"Maundy Thursday: Why is this night different from all other nights?
On Facebook last week there was a pronouncement from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg:
"Now that we are getting closer to Passover and Easter, a reminder that Christian
are appropriationistic, problematic, and not historically accurate. Don't host them, don't participate in them." She then goes on to reference an article that she authored in the Washington Post last year "Five Myths about Passover"
I quote from the introduction to Rabbi Ruttenburg's article, "On [Passover] night, Jews around the world sat down to a Passover Seder - a ritual that involves, among other things, retelling the story of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt described in the Torah, drinking a lot of wine and eating a big meal with symbolically significant foods. It's one of the most religiously important and widely observed Jewish holidays, with 70 percent of Jews reporting in a
2014 Pew survey
that they had attended a Seder in the previous year. Given the weight and complexity of Passover (which lasts eight days in the Diaspora), it's not surprising that there are plenty of misunderstandings about both its history and its practice."
Here are two of her concerns that I want to respond to:
Myth No. 1
The Seder tells the historical story of the Israelites leaving Egypt.
I agree with this myth. The biblical account of the people of Israel is not historically accurate. And that is not our claim.
What I want to focus on, though, is this:
Myth No. 3
Jesus' Last Supper was a Passover Seder.
Here is the point. Rabbi Ruttenburg wants to claim that Jesus did not celebrate a Seder in the form that it takes today. TRUE. But that is actually NOT the important point. The modern day Seder is probably as far from its original form of celebration as the modern form of Communion is from its origins in Jesus' hands and as practiced in the early church. She adds in her article "some
even hold "
" in an attempt to practice the religion of Jesus."
To the contrary, I would argue that an exact reenactment is NOT the point. The point is REMEMBRANCE.
Jesus definitely was going to celebrate the Passover when he came into Jerusalem for his final week. (Mark 14: 1-2, 12-25. Matt 26:17-30. Luke 22:7-23) From my perspective, it is essential that Christians understand what that holiday actually is - its meaning and significance for Jewish people (which Jesus was at the time). Christians need to know the story that is retold every Passover. We need to understand its centrality in Jewish life. And we certainly need to hold that significance closely in order to have a fuller understanding of exactly what it is that Jesus undertook when introducing a new ritual of remembrance 'after supper'.
For Jesus, it was NOT just an ordinary dinner. Nor was its significance simply the final meal that he would have with his disciples. The broader understanding can only be had if we understand that it was a Passover Meal that required special preparation, and special stories and a unique context in the history of the people of God.
I had the privilege of attending several Seders with Jewish friends when I was a student at Washington University (where 50% of my freshman class was Jewish). It was there that I developed my early appreciation of this practice and its deep connection to our own history and story.
So we will hold a Seder on Maundy Thursday. The Haggadah (essentially the liturgy) that we will use is a shortened from a Jewish Haggadah - not a Christian invention. (And I will have several on display).
We are not to trying to "reenact" what Jesus did that night, but to reclaim a faith in the activity of God on behalf of God's people throughout history - including for us today.