Some Jews See Trespass in Church Seders

Carol Wilkinson, center, and members of Immanuel's Church in Silver Spring dance during a Seder held at the church.
Carol Wilkinson, center, and members of Immanuel's Church in Silver Spring dance during a Seder held at the church. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Zofia Smardz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 13, 2006

The hall had been symbolically cleansed of all leaven, and now, over the hush, Meri Harris's voice rang out in solemn intonation: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam . . . Blessed Are You, Lord Our God, King of the Universe . . . And as she lighted the festival candles, the Passover Seder began.

Over the next two hours, the ritual proceeded in order -- from the blessing of the wine to the washing of the hands to the symbolic opening of the door for the prophet Elijah. There were the questions -- "Why is this night different from all other nights?" -- and the answers, as the story of the Jews' deliverance from bondage in ancient Egypt unfolded.

It was just like a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. Except:

The Seder meal was served before the Seder service started, instead of two-thirds of the way through.

There was dancing.

And Jesus was everywhere.

The stripes and the holes in the matzoh represented his whipped and pierced body. The wine (actually grape juice) represented his blood. The matzoh was wrapped in white cloth, symbolizing the way Jesus's body was wrapped for burial.

You don't traditionally find Jesus at a modern Seder celebrating Passover, which began last night. But this was no ordinary Seder. The 250 people at Immanuel's Church in Silver Spring on Tuesday night were holding a Christian Seder, a phenomenon that's gaining popularity across the country -- to the consternation of many in the Jewish community as well as some interfaith leaders.

Although for decades some churches have held Seders to better understand the Jewish faith, many churches, especially evangelical ones, are now giving them a markedly Christian spin.

"The Seder helps us appreciate our roots and even out the rough spots that developed through past Christian attitudes toward Jews that were not godly," said Charles Schmitt, senior pastor of Immanuel's, an evangelical church he started in his living room 24 years ago that now has 4,000 members.

The thinking is: Since three of the four Gospels say the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, what could be more natural than for Christians to learn more about the ritual meal Jesus shared with his apostles before he died?

"Holding a Seder is a way to connect with the heritage of our religion and to see how the practices of the ancient world are still relevant to us as Christians today," said Thom Campbell, who led a Seder for about 20 at Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Fairfax City last Saturday. It's also, he pointed out, a good family event.

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