I’m revising the Haggadah we use, again.
The Haggadah (for the uninitiated) is, literally, “the telling” of the Passover Seder. (And the Seder, for the uninitiated, is, literally, the order of the Passover meal–the evening’s liturgy.) Portions of the Haggadah go back to the time of Christ and beyond, but as all rituals and ceremonies (and we all remember the distinction between ritual and ceremony, right?), it continues to evolve over time.
I’ve been constantly revising the one we’ve been using over the past several years to accomplish the following:
1) To create a Haggadah that presents an authentic celebration of Passover yet is not too lengthy or esoteric. My goal is maximum participation by all age groups and participation by those who “know the ropes” as well as those who have never been to a Seder before.
2) To produce a church-member-friendly Haggadah that is at the same time not preachy or in the “Jews for Jesus” vein. More on this below.
3) To immerse Christians in the Passover experience, not only so they can understand the Eucharist better, but so that they can understand the significance of the original Passover event better.
So, what’s my beef with most of the “Christian Hagaddahs” out there?
First of all, Jesus was not Ashkenazic. (The Ashkenazi are the European Jews). If you have someone from “Jews for Jesus” or any other Christian ministry to Jewish people come to your church and do a “demonstration Seder”, they will lay on the Ashkenazic traditions really thick. (BTW, don’t do a demonstration Seder: the Seder is a big meal, and a fun one at that. Think more on the scale of Thanksgiving Dinner than crackers-and-juice.) If you’re a Christian and you’ve been to one of these, for example, you probably think there has to be horseradish at the Seder. I don’t think a first-century Jew would have known horseradish if he fell over it. The Bible says “bitter herbs”. Sephardic Jews use romaine, which comes closer to being a “bitter herb” than horseradish. Horseradish is a root, not an herb. And it’s hot, not bitter. To be sure, a lot of the traditional Ashkenazic Passover foods are delicious. (Our Seder would not feel complete without matzo ball soup, for example.) But too often I think these demonstration Seders held in churches give the impression that Jesus lived in Minsk, spoke Yiddish, and ate borscht. Sephardic foods may be closer to the kinds of things Jesus ate, but even then, we need to be clear that many of the “traditional” Passover foods were unheard of during Jesus’ time.
Secondly, the “Christ in the Passover” approach is too heavy-handed. (And besides, Christ isn’t in the Passover, according to I Corinthians 5:7: Christ is the Passover.) Jews for Jesus and other groups want to find Christian symbolism in every aspect of the Seder. This distorts history and does injustice to the character of the Seder itself. For example, most people who conduct demonstration Seders in churches make a big deal about the “stripes” (brown marks from the oven rack) on a piece of matzo and the fact that the matzo is “pierced” (holes are punched in it so it will remain flat, like the holes in saltine crackers). They will always quote the verses that talk about Christ being pierced for our iniquities and the one that says “by his stripes we are healed.” Like Jesus ate Manischewitz or Streit’s out of the box.
Jesus did not have machine matzo. We don’t know if people poked holes in it before they cooked it or not. To me, this is like the poeple who ruin the Narnia books for their children by insisting on pointing on all the “allegorical” stuff. (BTW the Narnia books aren’t allegorical. Pilgrim’s Progress is allegorical. The Narnia stories are fairy tales.) Talking the Narnia stories to death ruins the magic. So much better, I think, it would be to let children simply immerse themselves in the world Lewis creates. If they make associations along the way, great. If not, just let them enjoy the stories. That’s how Lewis intended them, anyway.
So it is with the Passover. I think the associations are so much more powerful when they dawn on the participant instead of when the participant is clubbed on the head with symbolism via a “Christian Haggadah”, especially one which finds “hidden meanings” in customs that weren’t even a part of the Seder in Jesus’ time.
Passover is, I think, one of the most important teaching times we have all year, especially for children. That’s how God designed it, for he said, “When your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this ceremony,’ tell them . . .”
That’s what the Haggadah is supposed to be: the telling. Not the clubbing over the head. Paul said, “Let us keep the feast.” In other words, enjoy the feast. Celebrate the feast. Feast! Don’t analyze it to death. Eat!