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— Please Note: Since the first draft of this article, we have become aware that there are significant sensitivities around ‘Christian Seder Meals’. Pre-covid, holding a Passover Meal at church had been our practice for many years, not knowing, that this might be an issue of dispute. We recognize that cultural appropriation is a subject that needs having conversations around and apologise if anyone feels offended by the ‘Christian Seder’. We are on a journey of discerning our stand on this matter in the future. —
Normally at this time of the year I would be preparing a shopping list and blackening eggs for the Seder meal we have on Maundy Thursday. Unfortunately, we will be unable to hold this gathering this year.
A few questions might arise: What is a Seder Meal? How can I prepare it at home? And why is it relevant to Christians?
The Passover, or Seder, is a religious ceremony, using symbols, that tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It is normally held at home and includes a meal. This is good, as the whole ceremony can last up to 4 hours and includes all the family, from youngest to eldest.
So, what are these symbols and what do they stand for?
Unleavened bread – Matzah
This represents the bread that was quickly made by the Israelites when preparing to flee Egypt, as they didn’t have time to prepare a raised bread. In the Jewish tradition, before the Passover celebrations the house would be cleaned, and any raising agents removed from the house. Leaven would be fasted for 7 days after the Passover meal.
In later versions of the Passover meal the bread would be split, and part would be wrapped in a cloth. Uncovering it later during the liturgy points towards the coming of God.
You might get lucky and find ready-made Matzah in your local supermarket. Otherwise, a wrap or pita bread makes a good substitute. Or you could make a simple, pan-fried bread made from flour, water, oil and salt.
Hard-boiled egg – Haggigah
This was not part of the early Jewish Passover meal. It was added after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. The Rabbinic Jews do not eat the egg at the Seder meal. To them it represents the sacrifice they are no longer able to offer at the temple. Jews of other traditions eat the egg with salt water that reminds them of the tears cried over the loss of the temple.
The peeled, hardboiled eggs are one of the more interesting components of the seder plate. The egg white has taken on a dark brown shade that would traditionally stem from cooking them in the warm ashes of a fire. The ash reacts with the sulphur in the egg, making it colour.
I cook the egg in a pot of water slowly in the oven (70°C, 2-4 hours). To achieve a similar effect of discolouring, I add to the water a generous amount of left-over coffee grinds and onion skins.
Bitter salad or parsley – Karpas
These greens represent life and are dipped in salt water, symbolising the tears of life.
Paste of apple, cinnamon and nuts – Charoseth
This stands for the mortar that the Israelites worked with whilst in Egypt. It’s sweetness is a reminder that even in hardship there can be good times.
To make it, grate an apple, add a good pour of red wine and thicken with ground nuts.
Horseradish – Maror
Eating the bitter spicy horseradish induces tears that remind us of the sadness of life without redemption and of the sufferings the Israelites endured during their time in slavery in Egypt.. A piece of horseradish grated at the table would have similar results.
Lamb shank – z’Roah
During the very first Passover in Egypt, in Israelite homes a lamb was killed and eaten. God commanded them to brush the lamb’s blood on their door frames so that the angel of death would pass over. Subsequently, during Passover celebrations a whole lamb would have been cooked too. Since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem this tradition hasn’t been part of the stricter Rabbinic tradition and other contemporary Jews use a small piece of chicken or lamb instead.
You may want to use a grilled chicken leg or thigh.
These symbols would be placed on a special plate ready to be shown during the liturgy. A full copy of the text can be found here.
So why can a Seder Meal be meaningful for Christians?
There can be many parallels drawn between the Passover meal and the teachings of Jesus. As is written in John 1:29, Jesus is the lamb of the world who was sacrificed so we would not die.
The breaking of the bread and it being wrapped in a cloth make us think of the breaking of Christ’s body and his burial. Just as the seder bread is uncovered, Jesus rises from the grave.
This can show the importance of the bread over the other food items at the Passover and why it was chosen by Jesus for the Eucharist.
Paul too, refers to the Passover meal when he writes of our sins being the leaven that puffs up our soul and the remembrance of the Passover meal can remove this sin from us: