issue. I looked back in our RW Index and discovered we’ve only done one piece on vestments, all the way back in 1988 (RW 10). But a paragraph in that article captures some good thinking:
“I would prefer a white garment to communicate joy, gladness, purity, and resurrection. I would want it cut in the shape of a chasuble to lend a sense of special occasion. I would adorn it with a stole, preferably handmade to communicate human care and creativity, in colors appropriate to the church year” (“Preaching Uniforms,” by Donald Bruggink, professor of historical theology at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, MI).
To see what is available for purchase, I’d suggest calling for some catalogs: the Augsburg Ecclesiastical Arts Catalog (1-800-328-4648) would be a good place to start.