Guess what? I participated in my first Seder on Tuesday night.
And I don’t mean one of those adapted-for-Christians-because-we-believe-the-Messiah-has-already-come-and-the-Last-Supper-was-the-Passover-meal-anyway Seder meals. No, I mean the real deal, an authentic Seder meal at a non-Messianic Jewish temple.
It was certainly a community I never would have experienced in my daily life, and it was pretty darn awesome, if I do say so myself.
For those who are interested, this was a temple in the reformed Jewish tradition, and the service of worship, or Haggadah, we used was this one. It was in Hebrew and English (most of it), and the pages were numbered from right to left (“back” to “front”). It was a beautiful book that reminded me most of a contemporary illuminated manuscript–some of the paintings were very Chagall-like.
The best part of the evening was the people we got to meet at our table. They were thrilled to explain everything to us and answer our crazy questions. (What makes “kosher for Passover” wine different than just kosher wine? Why are egg whites permitted in the dessert if meat and dairy are not allowed to be together on the same plate?) In fact, the couple to our left had such a good time, they told us we better come back next year and request the same table. (See? Community!)
Certainly there were many things to appreciate about the experience–the way food can tell a story, the symbolism of bitter herbs, the sinus-clearing horseradish, the sprinkling ten droplets of wine on your plate to represent the ten plagues of Egypt, the interaction of young and old, leader and group, the way the rabbi had to shout to get everyone attention’s throughout because folks were so chatty, the woman at our table who brought her own version of matzo ball soup in a thermos because she can’t consume gluten, the singing of “Are you going to Seder tonight?” to the tune of Scarborough Fair… I kid you not.
But my favorite part was the use of communal pronouns throughout the service. The Haggadah takes us through the journey of the Israelites as if it happened to us. We are told to remember the story of Israel, the story of slavery and calling and freedom, using the language of “we” and “us.”
There is something very valuable, it seems to me, in identifying with a people, in having an identity as a people.
When the gentleman to our right found out we were Baptist, he said, “Yes, lots of Christians like to come to the Seder because of the Last Supper connection.”
Today, friends, is what we old-school folks call Maundy Thursday.
The word “Maundy” comes to us from the Latin word mandatum, which means “commandment.” In the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the New Testament, it is the first word of John 13:34: “mandatum novum do vobis [A new commandment I give to you].”*
In other words, on this day, we commemorate Christ’s call for us to love one another, which is the “new” commandment offered explicitly at the Last Supper. (I say “explicitly” because I think you could argue that Christ’s ministry is implicitly itself a commandment to love.)
For Maundy Thursday, sometimes churches offer foot-washing services, just as Christ washed the disciples feet. At the very least, Maundy Thursday services include an observance of the Eucharist (or Communion, or Lord’s Supper), to honor the Last Supper, to honor Passover.
Jesus was, after all, gathering with his disciples for the final time to celebrate Passover, to share the Seder meal, to walk through the Haggadah, to tell the same story I participated in on Tuesday night.
Isn’t it interesting to think that for the thirty-two years Jesus was alive before that final “Last Supper,” perhaps even as he gathered with his disciples during the previous two years, he walked through that same Passover story? He ate bitter herbs, dabbed ten droplets of wine on his plate, spoke of himself as part of a people called out of bondage?
Think about this today, as we commemorate Christ’s call for us to love one another as he spent his life loving us.
It was the Last Supper of Christ, but it wasn’t the first.
* I got this explanation of “maundy” here. I’m pretty sure I remember learning that there are various theories regarding the origins of the word “maundy” but let’s go with this one for now.