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Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Christian Passover meal and generational sadness

Symbolic Passover foods

Last Sunday, Mike and I participated in a Christian Passover meal at our church.

I was moved to tears.

Why does the ritual move me so? I have an idea about that, but my notion might be hard for many people to believe.

Before I get to that, let me tell you about the ritual.

The Christian Passover meal, or Seder, follows the Jewish tradition of presenting foods that are symbolic. The format is a family or community meal, with leaders - or mother, father, and children - taking speaking roles in the ceremony that precedes the eating of a feast.

Our Christian adaptation echoed the traditional prayers of Passover, including:
- the Kiddush, a benediction
- questions posed by children about the Passover
- the text of the Haggadah, retelling how the Israelites escaped from Egypt
- the presentation and explanation of ritual food and drink, including wine (or grape juice); greens (we used celery); salt water; matzah; bitter herbs (we used scallion greens); and sweet jam (charoset made of finely-chopped apples, almonds, and raisins seasoned with cinnamon and made into a paste with sweet wine).

For display, there was a roasted shank bone representing the sacrificial lamb of ancient times, and a roasted egg that could be eaten or kept on display as a symbol of fruition after the Jews came to their promised land.

The leaders lit candles. We quieted ourselves. With each step of the Seder meal, Jewish prayers were said and Christian adaptations were added.

Children ask questions in turn, including:
- "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
- "Why do we eat bitter herbs tonight at this special meal?"
- "Why do we eat herbs tonight, and this time with sweet jam?"
- "Why did the Jews eat the Paschal lamb when they celebrated the Passover meal?"

We learned the answers as we listened to the readings and ate the ritual foods.

This night is different from all other nights because we remember that as Moses led the Jews away from slavery to the Egyptians, so Jesus led us away from slavery to sin.

We ate bitter herbs because the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and their lives were bitter. We who follow Christ taste the bitterness as a reminder of the passion and death of Jesus.

We dipped the bitter herb into the charoset as a sign of the Israelites' hope for freedom. Christians have hope of salvation because of Christ's suffering.

The leader held up the shank bone and reminded us that the ancient Jews sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled its blood on the doorpost and lintel so that, seeing the blood, the angel of the Lord passed over them and spared them the death that came to the Egyptians. Followers of Christ believe that Jesus is our lamb, who sacrificed Himself for us, and by His death and resurrection, enabled us to pass into eternal life. St. Paul wrote, "Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed."

We learned that the matzah was the "bread of affliction" for the Chosen People. As Christians, we remembered that Christ said "Do this to remember me" before he distributed bread to his disciples at the Last Supper.

We drank wine again and were reminded that Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you."

Our ritual ended with these words: "For the Christian, this is the night of the new Passover. Let us recall with respect the feast of the Passover and its place in God's Providence. Let us recall with gratitude how on this night Christ instituted the new Memorial. By this act and by His death and resurrection, He established a new sacrifice, a new deliverance."

We sang a hymn - "Song of the Body of Christ." Then the ritual was ended, and we enjoyed a feast and filled the church hall with festive noise.


My eyes stung with tears during the ceremony, and they stung again as I wrote this. Why?

My theory is that the tears come from generational sadness. The sorrows of our ancestors are written in our blood and in our bones.

Generational sadness would explain, for example, why I burst into tears one day at an art fair when I stumbled upon a painting of a girl and her cow. I've never been a farmer's daughter, but my mother was, and her childhood was writ with death and loss. I knew her story, but I believe that your forebears don't have to tell you their stories for you to feel their suffering.

I've heard the term "Judeo-Christian tradition" all my life, but never understood it until I felt it at the Christian Passover ritual. We are all children of Abraham, who was renowned as the first to recognize that God is One. I'm convinced that, somehow, we store inside of us the very real pain of slavery and joy of redemption.

Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, and Dessert First, all available on

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