Recently, in an online e-pistle, the Rt Rev Jennifer Reddall, bishop of Arizona asked congregations to consider the church’s history of anti-Semitic practices in their planning for Holy Week, including suggesting alternatives to any congregations that might have considered a “Christian” Seder. Her thoughtful post is included below (here is the link to the original).
Relatedly, the diocese of Texas has been offering alternative materials for Good Friday that also seek to directly address anti-Semitism in the church’s liturgies and traditions. You can find them here.
Bishop Redall’s e-pistle
As we approach Holy Week once again, I commend to you an insightful article by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt Divinity School. The title of the article is “Holy Week and the hatred of the Jews: How to avoid anti-Judaism this Easter”, and I encourage our clergy and lay leaders to read the article in its entirety.
Some of the recommendations of the article we are already doing in Arizona; for instance, I have authorized the past two years alternative translations of the Passion of John and the Solemn Collects. The article also speaks compellingly about the problem of Christian communities attempting to host Seders. I have discovered, now that we are back to doing worship and ministry in person, that there are a few congregations in our diocese that include a Seder as part of their Holy Week Observance. I absolutely agree with Dr. Levine’s commentary:
“The same romantic approach today is best exemplified in the celebration of the Passover seder in churches, usually on Holy Thursday. While there are educational benefits to introducing Christians to Jewish rituals, holding the seder in churches is not necessarily a good idea, and here’s why:
- It is not clear that the Last Supper was a Passover meal; it is not, in John’s gospel, which at this point has better claims to historicity.
- The Seder is a rabbinic invention which then developed over the centuries; Jesus did not eat matzoh ball soup or gefilte fish, sing Dayenu, or say “next year in Jerusalem” — for Jesus, the seder would have consisted of a lamb sacrificed in the Temple and eaten in Jerusalem, not a brisket cooked in Nashville.
- The Passover at the time of Jesus was limited to Jews, because one needed to say, “My ancestors came forth out of Egypt”.
- In John’s gospel, Jesus is the Passover offering, crucified at the time the lambs are sacrificed in the temple, so for the church to celebrate a seder would be theologically retrograde.”
I do not want to shame any congregations that are faithfully trying to navigate their way through Holy Week 2022. But if hosting a seder is part of your practice, I would ask you to consider one of several alternatives for 2023 and into the future:
- Form a relationship with a local Jewish synagogue or temple, and ask to be invited to their seders.
- Host an Agape supper at any time during the year: there are many resources online; here is one.
- Remember that the proper liturgy for Maundy Thursday for the Episcopal Church is in the Book of Common Prayer, and includes a wide variety of unique and specific liturgical activities for the day: foot-washing, reservation of the sacrament, and the stripping of the altar. If your congregation does not do all of them at present, consider exploring them next year.