Introduction to a Christian Seder
Recovering Passover for Christians
The Festival of
- Christian Passover - Explanation of Terms and Symbols
Preparation for the Seder -
The Traditional Steps of
- A Christian Seder Haggadah -
Additional Ways to Tell the Passover Story -
Passover is the oldest and most important religious festival in
Judaism, commemorating God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in
Egypt and his creation of the Israelite people. Passover is actually
composed of two festivals, The Feast of
Unleavened Bread and Passover
(which is sometimes used to refer to the single day and sometimes to the
entire span of both festivals).
The festival of Passover, known as Pesach, begins at sunset on the 14th of Nisan (usually in March or
April) and marks the beginning of a seven day celebration that includes
the Feast of Unleavened Bread. -1- The focal point
of Passover is a communal meal, called the Seder
(which means "order," because of the fixed order of service), which is a
time of rejoicing and celebration at the deliverance for the Hebrews that
God accomplished in the exodus. Sometimes the meals during the entire
period of Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread are referred to as Seder
meals, called the first Seder, the Second Seder, etc., although usually
only the first two nights are considered Seder meals.
Unlike the most Holy days of Christianity that are observed in Church,
since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70 Passover has been
celebrated in the home with family and friends as they eat a meal
together. It is customary to invite guests to share the Seder meal,
especially newcomers to the community. The actual Seder meal in most
Jewish homes is an elaborate feast, with food, games for the children, and
plenty of time to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It is not
unusual for a Seder to last three to four hours.
The Seder involves everyone present since they all have a Haggadah
(Heb: "telling," the printed order of service, reading, and songs) and are
called to share in reading and singing the story. While the father or
grandfather is usually the leader of the service, others have roles as
well. The mother of the home lights the festival candles that signal the
beginning of Passover, the youngest child asks the four questions, the
children help eliminate all Chametz, leaven, from
the house, search for the hidden Afikomen (a
symbolic piece of Matzah, unleavened bread) and open
the door for Elijah, the parents or the grandparents tell the story of the
exodus, and various others are designated to read or lead certain portions
of the service.
Passover is really more than a festival. It is an elaborate teaching
experience, especially for the children, intended to call people to their
identity as the People of God. By using all of the senses, the Passover
Seder tells the story of God’s grace in history and calls the participants
to experience and share in the story as their own story. Passover becomes
more than simply a service or a time; it becomes a way to confess faith in
the One who has acted in history, and for Jews expresses the hope that He
will continue to act in bringing deliverance to all people everywhere.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Heb:
matsoth; transliterated in various ways as Matzot, Mazzot for the
plural form, or Matzoh, Matzah for the singular, or simply Matzo) is a
seven day festival that is really a part of and continuation of the
Passover celebration. It actually begins on the 15th of Nisan in the
Jewish calendar and lasts until the 21st, although as early as Josephus in
the 1st century BC the entire festival was counted as eight days (Antiquities,
2:15:1). In preparation for Passover, all chametz or leavened food
(food with yeast) is removed from the house and cannot be eaten during the
seven days of the Festival. The unleavened bread symbolizes the haste with
which the Israelites had to flee from Egypt. Since they did not have time
for the bread to rise in order to have provisions for the journey, they
had to bake it without yeast (Ex 12:11, Deut 16:3).
The second night of Passover (the Second Seder)
is celebrated as the First Day of the Omer
(an omer is a sheaf of barley), since on this night an omer was brought to
the Temple as an offering. This reflects the likely origin of
the Feast of Unleavened Bread as an agricultural celebration that the
Israelites adapted from the surrounding Canaanites marking the beginning
of Spring barley harvest. Some elements of the Passover itself may have
had origins in the pastoral culture of the Middle East in observing the
Spring birthing of livestock. Throughout history, Jews and Christians
alike have adopted and transformed secular and pagan celebrations and used
them to express their own faith confessions.
However, the origins of the festivals are really immaterial to their
celebration within the community of Faith. The fact that in Scripture the
two festivals are always linked as a memorial to the exodus suggests that
whatever the origin, the Israelites combined the festivals very early in
their history. The origins are important to students of Scripture and
history, but do not really impact the festival as a celebration of God and
The First Day
of the Omer
begins the 49 day countdown (7 weeks of 7 days) to the celebration of Shavuot, known in the Old Testament as the
Feast of Weeks or in Christian
Tradition as Pentecost (50 days,
counting from the first night of Passover). The period between the
two festivals is know as the
Days of the Omer, and serves to tie
the two festivals together into a season of sacred time.
While originally an agricultural festival celebrating the beginning of
the wheat harvest, in Jewish tradition Shauvot has come to be celebrated
as a commemoration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, a service of
thanksgiving for the commandments and instructions by which the Israelites
were to live out in practical ways the implications of being the people of
God. By using the Days of the Omer to link Passover and
Shauvot, they made obvious the theological link between the grace of God
in the exodus and the call to faithful response and obedience represented
in God's gift of the Torah.
The last day of Passover is often treated like a Sabbath, with special
prayers and no work done.
There has been increasing interest among Christians in this ancient
festival. There are various reasons for this renewed interest: an
increasing sensitivity to cultural and societal problems and a
corresponding desire to learn about others; a renewed awareness of the
importance of the Old Testament Scriptures as Christian Scripture; a
desire or even a need in our modern world to recover a sense of the sacred
through liturgy and sacrament; the willingness to find new and innovative
ways to worship; and perhaps even the enjoyment that comes from
acknowledging the continuity with a 3,000 year old community of faith.
As a result, there has been an explosion of interest in adapting the
Passover festival to Christianity. Various organizations, such as "Jews
for Jesus," have long promoted Christian Passover services as a means for
Jews to retain their cultural heritage while confessing Christian faith.
They have also used the Christian Passover as a means to communicate to
Christians the Jewish religious heritage that they value.
Our goal here in presenting a Christian adaptation of Passover is to
retain the theological, confessional, and educational dimensions of the
service. That is, it is presented as a way for people of Christian Faith
to express that faith in the context of a gathered community by
participating symbolically in the story of salvation. It is presented very
deliberately and purposefully as a Christian service, with no apologies.
Yet, there has also been a deliberate attempt to preserve the spirit of
the Jewish traditions and experience in the service, and to respect the
faith journey of Israelites and Jews across the centuries. For that
reason, apart from the fact that it will likely be Christians who are
participating in the service, the thoroughly Christian dimension will come
at the end of the service. After all, that is really how God chose to work
in history: to the Jew first, and then also to the rest of us!
Greek, "dessert," in ancient times the last morsel of the paschal lamb,
eaten at the end of the Passover meal. In modern times, it is represented
by half of the middle Matzah in the ceremonial Seder
dish, which, when broken off, is hidden until the end of the meal.
Adapted from some Jewish traditions, it also symbolizes the Messiah who
will come to restore all things. In Christian Seders, this becomes
the symbol of Jesus the Messiah (Christ), and is used as the bread of the
"roasted egg," in the Seder meal represents the burnt offerings brought to
the Temple during festivals in ancient days; it also symbolizes the cycle
of life, the endurance of God’s people and the hope for a future.
Traditionally, a brown egg is used on the Seder plate, roasted in an oven
until it turns dark. Vegetarians often use an avocado seed as a substitute
for the egg on the Seder plate. While hard boiled eggs are often served as
the first course of the Seder meal, like the zeroah
is not eaten since sacrifices are no longer offered.
"leaven" or "yeast," the ingredient in bread that ferments and makes the
bread "rise"by producing bubbles of gas in the dough. Its absence in
Passover carries a dual symbolism. First, the use of unleavened
bread symbolizes the haste with which the Israelites had to flee Egypt;
second, it is often a symbol of corruption and sin, and so its removal
symbolizes the freedom from sin that God brings.
derived from the Hebrew word for "clay," a mixture of apples, nuts,
cinnamon, honey, and wine which serves to sweeten the bitter herbs.
Because of its appearance, it symbolizes the mud mixed with straw used by
the slaves in Egyptian buildings. However, it’s sweetness symbolizes that
the bitterness of slavery is tempered with the hope for a future. While
the maror and matzah
are biblical commands, the charoset was an element added by the
chazeret: a second bitter
herb sometimes used to make the "Hillel" sandwich; often romaine lettuce
is used for the second herb.
dodi li: "my beloved is
mine," the first words of the traditional reading from Song of Songs
(2:16), used as a title for the entire reading.
plural, haggadot: from a root
which means "to tell," the printed booklet that contains the instructions
or order or service, readings, and songs for the Passover Seder.
hallel: "praise," refers
both to the section of the Seder in which songs are sung, as well as to
the songs themselves.
k’arah: a ceremonial Seder
plate, sometimes very ornate, that contains places for the five symbolic
elements of the Passover Seder: karpas (parsley),
lamb bone, bitter herbs,
and charoset. On more elaborate plates, additional
places are provided for other symbols, such as a place for a small bowl of
salt water. In this Seder plate, space is provided for the
chazeret, a second bitter herb used to make the "Hillel"
"green vegetable," garden greens, usually parsley, celery, lettuce, or
other leafy green vegetable such as watercress used in the Seder meal. The
greens are dipped in a small bowl of salt water, recalling the hyssop
dipped for sprinkling on the door posts of Hebrew dwellings in preparation
for the Exodus (Exodus 12:22).
"fitness," the Jewish dietary laws developed from the Old Testament and
the Talmud; kosher ("proper")
identified those foods acceptable to observant Jews. There are a
variety of laws governing which foods can be eaten and how they may be
prepared, but the basic restrictions are: (1) no pork or pork products as
well as certain other foods such as shellfish, and (2) no dairy products
served with meat. Also during Passover there can be no food eaten
that is made with yeast, baking powder, or baking soda. Today, many
commercial foods are marked in various ways (for example, with a "K") to indicate
that they are kosher.
kippah: also known as a yarmulke, a close fitting hemispherical
head covering or cap worn as a sign of reverence and respect for God.
Traditionally worn only by men it is now occasionally worn by women in
Conservative and Reformed groups. It is often worn during the Seder,
especially by the leader.
maggid: "telling," the
section of the Seder in which the story of exodus and Passover are recited
in various ways.
"bitter herb," traditionally a piece of horseradish root or romaine
lettuce. A reminder of the bitterness of life in bondage, not only in
Egypt, but everywhere. In the Seder meal, grated horseradish is usually
used (at right).
plural, matzot: "unleavened
bread," dough made without yeast that bakes into a thin flat bread.
Biblical tradition says that the Hebrews had to leave Egypt so quickly
that they did not have time to let the bread rise so they made the dough
without yeast or leaven. It is possible that they took the dough
with them in kneading bowls and sun baked the bread on the hot rocks of
the desert. There are various ways to transliterate this term.
Today, Matzah is represented by flat cracker-like wafers. In the
Passover Seder three Matzot are used, two representing the two loaves of
bread that were placed in the Jerusalem Temple on festival days, plus an
additional one for Passover.
"Egypt," although the origin of this Hebrew word is uncertain, some see it
derived from the Hebrew word tzar (narrows, straits), meaning
"from the narrows" or "from between the two sides." With this
understanding, some use the name Mitsrayim rather than Egypt in the Seder
as a more generic symbol of persecution and oppression.
nirtzah: "acceptance," the
concluding section of the Seder marked by a prayer that the service will
be accepted and the drinking of the last cup.
"passover," used to refer to the entire Passover festival or more
specifically to the Passover lamb. In the Seder, it refers to the roasted
lamb shank bone that represents the sacrificial Passover lamb (Exodus
seder: "order," refers both
to the service of the Passover festival meal that follows a prescribed
order, and to the entire festival meal itself.
tzafun: "hidden," refers to
the "dessert" of the meal, which is a piece of Matzah that has been hidden
yom tov: "good day," used to
"arm," the roasted shank bone of a lamb that is symbolic of the Passover
lamb, both the lambs that were killed in Egypt for the first Passover, but
also for the sacrificial lambs offered in the Temple to commemorate
Passover. Some Jews understand the bone also to symbolize the arm of God
outstretched to help his people in times of trouble. Since there are no
longer Temple sacrifices, no lamb or any other roasted meat is eaten at
Passover. Some households use a chicken neck in place of the shank bone,
and vegetarians often use beets to replace the shank bone on the seder
plate, with the red beets and juice symbolizing the blood of the lamb that
was used to mark the door posts of the houses.
Elijah's Cup (kos eliyahu
ha-nabi): In Jewish observance, this is an extra cup of wine displayed
(sometimes at an empty place setting) to welcome the prophet of hope who
would announce the Messiah's coming. While left empty or
untouched in Jewish observance, in the Christian Seder it represents the
Cup of Redemption, the Passover, "shed for you . . . the forgiveness of
sins," and is used symbolically as the cup of the Eucharist.
Wine: The traditional symbol of
rejoicing. "Wine to gladden the heart of humanity" (Psalm 104:15).
Since many evangelical churches maintain an ethical position of total
abstinence from alcoholic beverages, grape juice may be substituted. For a
more authentic experience some of the newer carbonated "sparkling"
non-alcoholic grape juices can be used.
Candles: The symbol of God's
presence at the ceremony. Usually two single white candles in candlesticks
Preparing for the Seder is important if the service is to run smoothly,
especially considering that most Christians have not even participated in
a Seder let alone planned one. The preparations are not complicated but do
need to be given some consideration ahead of time. It is usually wise to
begin planning and gathering materials at least two weeks before the
actual date, simply to allow for unexpected difficulties. Careful thought
ahead of time will make the experience more enjoyable for those leading
Different Ways to Conduct a Seder
One of the first decisions that must be made is the kind of Seder to be
held, which will largely determine the number of people participating, as
well as the amount and type of preparations necessary. There are three
basic ways of doing the Seder as a Christian service.
Full Meal Seder
The Seder can be conducted as a full course meal, just as it is
celebrated in Jewish homes. However, this is usually impractical to do in
public with a large group, not only because of the expense, logistics, and
work involved, but also because of the length of the service. A full Seder
meal normally takes from two to four hours, depending on the number of
songs and children’s activities. Since the Christian Seder is usually
offered as part of Holy Week services, usually on Maundy Thursday, such a
long evening service will often put a strain on family schedules,
especially if there are younger children involved.
Usually, a full meal Seder is best done in a home setting with a
limited number of people. It is especially appropriate for pastoral or
church staff, for a smaller Sunday School class, or simply as a
celebration with family and friends. It is rare in most Christian circles
for families to do specifically religious activities outside of a church
setting, and this would be a good means to address that deficiency. This
may actually take as much or more planning than a public service,
especially if there are many children involved. There should be plenty of
activities included for the children, since the entire service is
concerned with telling the story of God to future generations (in addition
to the problem of short attention spans!)
This moves to the opposite end of the spectrum, in that a Seder is not
actually conducted but only the various elements of the service
demonstrated by one or two leaders. This is most often done for a large
group who do not themselves participate in any of the activities. A
demonstration service has the advantage of flexibility and the least
amount of preparation, and is most appropriate for a Sunday School class,
children’s church, or youth group, or perhaps even a Sunday evening
service. The main disadvantage is the lack of the participatory experience
in community, the primary value of the Seder. It is usually a
demonstration Seder that is offered to local churches by organizations
such as "Jews for Jesus," or that is periodically provided to the public
by many Jewish synagogues or temples.
This is a compromise between an actual full-meal Seder and a
demonstration presented by a small group to an audience. A symbolic Seder
usually includes the main elements of the Seder service and the
participation of everyone present, but without the full meal, the extended
games for the children, and the songs at the conclusion. There are often
other aspects of the service that are abbreviated or omitted, such as the
hand washings. Usually, a symbolic Seder for Christians will be an
adaptation of the Seder service to Christian practice. There are various
ways to adapt the Seder, ranging from a total reworking of both the order
(seder) and the actual service itself (haggadah) to give it
a Christian perspective from the beginning, to an attempt to recreate an
abbreviated version of the Jewish Seder with few if any Christian
The service presented here is a symbolic Seder that tries to respect
and retain the Jewish heritage represented in the Seder, yet clearly
defining the service as Christian celebration. For this service,
specifically Christian elements are not added into the service until the
conclusion, trying to symbolize the way the story of God has actually
worked out in history ("to the Jews first, and also to the [Gentile]").
A symbolic Seder has the advantage of presenting the main elements in
celebrating Passover, as well as allowing everyone to participate in this
unique learning and worship experience. As part of Holy Week services in a
local church, it also can be a meaningful way to prepare for the
observance of Good Friday and the celebration of Easter. One disadvantage
to this service is that it does take considerable planning and
preparation, although it is not as complicated as a full meal Seder. On
the other hand, almost any meaningful worship experience takes careful
planning, and the uniqueness of this service can involve people who might
not normally have a role in planning services of worship.
Gathering the Materials/Table Setting
The following guidelines for planning the Seder are intended to be used
with The Passover Seder for Christians presented by CRI/Voice, which is a
symbolic service designed to be used in a public setting with
participation. If another type of Seder is planned, or adaptations of this
Haggadah are used, adjustments will have to be made accordingly. (See the
Preparation sections in the Haggadah for The
for Christians for additional information).
After the type of Seder is decided, the next step is to estimate how
many people will be involved in the service. This is important not only
for the physical setup of the service, but also for the material to be
purchased or prepared. The following will describe what is needed for the
head table and for each place setting as a basis for calculating the
A complication in determining the number of participants involves
whether the service will be advertised publicly by newspaper ads, flyers,
mailings, or posters, or if it is primarily aimed at a more restricted
group. In some communities, there will be a greater appeal for
advertising, and such a service will attract many who would not normally
attend services. Of course, it is always best to plan for too many than to
come up short, but that also involves a commitment of extra time and
resources. Again, this is a decision that should be made early in the
Another issue that also needs to be decided early in relation to the
number of people for whom the service is planned is how the Seder is to
funded. Some churches sell tickets to such events, either at a fixed price
or for an unspecified donation. Some charge admission at the door, while
some defer expenses by an offering taken at the conclusion of the service
or donations accepted as people enter. Others simply offer the service as
a ministry of the church with nothing expected from the participants.
Which route is taken may also affect the estimated attendance.
Seder Elements for Each Table
These guidelines assume that the layout for the Seder is several small
groups or tables of 4-6 people in each group, with one person designated a
leader of that group. This can be done without such groups, in which case
adaptations could be made in the table setting and the materials required.
A note about wine: Wine has always been an
integral part of the Passover ritual even in New Testament times, so much
so that many of the traditional blessings of the Seder refer to the "fruit
of the vine." However, many evangelical churches have taken an ethical
position of total abstinence from alcohol, so many will want to use grape
juice for this service. Carbonated "sparkling" grape juice is widely
available (red grape juice, not clear, should be used).
The head table is usually situated at the front of the room where
everyone can see it clearly. If possible, it is best to arrange the room
so that everyone will be facing the head table, for example, in a "U"
shape. If this is not possible, tables may be angled so that the most
number of people have a clear sight line to the head table.
The head table should be large enough to seat 3-4 people (the two main
leaders, one man and one woman, and one designated to lead the "People"
readings). It should also be able to hold all the elements of the Seder
without being crowded. Usually, a 6-8 foot folding table is best. It
should be covered with a white tablecloth; this can be a inexpensive
covering, since the risk of stain is high, but a cloth that covers the top
and most of the front will help establish the ceremonial nature of the
service. A white linen tablecloth can be covered with a sheet of
clear plastic for protection (see photo below). It will facilitate the service to have microphones at this
Place Setting for the Leader
These are the basic elements for the leader: 1) a leader's copy of the
Seder Haggadah; 2) a special linen napkin with a pocket to hold the
afikomen; 3) a linen bag with three compartments for the matzot, here
placed on a special silver matzah plate; 4) a
cup of drinking water; 5) a bowl of water for the ceremonial hand
washing; 6) a bowl of salt water; 7) a napkin or towel; 8) carafe of
wine or grape juice; 9) the Seder plate; 10) a bowl of charoset; 11)
four glasses, one for each of the cups (a single glass can be used); here Elijah's cup is slightly
larger; 12) two candlesticks with white candles; 13) a bowl of grated
horseradish; 14) a table with a place setting for Elijah (optional).
In addition to all the elements for individuals and for the group
listed above (place settings for each person at the head table), you will
need the following for the head table.
Elements needed for the Head Table:
1 6-8 ft. folding table
1 Seder plate
a specially decorated plate with places for the symbolic elements
used by the leader. This is important in a traditional Seder meal;
some stores, or even a local synagogue or temple, often sell
inexpensive plastic or paper Seder plates
a leaf of Romaine lettuce
this is only necessary if the Seder plate has a place for a second
bitter herb; it is not used in this service
1 piece of raw horseradish root
this is placed symbolically on the Seder plate, but is not
actually used in the service since grated horseradish is used; a
teaspoon of the prepared horseradish can be used on the plate instead
a Matzah bag or cover (optional)
4 clear wine glasses
it is effective to have rather ornate crystal glasses for the
Leader, a different style for each cup; these should be fairly large
1 loaf or several slices of regular,
pieces of this will be hidden and all of it removed before the
1 hard-boiled egg
this should be either a brown egg, or roasted in an oven until it
1 lamb shank bone
these can usually be obtained from a local grocery store
the type and number of these will be determined by how the search
for Afikomen is conducted, and whether a prize is given to each child;
often coins of Israel are given as prizes
A Leader’s Haggadah
this is simply an expanded version of the same
Haggadah used by
the people, except with additional instructions and notes; if this is
not available, the leader should review the Haggadah well before the
service and make any notes necessary
3 clear bowls
the Leader’s bowl of Charoset, Salt Water, and Maror should be
clear so that the participants can see their contents when they are
held up; a small, clear custard bowl is ideal
a pitcher or basin of water
an empty basin
a hand towel
Place Setting for Each Person
In this place setting, the elements for the Seder are on a separate
plate to be shared by two people. Eggs were also used, although in a
typical symbolic Seder they are not. Rather than having a wine glass and
filling it for each cup, four small pre-filled communion cups were used.
The cup for the salt water is inexpensive clear plastic.
There are the basic elements needed for a symbolic Seder: from
left clockwise, Matzah, a bowl of salt water, wine or red grape juice,
hard boiled egg (optional), grated horseradish, parsley, charoset.
Elements Required for Each Person:
1 dinner plate
paper plates are OK, but they should be the better quality
to make this a special occasion, if possible linen or cloth
napkins can be used
1 wine glass
this should be clear, not a paper cup; very inexpensive clear
plastic wine glasses are commonly available in many stores. It is also
possible for each person to to have four small clear plastic communion
cups of wine, already filled before the service; if this is done, then
the wine carafe is not needed for each group.
1 water glass
this is a precaution for those who might get too much Maror and
need a drink. This glass can be filled with water, or left empty and
filled from the water pitcher if needed
1 fork and 1 spoon
plastic is fine, although regular flatware will help mark this as
a special occasion
1 sprig fresh parsley
this can be placed ahead of time on each individual plate, or can
be placed in a larger bowl and passed around at the appropriate time
1 full piece of Matzah
usually a 6" square piece. This assumes that each group leader
will have the 3 pieces used in the service; it is also possible for
each person to have 3 pieces of Matzoth, although that becomes a
little more expensive. Most larger food stores will have Matzah
available in the Spring, or can order it. It comes 10-12 pieces to a
1 small bowl of salt water
there should be enough salt water in which to dip the parsley, and
enough salt in the water to make it cloudy (an alternate arrangement
would have a small bowl for every four or five people to share).
1 copy of the
Songbook or printed handout of songs
If the hand washing is to be included as
a public activity:
1 small towel
for the amount of water used, a wash cloth may be used as a towel
Elements required for each group:
2 white candles in candlesticks
1 small bowl of Charoset
there should be more than enough in each bowl for each person in
the group to have about 2 tablespoons (this can be placed on
individual plates before the beginning of the Seder to save time).
1 small bowl of prepared, grated
there should be more than enough in each bowl for each person to
have about 1 tablespoon; hot variety is better (this can be placed on
individual plates before the beginning of the seder).
5 white cloth napkins
for the Matzah basket
1 large plate or shallow basket
for the Matzah
3 full pieces of Matzah
placed on a napkin covered plate or basket each separated by a
single white cloth napkin, with the top one also covered by a napkin.
1 carafe or pitcher of wine
1 pitcher of drinking water
fresh spring flowers contributed by members of the group are
effective reminders of the newness that this celebrations represents
If the hand washing is to be included as
a public activity:
1 pitcher of water (or a bowl of water
with a small dipper)
1 empty shallow basin
In planning for the Seder, consideration should be given to the
physical set-up for the service. While the normal setting up of tables,
sound system, and clean-up are rather routine for any such public service,
some additional help will most likely be needed for the unique aspects of
this service. Involving others in the preparation and setup of the service
is in keeping with the communal nature of the event, and can itself be
part of the excitement of the celebration.
In terms of preparation, someone will need to be in charge of figuring
out how much of which items are needed and to supervise purchasing the
necessary food and utensil items for the service. Most churches have
someone who is willing to take responsibility for decorations, which in
this case would involve purchasing, collecting, or coordinating the
donation of fresh flowers to be used for table decorations, as well as any
other decorations desired. And of course, someone will have to cook or
prepare the Charoset, which in a symbolic Seder is really the only food
item that needs to be prepared (in addition to the single hard-boiled egg
for the Seder plate).
The Leader of the Seder should be chosen early enough that s/he can
participate in the planning and coordination of the service, and supervise
the final place settings for the service. The Leader needs to be familiar
enough with all the details of the service to be able to facilitate it
easily and smooth over any problems that might arise. Other readers and
participants should be given copies of the Haggadah early enough to be
thoroughly familiar with the readings so that they flow smoothly.
The seder (order) of the Seder traditionally took fourteen steps
beginning with the first cup of wine. Even though the removing of leaven
is not considered part of the actual Seder, since it takes place before
the Seder begins, a symbolic search for leaven is usually incorporated as
preparation for the service.
- Bedikat Chametz
Search for leaven
- Hadlakat Ha-Nerot
Lighting of the Passover candles
Sanctifying blessing and first cup of wine
First hand washing
Green Vegetable dipped in salt water and
Breaking the middle Matzah and hiding the
Telling the story of Passover and the second
cup of wine
Second hand washing and blessing
Blessing for the bread and eating of Matzah
Eating of the bitter herbs
Eating of sandwich of Maror and Matzah
- Shulchan Orech
The festival meal
Eating the Afikomen
After meal blessing, the third cup, welcoming
Songs of praise
Fourth cup and completion of the Seder
Due to the length of the Haggadah, it is provided on a separate page:
A Christian Seder Haggadah
Additional Ways to Tell the
There is a great deal of creativity in how the Passover story is told
in the Seder. The goal is not simply to repeat the story in the same way
year after year, but to teach the content
of the story as a means of forming identity with the community. That
results in literally thousands of different Haggadot that vary in how the
Passover story is told.
Usually, there are four major ways of telling the story during the
Seder: 1) The Four Questions, 2) the Four Children, 3) the Passover story,
concluding with the reading Dayeinu, "It would have been enough,"
and 4) the explanation of the Passover symbols on the Seder plate. The
Christian Seder given here combines The Four Questions with the
explanation of the Passover symbols on the Seder plate to answer the
questions and tell the Passover story. Following are other ways of
telling the story and other features that can be incorporated into a
Four Attitudes Toward Passover
This begins with the observation that the command to "tell your
children" the Exodus story occurs four times in the Torah. The Talmud
(Jewish rabbinic commentary on the Old Testament Scriptures) suggests that
the reason for this fourfold instruction is that there are four different
attitudes that could be exhibited in approaching the Seder, represented by
four children or four different kinds of people who would ask various
questions about the observance. It is not that there are others who
exhibit these traits but that each of us at various times have these same
attitudes. It is not intended to condemn others but to call everyone to a
deeper appreciation of their heritage and faithfulness to God.
The answers are part of the Maggid, the "telling" of the story that is
part of the ritual of the Seder meal. Two different ways of using this
aspect of the Seder are given, although they are really only variations on
the same themes. These can be done informally or developed and written out
as part of the Haggadah.
The Wise Child would ask: "What is
the meaning of the laws and commandments which the Lord our God commanded
us to keep?" [Deut 6:20]. This is the question of curiosity and interest,
which is answered eagerly and with enthusiasm, explaining in detail the
customs and rituals of Passover, taking time to relate each to the
community of faith, the nature of freedom, and the call to be God’s people
to practice justice and righteousness. This can be used as the setting for
explaining the symbols of Passover on the Seder plate, as well as the
other aspects of the Seder meal.
The Wicked or Scornful Child would
ask: "What does this service mean to you?" [Exod 12:26]. This is the
question of disinterest and indifference, betrayed by saying "you" and not
"we," by which this person excludes him/herself from the community. This
is answered sternly and forcefully: "We celebrate Passover because of what
God did for us while we were slaves in Egypt [Exod 13:8]. If you had been
in Egypt, you would not have been included when the Lord God delivered us
from slavery." While this sounds harsh, the idea is that indifference to
the things of God excludes one from participation in God’s work in the
world. The call is to join the community, to participate, to hear the
testimony, and to learn about God.
The Simple Child would ask: "What
is this all about?" This is the question of confusion and ignorance, which
is answered in the most simple way possible: "God saved us from slavery."
The Child who does not know enough to ask a
question: The only proper response to this is to repeat the
testimony with patience and tenderness: "We observe Passover because once
we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us out by his strength and power
because of his love and compassion for us. [Exod 13:8] We observe Passover
to remember what the Lord our God has done for us."
The Active Participant: This
represents the best and wisest in us, who appreciates the experience of
Passover and what it represents in celebrating the love and grace of God,
who is willing to express the wonder that God would enter human history
and deliver slaves from captivity, and is willing to commit
himself/herself to such a God. This person enters into the Seder willing
to allow the experience and the confession and commitment to God expressed
in it to shape every aspect of daily life, to live out the implications of
being God’s people in the world, to live out the principles of love,
grace, justice, and freedom from oppression of any kind.
The Passive Participant: This
represents the worst in us that sees no value in such celebrations or
observance for ourselves or others, and who is not willing to acknowledge
that God does anything in the world. This person enters the Seder with a
skepticism that prevents them from actually experiencing the strength
drawn from the community of Faith, and so will hear nothing but words and
see nothing but ordinary items. They will leave with no sense of belonging
because they have made no commitments, they have no roots, and as a result
have no future. This person would have kept us all in Egypt, enslaved by
apathy and indifference.
The Shy Participant: This
represents that part of us that that tends to be self-centered and see the
world in terms of what it means for us and our world of concerns and
wants. It is not that this person does not care, but that personal needs
and introspection outweigh the need for a larger picture. This person
tends to ask simple questions from within certain perspectives, and needs
the support and encouragement of all of us in the larger community. We can
be compassionate while answering the questions and sharing the experience
with them, while at the same time helping them and modeling for them how
to learn about God and how to live out that faith in real life. It is
important that they learn, for ignorance and self-entered simplicity
threaten the freedom of the larger community.
The Puzzled Participant: This
represents those too young or too immature of any age to fully understand
the experience of Passover, and so does not know enough to ask questions.
For them we simply tell the story once again, and in the enthusiasm and
joy of telling the story demonstrate our own commitment to this
celebration, and to the God whom we serve and worship through this
Dayeinu (It Would Have
This is a traditional reading that follows the telling of the exodus
story. Some Haggadot use Psalms 105 and 106 to tell the Passover story
before the Dayeinu (pronounced Die-YEAH-nu). The word means "it
would have been enough."
Leader: God has shown us so many acts of
kindness and grace. For each one, we say dayeinu. If only the Lord
God had taken us out of Egypt . . .
If only the Lord God had taken us out of Egypt
and not passed judgment on the Egyptians . . .
If only the Lord God had passed judgment on the
Egyptians and not parted the sea for us . . .
If only the Lord God had parted the sea for us
and not taken care of us and fed us manna in the desert for 40 years..
If only the Lord God had taken care of us and fed
us manna in the desert for 40 years and not given us the Sabbath rest . .
If only the Lord God had given us the Sabbath
rest and not brought us to Mount Sinai and given us the Torah . . .
If only the Lord God had brought us to Mount
Sinai and given us the Torah and not brought us into the land of Israel
For all these, alone and together, we say . . .
If this is only a symbolic meal, the only food that actually needs to
be prepared for the Seder is the Charoset. The rest of the food items
should be readily available in stores. Most larger supermarkets carry
specialty food items such as Matzah
or can order it by request.
If a full meal is planned, for this to be an authentic Passover
experience three traditional observances should be followed in planning
the meal: (1) there should be no food served with yeast (strict observance
also forbids baking soda or baking powder), (2) there can be no dairy
products served since kashrut (Jewish
dietary food laws) forbids the eating of dairy products with meat, and (3)
no pork or pork derivatives can be served. This may take a little effort
to accomplish for those not used to such observances. This would eliminate
bread, dinner rolls, some kinds of cake, butter either served or used in
cooking, creamed sauces or soups, cheese or cheese sauces, dairy based
coffee creamer, whipped cream toppings, bacon bits, ham or Spam pieces in
salads, pork fat or bacon grease used in cooking or sauces, etc.
While many Christians associate lamb as the meat of Passover, since
lambs can no longer be killed sacrificially it is not part of the Passover
Seder. For the same reason, no roasted meat can be served. Usually, either
chicken or beef are the main meat dishes.
There are two basic versions of Charoset, one that is chunky, uses
apples as the base, and is prepared without cooking (which is favored in
the West), and the other that uses dates or figs as a base and is cooked
into a thick paste (which is favored in the Middle East). The version we
use (below) is an uncooked combination of both and uses a food processor
(grinder) to blend the ingredients.
There is a great deal of variety in how Charoset can be made. Dates,
dried figs, dried apricots, pears, oranges, raisins, currants, bananas, or
other fruits or nuts can be chopped and added to the mixture. Cardamom or
Coriander are also used as spices. You may have to do some experimentation
to see how much each recipe produces, and then determine how many servings
need to be prepared for the number of people participating. For
symbolic meals each person needs about two tablespoons of Charoset, plus a
little extra for the children (they love this!).
Apple Charoset (chunky uncooked version)
1 cup chopped apples (2-3 apples)
1 cup chopped walnuts, almonds, or pistachio
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger or 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. honey or to taste
grape juice, wine vinegar, or lemon juice
Core, peel, and chop apples very fine. Add nuts, spices, and honey. Add
enough grape juice to moisten mixture to the consistency of mortar.
Chill until used; serve at room temperature. This recipe yields
about 8-10 well-rounded tablespoons of Charoset.
Date/Fig Charoset (paste cooked version)
1 cup pitted dates or chopped dried figs (or a mixture of dates,
figs, and raisins)
1 cup chopped walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, or any combination
2 cups water
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. honey or to taste
Pour water over fruit and let soak overnight. Bring to a boil, reduce
heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a
paste-like consistency. Cool. Stir in vinegar, cinnamon, and honey. (Some
recipes of this version use a small amount, a pinch for a single recipe,
of cayenne or chili pepper for added flavor!). This recipe
yields about 12-16 tablespoons of Charoset, depending on how long it is
cooked and how thick it is.
Combination Charoset (blended uncooked
This is the version we use (largely because I
like the flavor best!). Raisins or other dried fruit, such as
apricot, can be added.
1 cup chopped apples (2-3 apples)
1 cup black walnuts
1 cup chopped, dried dates (or 1/2 cup dates and 1/2 cup figs)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. lime juice
Core, peel, and cut apples into 1" chunks. Run apples and dates
and other fruit through food grinder using coarse blades (you will likely
have to alternate the apples with the dried fruit). Add nuts, spices,
honey, vinegar and lime juice. More liquid may be added if necessary or to
taste. This recipe yields about 12-14 well-rounded tablespoons of
Charoset Shopping List
One 8 oz. box of chopped dried dates is about 2 cups
One 8 oz. package of black walnuts is about 2 cups.
The above recipe yields enough for a small serving for about 6-8
people. Assuming two full tablespoons per person, and some left for
the children to finish off, in addition to the spices a symbolic meal for
50 would require:
4 8-oz. boxes of chopped, dried dates (or
4 8-oz. packages of black walnuts
1. These festivals are based on a lunar rather than a
solar calendar, which is why the dates from year to year vary widely; they
fall in March or April (See The Hebrew Calendar of
the Old Testament). Nisan is a name borrowed by the Israelites during
the Exile from the Babylonian calendar. The Hebrew equivalent of Nisan is
Abib (Ex 23:15). In the Babylonian system, Nisan is the first month,
beginning the year in the Spring (March-April). In the older agricultural
calendar of Israel, the year began in the Fall immediately following the
harvests (Ex 23:16, the Babylonian month of Tishri, September-October).
Since a lunar calendar begins each month with the new moon, the important
Israelite religious festivals of Passover-Unleavened Bread and Succoth or
Tabernacles begin in mid-month, the time of the full moon.