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The Passover meal or Seder is one of the most important celebrations in the Jewish faith. It is significant for Christians both as a way of experiencing the crucial connection between Christianity and Judaism and as a model of celebration centered in the home. Jesus shared a Passover meal with his disciples the night before he was crucified.
While the Passover meal is traditionally celebrated in the home among family or with close friends, in recent years there has been a move toward celebrating the Passover in larger groups. You may want to extend your family or Lenten group to include others in the Seder.
The leader of the meal is traditionally the male head of the household. The female head of the household lights the candles and keeps the wine cups filled. All participants will have a chance to read parts of the Seder, either individually or as a group. Children have a special role to play. They ask the four questions, hide the Afikomen, and open the door for Elijah. All of these roles have symbolic significance, though you may wish to vary them.
What you will need for the Passover table: For hand washing, a pitcher, bowl and towel; a small pillow; candles; a special wine cup for Elijah; small cups for wine.
A Seder platter. Use a large, special platter on which to arrange the following items: an egg, a lamb bone (or some other kind of bone), salt water in a bowl, parsley (or spinach), horseradish (for bitter herbs), a mixture of walnuts, apples, raisins and kosher wine for charoses, and matzah (often available at the super market, especially around Passover).
The meal: The meal begins with matzah ball soup (chicken broth with matzah balls). The symbolic foods (parsley, horseradish, charoses) are eaten after the matzah ball soup and before the regular meal. The meal itself should consist of a simple chicken dish, salad, and some form of unleavened dessert. No bread is served except for the unleavened matzah.
Wine should be drunk only at the appointed times during the meal (four times). Make sure that the cups are refilled and ready to drink.
(Serve the matzah ball soup. While the soup is being eaten, the leader explains the symbolism of the lamb bone and the egg and how to drink the wine.)
- We are going to celebrate the Passover Seder together. On the table you
see a platter with a lamb bone and an egg on it. In olden times, the Jewish
people sacrificed a lamb as a part of the Passover meal. The lamb bone is
to remind us of those times, of trips to Jerusalem, and of our forefathers
and mothers. Even though we aren't making a sacrifice, what we are doing
is as important as making the sacrifice was in those times.
The egg is eaten in Jewish tradition after returning home from a funeral as a reminder that in the midst of death there is life. It is also to remind us of the Egyptian children who were slain. We will mourn, even for our enemies. The egg is a symbol of concern for life.
The wine is ceremonial wine. We will drink four cups together tonight, at appointed times during the Seder.
(While people are finishing their soup, make sure that everyone has a copy of the Seder or can share with someone else. After the soup plates are cleared away, the leader begins telling about the meaning of the Seder.)
Meaning of the Seder Meal
- The Passover meal is an ancient celebration of the Jews' release from
Egyptian bondage. The meal is called "seder," which means "order," as
in "the order of worship." The night before he was crucified, Jesus
shared the Passover Seder with his disciples.
The Seder is a living experience of freedom. It is a renewal of life and of values. May the words and events of this evening, taken from the language of flesh and blood, from physical and material reality, be a gateway for you to experience movement from death and bondage to life and freedom.
By eating together and sharing conversation, we remember God's continuing, mighty gift of freedom and life. So this evening, celebrate and enjoy! And be aware that in sharing these common experiences, we are worshipping.
(Sing a joyous song that everyone knows or that is easy to learn, such as "Tis the Gift to be Simple" or "We Shall Study War No More. ")
- Now in the presence of one another, before us the elements of festive rejoicing, we gather for our sacred celebration. With believers, young and old, linking the past with the future, we listen once again to God's call to service. Living our story that is told for all peoples, whose conclusion is yet to unfold, we gather to observe the Passover, as it is written:
- You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought
your ancestors out of Egypt. You shall observe this day throughout the generations
as a practice for all times.
- We gather to celebrate our faith in the what-is-yet-to-be.
- Remember the day on which you went forth from Egypt, from the house of bondage, and how the Lord freed you with a mighty hand.
Lighting the candles of hope
(Female head of household lights the candles of hope.)
- Reader 1:
- Happy are those of faith who still can bless the light of candles shining in the darkness. Rejoice in those who keep the way, for there is still song for them within you.
- Reader 2:
- May the candles we now light inspire us to use our powers to heal and not to harm, to help and not to hinder, to bless and not to curse, to serve you, O God of freedom.
Grace before the meal: Kiddush
(Leader holding cup in right hand)
- Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season. You have chosen us, you have given us this holy Festival with loving kindness and blessed us with your favor.
The first cup
- Our story tells us that in diverse ways, with different words, God gave promises of freedom to those who have gone before us. (Ex. 6:6-8) With cups of wine we recall each one of them, as now, the first:
- As it is written: "I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians."
- We take up this cup and proclaim the holiness of the deliverance that comes from God. Many long years ago our ancestors obeyed the call to freedom. Tonight the same call is made to us. We are to arise and be free ourselves and champion the cause of freedom in behalf of all people. Let us raise our cups in gratitude to God that this call can still be heard in the land. Let us pray that the time will not be distant when all the world will be set free from cruelty, tyranny, oppression and war.
- We praise you, God of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. We praise you, our God, who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this festive season.
(All drink the first cup of wine.)
Eating the green herbs
(Leader dips parsley in salt water.)
(As the leader speaks, pass parsley and salt water. Each person dips parsley in salt water and eats as the parsley is being passed.)
(Pour 2nd cup of wine.)
- Let us take a spring parsley, dip it in salt water and bless the greens as the symbol of spring.
- Praised are you, O God, God of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
- This is the Karpas or green herb which symbolizes new life. The salt water symbolizes the tears and sweat of suffering during captivity in Egypt. Dipping the greens in salt water is a symbol for new life coming from sweat and suffering in the past.
- The pillow is a reminder of the physical and spiritual comfort of freedom. Roman and Egyptian leaders reclined on pillows when eating. Slaves did not eat that way. The pillow is a symbol that we are free people, not slaves.
- We break the bread
(Leader washes hands.)
(Leader places 3 matzahs on a napkin, breaks the middle one,
wraps half of the broken matzah in a napkin and places it beneath the pillow
for safe keeping.
The other 2 l/2 pieces of matzah are served.)
(When the leader begins, "Now I break bread," pass the matzah. Each person takes the bread and eats.)
- Now I break the bread. Among people everywhere, sharing of bread forms a bond of community. For the sake of our salvation we join now with one another and with all who are in need because our salvation is bound up with the deliverance from bondage of people everywhere.
- This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share our hope. As we celebrate here, we join with people everywhere. May all be free.
- Reader 1:
- Are there slaves today?
- Indeed there are!
(Leader asks those in the group if they can think of examples of bondage in our time, and offers some examples him/her self.)
This meal calls us to put an end to all slavery, both within and around us.
The second cup
(Leader lifting cup)
- With the second cup of wine we recall the second promise of liberation:
- As it is written: "I will deliver you from bondage." Remembering with gratitude the redemption of our ancestors from Egypt, rejoicing in the fruits of our struggle for freedom, we look now with hope to the celebration of a future. We praise you, O God of all existence, who creates the fruit of the vine.
(All drink the second cup of wine.)
Continuity with the past
- Blessed are you, O Lord our God, who sanctified us and commanded us concerning the eating of bitter herbs. In Numbers we read, "They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs."
- Matzah is unleavened bread baked in haste with no time for leavening.
- The maror are the bitter herbs, symbolic of the bitterness of slavery and the misery of life in Egypt. For the Egyptians "made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the fields." (Ex. 1:14)
- The charoses is a mixture of chopped fruit and spices which resembles the mortar the Israelites made in Egypt.
- Preserving a bond with the observance of our ancestors we combine the matzah, charoses and maror and eat them together.
- Together they shall be: the bread of freedom, the herbs of slavery. For in the time of freedom, there is knowledge of servitude. And in the time of bondage, the hope of redemption.
(Pass tray with maror (horseradish), charoses, matzah on it.
Each person puts maror and charoses between two pieces of matzah and eats.)
(Pour 3rd cup of wine.)
- Why is this night different from all the other nights? On all other nights, we eat leavened bread; on this night only matzah.
- When Pharaoh let our ancestors go from Egypt, they had to flee in great haste. They packed their dough quickly and had no time to bake it. But the hot sun baked it into flat unleavened bread which they called "matzah." To remember them we eat this kind of bread.
- On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs; on this night, we especially eat bitter herbs.
- Our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, and their lives were made bitter. Not to forget their suffering we eat bitter herbs on this night.
- On all other nights, we do not dip herbs at all; on this night we do. Why?
- We dip parsley in salt water because it reminds us of the green that comes to life in the springtime. We dip the bitter herb in the sweet charoses as a sign of hope. Our ancestors were able to suffer the bitterness of slavery because it was sweetened by the hope of freedom.
- On all other nights, we eat in an ordinary manner; tonight we dine with special ceremony.
- To eat in leisure like this is a symbol of freedom. We eat like this to remind ourselves that on this night, many hundreds of years ago, our ancestors were freed from slavery.
- I am glad that you asked these questions because though the story is very old, it is always new and we must repeat it every year, again and again, that we may not forget the blessing of freedom. Let us, then, tell the story of the Passover once again as it is found in Exodus 12:1-13; 21-34.
(Leader will read or tell the story.)
(Remove the Seder trays after the story is told. Leave matzah on table.)
The third cup
(Leader lifting cup)
- Together we take up the cup of wine, now recalling the third divine promise:
- As it is written: "I will redeem you with an out stretched arm."
- We praise you, our God, God of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine.
(All drink the third cup of wine.)
- Brothers and sisters, we have been remembering our slavery and our liberation. But just as it was we, not our ancestors only, who were liberated in Egypt, so it is we, not our ancestors only who live in slavery.
- Our slavery is not over, and our liberation is long, and it is work that we ourselves must do.
- What is the work of our liberation?
- If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? If we are for ourselves only, what are we? If not now, when?
- We, like Moses, may not live to complete the task; but neither may we refrain from beginning.
- We are about to eat; may our dinner give us strength for the work ahead! We are about to drink; may the wine give us joy for the work ahead!
- May we give each other strength in the struggle, just as we share this meal.
- May we give each other joy!
(Dinner is served.)
(After dinner, serve dessert and pour 4th cup of wine.
Get additional matzah if needed, to be passed and eaten later in the Seder meal.)
(Fill Elijah's cup.)
(Searching for the Afikomen is a game played during the Passover meal. One (or several) of the children at the meal takes the matzah remaining under the pillow and hides it. The leader discovers that the matzah has been taken and tries to find it. Only the child knows where it is. The leader and the child bargain. The leader will make a promise to the child if the child returns the matzah. Once the matzah is returned, the meal can be completed with the eating of the second half of the matzah.)
- Unleavened bread is eaten at the beginning and ending of the meal so that the whole meal will remind us of slavery in Egypt and the journey out of Egypt. The people had to get out quickly with no time for the bread to rise. When we eat the common bread, we remember that we have come out of slavery into freedom. (Matzah is passed and eaten.)
The fourth cup
(Leader lifting cup)
- As our meal comes to an end, we take up our cups of wine. Our salvation is not yet complete. A fourth cup of wine recalls us to our covenant with God and with one another, to the tasks that still await us as a people called to the service of God: the preservation and affirmation of hope.
- As it is written: "And I will take you to be my people." We praise you, O God, who has created the fruit of the vine.
(All drink the fourth cup of wine.)
- We have drunk four cups of wine tonight, remembering the celebration of our deliverance in the past and our thankfulness in the present. This cup (points to Elijah's cup) is for Elijah and for the future. Elijah's arrival announces that the Messiah has come. Let's make sure the door is open so that Elijah can come in. (If the door is closed, get a child to open it.) This cup is the symbol of hope.
- Friends, let us say grace.
- The name of the Eternal be blessed from now unto eternity.
- Let us praise God whose bounty we have partaken.
- Through God's kindness, mercy, and compassion, all existence is eternally sustained. God is forever faithful. God's surpassing goodness fills all time and space. We praise our God, the One, sustaining all.
- May God make us worthy of what is yet to be.
- May God who blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob bless this community, this table, and all assembled here -- and so may all our loved ones share our blessing.
- The seder service now concludes: Its rites observed in full. Its purposes revealed.
- This privilege we share shall forever be renewed. Until God's plan is known in full.
- Peace for us! For everyone!
- For all people, this, our hope:
- May all be Free!
Closing song: Shalom Chaverim
Shalom, chaverim! Shalom, chaverim! Shalom, shalom!
Lehitraot, lehitraot, Shalom, shalom.
Farewell, good friends, Farewell, good friends, Farewell, farewell!
Till we meet again, till we meet again. Farewell, farewell.
"A Passover Seder" adapted from materials provided by Covenant Baptist Church, Houston, TX.
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