What Jews Share With Christians

Service Shows Jewish Roots Of Christian Communion

April 03, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The Seder Passover meal is Jewish, right down to the unleavened bread, called matzah. But it's also Christian, Peter Rice told a group ofMethodists in Ferndale this week.

The service at Ferndale United Methodist Church, called "Christ in the Passover," was sponsored by Jews for Jesus, a Christian evangelistic society. The goal was to helpChristians understand the Jewish background of Christian communion, the church said.

"Apart from its Jewishness, the gospel makes very little sense," said Rice, who calls himself a Jewish believer in Jesus. He explainedthat the Last Supper, or the meal Jesus took with his disciples justbefore his Crucifixion, was actually a Seder meal. When Jesus broke the bread and said he was the bread, broken for the sins of the world, it was matzah he broke.

Passover, which begins in two weeks on Good Friday, commemorates deliverance of the Israelites from two centuries of Egyptian bondage 3,300 years ago. The story comes from the biblical book of Exodus.

The Seder is the Jewish religious service and festive meal of the first two nights of Passover.

"The next time you have the Last Supper, maybe you'll remember the traditional Jewish elements," Rice told about 50 Methodists Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the county, similar efforts to help Christians understand their Jewish roots are scheduled in the weeks preceding Passover and Easter. Several county churches, such as Glen Burnie Evangelical PresbyterianChurch, are holding special services to explain Passover to their members.

The Naval Academy is sponsoring a Seder that Christians mayattend, and a Messianic Jewish group in Annapolis is sponsoring a Seder for Christians or Jews who wish to explore their shared history.

At Wednesday's service, a table was set with traditional Jewish Passover items, such as parsley dipped in salt water, representing the tears shed by the Jewish people in Egypt before the Exodus.

As Rice explained the Passover meal from a Christian perspective, he imbuedsome items with distinctly Christian meanings. He talked about the paschal, or blood sacrifice historically brought on the eve of Passover, which commemorates God's promise to exempt Jewish families from the plague of death for the firstborn. Rice added the interpretation ofJesus as the ultimate paschal offering.

The speaker talked about another Seder tradition, a bag containing three pieces of matzah. Onepiece of matzah is broken, wrapped in a cloth and hidden, then brought back later during the Seder.

"This is one of the clearest pictures of Jesus, who was broken, wrapped in linen, buried and brought back to life," Rice said.

Jewish groups agree that understanding between Jews and Christians is help ful, and the annual non-Messianic Seder for Christians at the Naval Academy was begun several years ago by a rabbi, Chaplain Albert Slomovitz.

However, the tenor of such presentations can be offensive, says Rabbi Seth Gordon of the Kneseth Israel congregation in Annapolis. His objection comes when the message of such a presentation is that "those two religious traditions (Judaism and Christianity) either are compatible or need to be compatible," Gordon says.

Seder is a Jewish ceremony, and Jesus participatedas a Jew, said the rabbi.

"Seder is not meant to be Christianized. If it is, it should be understood as being Christianized for Christians, not as a reinterpretation for Jews."

Said Rice, who converted to Christianity in 1974 but practices Jewish ceremony, "We still show the historical significance, but it's important to see the fulfillment aspect if that's what you believe."

Teaching Christians aboutthe Seder was started by a rabbi who converted to Christianity at the turn of the century.

"For too long the Jewish roots of Christianity have been forgotten," said the late Leopold Cohn. "Gentile cultural trappings have been confused with what the biblical religion teaches. The Messiah was born in Israel, not Greece or Rome. His mother's name was Miriam, not Mary."

Despite the serious theological issuesbeing discussed, the tenor of Wednesday's meeting remained lighthearted.

Rice suggested that church members take a careful look at theHebrew words on a Seder plate from Jerusalem.

"Get a look at whatHebrew is, since we'll be speaking it in heaven," he joked. "You don't have to be Jewish to believe in Jesus, but it never hurts."

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