This Wednesday, April 8, David and I celebrated a Seder meal, in celebration of Pesach (Passover), which we attended with a few friends from our church.
(Modern) Messianic Judaism is a relatively new phenomenon, really taking hold in the 1960’s and 70’s, and refers to the belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, while also embracing Jewish traditions.
With some Jewish family history, and curious to witness this relatively new movement in action, I was very excited to participate, and I’m so glad I did.
I’m not an expert in the symbolism of the Seder meal, however I do know a fair bit about it. It was interesting to listen to the Rabbi briefly explain the Jewish symbolism, but focus upon how Pesach and the Seder meal is equally symbolic for Christians.
As an example, let’s look, first, at the symbolism of the matzos in the Jewish tradition, as described by My Jewish Learning:
In commemoration of that first seder meal, and the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt – giving them no time to allow their bread to rise – we eat matzah at the seder (and instead of bread throughout the holiday).
It is customary to have three pieces stacked on the table. Two are traditional for Shabot and festivals as a reminder of the double portion of manna (food from heaven) the Israelites gathered before every day of rest in the desert (Exodus 16:11-22). We need the third on Passover to break at the beginning of the seder service.
The number three is also said to have symbolic significance. Among other things, the number represents the three measures of fine meal from which Sarah baked cakes for her husband Abraham’s three angelic visitors (Genesis 18:6), the three categories of Jews–Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael–that make up the Jewish people, or the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by whose merit we were redeemed from Egypt and whose covenant with God we were redeemed to fulfill.
At the beginning of the seder, we break one of the cakes of matzah and call it the bread (lekhem) of affliction (oni). It is the meager sustenance of slaves, the meanest fare of the poor, the quickly produced food of those who make a hurried, under-cover-of-dark getaway. Yet later, it represents freedom, the bread we ate when we were liberated from Egyptian bondage.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, the Christian symbolism explains these three matzos as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The middle matzah, for Jews, is the matzah of affliction and just as it is broken, the Messiah, too, was afflicted and broken. One half is now called the afikomen – “the coming one.” It is wrapped in a white cloth just as the Messiah’s body was wrapped for burial. Also, just as the afikomen is hidden, so the Messiah was placed in a tomb and hidden for a time. And finally, just as the afikomen will return to complete the Pesach seder, so too did the Messiah rise from the dead and ascent to heaven. Don’t you just love the symbolism?
I also really loved the joy and praise with which so many expressed themselves. Although David and I were uncomfortable at times – we are not very outwardly charismatic when expressing our faith – I do think there is a time and a place for this expression, and celebrating Pesach is certainly a good time! David and I did find it quite interesting that there were elements of the service that were reminiscent of Pentecostalism, which is perhaps indicative of it being a relatively new movement. There were a lot of “hallelujah” and “praise Jesus.” Not something we hear at our own church very often, nor is it something that either David and I are especially drawn to do. But everyone expresses themselves differently!
One thing, however, that I was enormously drawn to was the dancing. I’ve always wished there were more opportunities for me to participate in this kind of dancing. It’s heartening and exuberant, and there’s a real sense of community and merriment.
There was a lot of this kind of dancing and joyous singing at this Seder meal, and I’m happy I was able push past of some of my selfconciousness and get up and dance around the room with members of the Messianic congregation.
Here’s a video of the same group of people who did a lot of the dancing – the one that I participated in was definitely not this complex, but was meant for those in their seats to be able to follow along easily. Not many joined them, but I’m so glad that I did! It was off-the-cuff, but certainly vibrant.
I’ve often felt that celebrating Pesach was something that I wanted to incorporate into my own family life. Our experience only confirmed this desire, and I know that when David and I have children, we’ll celebrate Pesach with our children and teach them both the Jewish and Christian symbolism. And maybe we’ll do a little dancing, too.