or: yes, Mum, I do a Seder every year
My mum rang me a couple of days before Passover. Apparently she had planned on phoning me the day of the Passover Seder, but my niece explained to her that it wouldn’t be a good time because I’d be busy with Seder preparations. My mum seemed surprised to hear that. On the phone she said, “I hear you’re making a Seder this year” and I said, kind of flustered, “but of course, I do this every year”… but then the conversation moved on to other things, and we didn’t really talk about why she was surprised, or about why I do host a Seder every year.
It was almost a week later, and I woke up with thoughts about writing a blog post titled something like “yes, mum, I do a Seder every year”, but then I came downstairs and my husband told me we’d had a phone call from Israel to say my mum had died, so I was too busy crying and stuff and didn’t write that post.
But it’s three weeks since she died, and maybe it’s time to write this post now.
Why was my mum surprised? My guess is that it’s because she never did get her head round the way my Jewishness fits in with my faith in Jesus. Like many people, she assumed that I’d celebrate Easter instead of the Passover – as if the two are mutually exclusive, unconnected, as if you have to choose whether you’re going to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt or the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah.
But at Passover I commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and also the crucifixion and resurrection of Messiah Jesus. Because when I look at the story of the Exodus, I see a drama full of clues about something similar, but much bigger, that was to happen a lot later. I see a lamb without blemish slaughtered so that we would escape God’s judgement. I see the blood of that lamb smeared on our doorposts to mark us out as those who were to be spared – not because of anything good about us, but because we obeyed that one crucial instruction.
I do not believe it’s a coincidence that the Passover Seder was Jesus’ last meal and that he was crucified at that time when our whole nation was remembering the lambs being slaughtered for us. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he called him “the lamb of God” – he recognised what was going on, he made the connection between the clues we had in the Exodus story and the imminent drama which was going to have a much bigger impact, not just on the Jewish nation but on the whole of mankind. This time it wasn’t going to be about rescuing us from slavery to the Egyptians – it was going to be about rescuing us from slavery to sin. This time it wasn’t going to be about the blood protecting us so that we wouldn’t be killed, but about saving us from a fate worse than death, saving us from the judgement which every human being will face one day after they die.
So yes, I host a Passover Seder every year. As a believer in Jesus, it means a lot to me. It never did before – at home when I was a kid, it was just an empty ritual, something we did simply because it was the tradition. My dad (a devout atheist) would read through the Haggadah as quickly as possible, and us kids would wonder how long before it’s time to eat. The songs were fun, and we had nice food. But that’s all it was about for us – tradition, and songs, and a nice meal.
Now, as a follower of Jesus, the ultimate sacrificial lamb, I celebrate it with thankfulness not just that God brought my forefathers out of Egypt, but that he gave his only son to die so that through his blood I could be spared.
And on that last Seder meal that Jesus ate with his disciples the night before he died, he took the matza, the unleavened bread, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying stuff that they probably didn’t fully understand at the time – something about his own body given for them… and he took the wine and told them it was the blood of the new covenant – the new covenant God had promised through Jeremiah the prophet, a fabulous new deal which was going to work quite differently from the one he had made with us at Mount Sinai when he brought us out of Egypt.
I am so grateful for this new covenant, I have no words. Without it I’d be literally hope-less.
So yes, I do a Seder every year. Not because of some sense of duty to keep tradition, but because it means so much to me that I couldn’t imagine skipping it!