The Passover Seder for Christians
Haggadah adapted by Dennis Bratcher
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In most cases these introductory comments would not be a part of the actual Seder service and meal. However, especially if the Seder is a new experience to most people participating, it might be a good idea to provide this information in a separate handout or as part of the Haggadah (see Introduction to a Christian Seder for more information).
The Story of Passover
Passover is the oldest and one of the most important of Jewish religious festivals. In its earliest forms it marked the beginning of the Jewish religious year (Ex 12:1; because of changes in calendars, later Judaism observed the beginning of the year in the Fall with Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. It is based on the rituals of ancient Israel preserved primarily in Exodus 12-14 in which Israelites celebrated their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. The term Passover refers to the tenth and final plague God brought upon the Egyptians to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go, the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. In obedience to God’s instructions, those who believed placed the blood of a lamb on the door posts of their homes, so that God would “pass over” those homes. The festival actually celebrates the entire sequence of events that led to the Israelites’ freedom from slavery. While thoroughly based in those historical events, the celebration encompasses much more as it becomes a vehicle to celebrate the very nature of God and His gracious work in the world. It is in this larger dimension that Jesus adopted the Passover service as a sacramental remembrance of God’s new work of deliverance in the Christ, and allows Christians to celebrate this ancient festival.
The Passover meal is known as the Seder, which means “order,” because the meal and service are done in a prescribed sequence. This sequence is presented in the Haggadah (“telling”) which outlines the steps of the meal as well as the readings and songs for the participants. While there can be a great deal of variety in how the service is conducted, and so should not be seen as rigidly structured, the basic elements and order have remained unchanged for centuries (see The Traditional Steps of the Seder). This blend of tradition and innovation conforms to the purpose of the celebration: to tell the story of God’s actions in history in a way that brings it out of the past and makes it a present reality for everyone in the community, young and old, as if they personally are part of the story. As such, the Passover has been termed one of the most effective teaching tools ever devised, as it appeals to all of the senses and involves everyone to tell the story of God. It represents the very best of communal liturgy.
At various points in the service there are different actions required of the participants. All of the actions have carefully composed symbolic meanings, hence the Seder, the order. Instructions should be followed carefully, and the Leader should be familiar enough with the service that he can give instructions clearly and anticipate miscues. If this is a public service, it would be helpful for the participants if the Leader would give instructions for the actions even though they may be printed in the Haggadah. Adequate preparation will alleviate many problems. A good rule of thumb for participants is: don’t do anything without directions from the Leader.
II. Preparation: Removal of Chametz
Explanation: In the days preceding Passover, it is tradition to clean the house thoroughly, and the evening before the Passover Seder any trace of chametz (leaven, pronounced ka-mets) is removed from the house. Leaven (yeast) is a necessary element in baking and wine making. However, it was viewed somewhat ambiguously because it also has the power to decay and destroy. Even Jesus used it as both a positive and negative metaphor. In Jewish tradition it came to have more of a negative connotation as a religious symbol, signifying the potential for corruption and sin.
As a result, the removal of leaven carries with it deeper significance in Passover than simply its connection with the exodus. Its removal, and the symbolic removal at the beginning of the Seder, signifies the attitude of penitence, the willingness to remove any corrupting influence in one’s life and submit to God in obedience. As the Israelites prepared for the exodus by obeying the commands of God through Moses, so in removing the chametz, we symbolize our willingness to obey God in preparation for celebrating the deliverance he has already brought to His people.
Preparation: Prior to the beginning of the service, “hide” several pieces of regular raised bread in fairly obvious places around the room (chunks of unsliced homemade or bakery bread are more effective for this, although regular sliced bread is fine).
Leader: Welcome to our Passover Seder. Let us ready our hearts to celebrate and tell the story of deliverance, freedom, and redemption. Tradition teaches us that we must all consider ourselves as slaves in Egypt, that we must all consider ourselves to have walked in darkness, so that we might celebrate the deliverance in the Exodus as our own deliverance. It is in that spirit of community that we enter this Passover celebration.
Mother/Woman Leader: As the Israelites prepared for the exodus by obeying the commands of God through Moses, so in removing the Chametz, the leaven, we symbolize our willingness to obey God in preparation for celebrating the deliverance he has already brought to his people. Let us find and put away the Chametz from this place to prepare for our own experience of deliverance. And as we do, let us search for any hidden sins in our hearts that might prevent us from celebrating the joy of this festival.
Action: Have several younger children search for and collect all the bread in order to remove the Chametz and prepare the room for the celebration of the Passover. When the bread is collected, preferably in a basket so that all can see it, have it carried out of the room.
Explanation: Even though we have called people to reflection, this should not be a solemn occasion. The children should be allowed to have fun searching, and the remainder of the service should be marked by joy and celebration, as well as a certain amount of freedom and informality. Remember, the context of Passover is a family meal.
Preparation: If this is a public service, it is usually helpful to have one or two people designated ahead of time to lead the communal readings to help keep the people in unison and in the correct place in the Haggadah. One of these leaders may be seated with the Leader at the head table.
Leader: We praise you O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who hallows our lives with commandments, and who has commanded us to prepare for Passover by removing the leaven.
People: Any leaven that may remain among us, which we have not seen and have not removed, may it be as if it does not exist, as if it is the dust of the earth.
III. Lighting the Passover Candles
Explanation: The actual Seder begins with the lighting of the Passover candles. Traditionally, the mother of the home lights the candles, just as she lights the candles that signal the beginning of Shabat (Sabbath). The candles symbolize the presence of God and mark this as sacred time.
Preparation: If this is a public service, have a lady designated ahead of time at each table to light the candles for that table. To preserve the sense of continuity with the past, it is most appropriate to have mothers or grandmothers light the candles. In large well lit rooms, the lights can be temporarily subdued to make the lighting more effective.
Mother/Female Leader: Now in the presence of loved ones and friends, and before us the symbols of our rejoicing, we gather for our sacred celebration. With the household of Israel, our elders and young ones, linking and bonding the past and the future, we once again hear and obey the divine call to service. Living our story that is told for all peoples, whose conclusion is yet to unfold, we gather to observe this Passover, as it is written:
People: You shall keep the feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt. You shall observe this day throughout the generations as a practice for all times. [Exodus 12:17]
Mother: We assemble in fulfillment of the commandment:
People: Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by the strength of his hand the Lord brought you out from this place. [Exodus 13:3]
Mother: We praise you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has preserved our life so that we may again celebrate this festival. As we kindle the festival lights, we pray for the light of God in our midst that we might see anew the meaning and significance of this celebration.
Action: The Mother/Woman Leader lights the Passover candles. In a public service, a woman at each table lights the candles for each group.
People, Mother leading: May the lights we now kindle inspire us to use our strength which you so freely give us to help and not to hinder, to love and not to hate, to bless and not to curse, to serve and worship you, O God of freedom!
Explanation: Traditionally, the Seder concludes with singing in celebration of the story of deliverance that has been told, although there are often songs scattered throughout the service. If this is a public service, a song at this point will encourage people to enter into the service and become participants. If a song is used here, the construction of this Seder suggests that it be a hymn and not a Gospel or “Jesus” song yet.
[Action: A song of Spiritual Freedom]
IV. The First Cup: the Cup of Sanctification and Freedom
Preparation: The Leader will usually have four separate glasses for each of the four cups to be used in the service, while others will have a single glass that is refilled. It is effective to have rather ornate glasses for the Leader, a different style for each cup. For a public service, before beginning designate someone at each table to be responsible for the distribution of wine and other elements of the service at the appropriate time. If this is only a symbolic service and not a full meal, each cup should be only partially filled each time.
Leader: Our story tells us that in various ways, with different words, God gave promises of freedom to His people. With four cups from the fruit of the vine we celebrate and we recall God’s promises to Israel and to us.
People: I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians, I will deliver you from slavery, I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, I will take you as my people and be your God. [Exodus 6:6-7]
Leader: In the four cups that we drink tonight we celebrate these four “I will” promises of God: Freedom, Deliverance, Redemption, and Thanksgiving for fulfilling His promises that allows us to be His people.
Action: The Leader fills his first glass, as each person fills their own glass or the leader of each group fills the others. After everyone’s glass has been filled, the Leader holds the cup in his right hand so the people can see it.
Leader: We take the first cup and proclaim the holiness of this day of freedom. Blessed is God who fulfills his promises, who is ever faithful to his servants who trust in Him. In every age oppressors rise against us to crush our spirits and bring us low. From the hands of all these tyrants and conquerors, from the power of anything that hinders us from being His people, the Lord rescues and restores us. We praise you, O Lord, who makes holy your people.
People: I am the Lord, and I will free you from the yoke of the Egyptians. [Exodus 6:6]
Action: We all drink the first cup.
V. The Washing: Preparation
Explanation: In preparation for the meal, there is a ceremonial hand washing This is not a sanitary action but is symbolic of the “clean hands” with which one comes before God (Psalm 24:3-4). This can be done only by the leader, with a brief explanation of the action, or can be done by all the participants. If time allows, this can be expanded into a communal activity, in which one person pours for another, thus emphasizing the humility and service to each other in community. It is also possible to incorporate a reading here from John 13:2-14, in which Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as a sign of humility. It is not included here in order to preserve the flow of the story without introducing specifically Christian elements at this point.
Preparation: If this part of the Seder is to be included, there will need to be a pitcher of water, a small basin to receive the water as it is poured, and a towel at the Leader’s table. For a public service, a pitcher and basin, as well as a small towel for each person should be available for each of the groups. [An alternative method is for each group to have one large basin of water, a smaller empty one, and a small cup for dipping and pouring the water.]
Leader: We will now prepare for the meal by washing our hands, symbolizing the sacredness of this occasion, and the purity of heart and hands that we are called to exhibit as God’s people.
Action: Take the pitcher or cup in one hand and pour a small amount of water over the other hand into the empty basin, then reverse the process; dry hands. Since this is a symbolic action, only a very small amount of water should be used.
VI. Karpas – The Green Vegetables (Parsley)
Explanation: The Scripture reading for this section of the Seder is taken from the Song of Songs. It is clearly a love song between a man and a woman, which is appropriate for this time of year and the celebration of newness. However, the significance of this reading is the symbolism seen in a husband and wife of the love of God for His people expressed in His willingness to enter into a covenant with them. While Parsley is the traditional green vegetable here, celery or another leafy green vegetable can be used.
Preparation: If they are easily available, fresh Spring flowers can be placed on the table, either before the service begins or at this point. If this is a public service, each family or a representative from each group can be asked to bring flowers from their own yards or gardens to contribute to the atmosphere of newness and rebirth. [Another option is to give each person present a small live Spring flower at this point in the service.]
Leader: Passover is a Springtime festival, the season of rebirth, renewal, and new life. The days are filled with more light than darkness. The earth is becoming green with new life.
Action: The Leader takes a sprig of fresh Parsley and holds it up for the people to see.
Leader: This vegetable, called Karpas, represents life, created and sustained by the Lord our God. We are filled with joy at the goodness of God in loving us and caring for us, and bringing into our lives all good things.
Men: Arise my love and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in the land. Arise my love, my fair one, and come away. [Song 2:10-13]
Women: My beloved is mine and I am his. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among men. Under its shade I delighted to sit, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banquet house, and his intention toward me was love. [Song 2:3-4, 16]
People: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. [Song 8:6-7]
Leader: And yet as good as God intended life to be, it is often mixed with tears.
Action: The Leader lifts up the bowl of salt water so all can see.
Leader: Tonight, we are not simply celebrating Springtime or love. We are celebrating the freedom and wonderful deliverance that God brought to us as slaves in Egypt. But we do not forget that life in Egypt was hard and filled with pain and suffering and tears. Let us never forget that the struggle for freedom begins in suffering, and that life is sometimes immersed in tears.
People: Blessed are you O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
Action: Everyone dips a spring of parsley the salt water and eats it.
[Action: If the Seder is being celebrated as a full meal, vegetable hors d’oeuvres and a dip, or a light salad, may be served at this point. If this is done, all of these dishes must be removed from the table before the Matzah is broken.]
VII. The Breaking of Bread: The Matzah
Explanation: This part of the service begins to introduce themes that will become more obviously Christian as the service progresses. The Israelites waiting for deliverance and redemption in Egypt is a central element of the story that is to unfold. The hope in God who is the only One who can bring deliverance is also a crucial element.
There is not only a sense of celebration at what God has done in the past, there is also an eager anticipation of what God will continue to do to bring deliverance to a world that still groans under its slavery to sin, and awaits its final redemption. The traditional saying “next year in Jerusalem” is an expression not only of the faithfulness of God in the past, but of faith and hope in God’s future as he continues to work out his redemption in the world. Jerusalem is really a symbol of the restoration of all things for which both Jews and Christians eagerly await. Among some Orthodox Jews the matzah has become a symbol of the Pascal lamb, which gives the Christian dimension of these unfolding symbolic actions deeper meaning.
So, while the Seder is a celebration of deliverance already accomplished, there is a strand throughout the Seder that recognizes the yet to be fulfilled promises of God that all creation will be restored and all oppression, sin, and evil destroyed. This dimension is not negative, but is wonderfully positive, the expression if a faith and hope in God’s future based on who God is as revealed in His past actions. We can trust that promise of future deliverance because he has delivered! For Christians, this expresses the Hope of the Second Coming.
Preparation: On the leader’s table there should be three matzot on a plate covered with a napkin. If available, a special Matzah bag (matzah tosh) may be used. For a public service, each person participating may also have the three Matzot on a plate covered, or the designated leader at each table may have the Matzot.
Action: The Leader uncovers the three Matzot, takes the middle Matzah, and holds it before him. If this is a public service and the people or group leaders also have Matzot, the Leader should signal them that it is time to remove the middle Matzah.
Leader: Now I will break the middle Matzah in two. Later we will share it together as the Passover offering itself was shared in this service in Jerusalem. Among people everywhere, the sharing of bread forms a bond of fellowship and community.
Action: The Leader obviously breaks the middle Matzah in half, as everyone else or the group leaders do the same. The participants should simply return the two halves to the plate and cover them again. The Leader returns one half of the broken Matzah to the plate with the other two and leaves them uncovered. The other half he holds in front of him.
Leader: For the sake of our deliverance, we will say together the ancient words that join us with our own people and the beggar in the street. For our redemption is bound up with the deliverance from bondage of all people everywhere. It is only the grace of our Lord God that sets us free!
People: This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry come and eat. All who are needy come and celebrate Passover with us. Now we celebrate it here. Next year, may we celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. Now we are slaves. Next year may we be truly free.
Action: The Leader wraps the Afikomen (the second half of the broken Matzah) in the napkin. If this is a full meal, the Afikomen is set aside and is hidden by the Leader sometime later during the meal. If this is a only a symbolic meal, the Leader asks all the children to close their eyes while he hides the Afikomen. They will later make a game of finding it, and the one who finds it will receive a small prize. Some families hide enough pieces so that every child can find a piece and so all receive a gift.
[Action: An alternative is to have the children hide the Afikomen, for which the leader must later search. After he cannot find it, he must “pay” the children with a small gift for its return.]
Leader: I [We] will now [later] hide a portion of the Matzah which we will use as the Afikomen, the dessert of our meal. It is a symbol of the redemption for which we all long and which we know will come, but yet which we do not yet see.
Action (at a symbolic meal): The Afikomen is hidden, and when finished the Leader continues.
Action: The Leader fills his second cup of wine, and signals the participants to refill their cups (if this is only a symbolic meal, only a little should be added to the cup). DO NOT drink this cup yet.
VIII. The Story of Passover
Explanation: The Passover Story is the heart of the Seder and was traditionally recounted as a parent telling the exodus story to his children, following the biblical command, “When your children ask in time to come . . . then you shall tell them” (Ex 14:14; Deut 6:20-21). The four questions, actually five with the first general question introducing the four more detailed ones, are usually asked by the youngest child present that can read well, with the answers given by the father or grandfather, although the answers can be alternated between a “father” and a “mother.”
In a full-meal Seder there are a great variety of other elements and activities that can be added as part of the telling of the story. These are usually built around telling the Passover story four times: 1) The Four Questions, 2) the Four Children, 3) the exodus story concluding with the reading Dayeinu, “It would have been enough,” 4) the explanation of the Passover symbols on the Seder plate. The Christian Seder given here combines The Four Questions with the explanation of the Passover symbols on the Seder plate to answer the questions and tell the Passover story. See Additional Ways to Tell the Passover Story.
The fourth question traditionally has been, “Why on all other nights do we eat either standing or reclining, but tonight we eat only reclining?” In the days of the Roman Empire, to be able to eat reclining rather than standing was the mark of a free person. Emphasizing this was a way to symbolize the freedom which the exodus brought to slaves. Traditionally, pillows are used in the chairs, and the third cup is often taken while leaning to one side or leaning back on the pillow to symbolize reclining. Since we do not normally eat this way, however, this traditional question has been changed to emphasize the teaching and confessional dimension of the ceremonial meal.
Preparation: A child should be chosen ahead of time to read the questions and provided a copy of the service to become familiar with the reading.
Leader: The Torah tells us that our children will ask questions about who they are as God’s people. The Lord has instructed us that we should tell them the story so that they might know the Lord. It is both a duty and a privilege to answer the four questions of the Passover and to recount the gracious acts of our God.
Child: Why is this night different than all other nights? Why on all other nights do we eat bread with leaven, but on this night we eat only unleavened bread? Why on all other nights do we eat of all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat bitter herbs? Why on all other nights do we not dip herbs at all, but on this night we dip them twice? Why on all other nights do we eat in the normal way, but on this night we eat with special ceremony?
Leader: We will now answer the four questions concerning Passover that you have asked.
People: Once we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord in His goodness and mercy brought us out of that land with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Leader: Had God not rescued us from the hand of the destroyer, surely we and our children would still be enslaved, deprived of freedom and human dignity.
People: Once we worshipped idols and were enslaved by our sins, but God in His goodness and mercy forgave our transgressions and called us to be His people.
Leader: Therefore, tonight is different than other nights because we have gathered to remember who we are, what God has done for us, and to tell to our children the story of God’s grace and deliverance.
People: Praise be to God who is everywhere. Praise be to God who has brought us freedom and has delivered us from all that enslaves us!
Mother/Woman Leader: God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would be a great people, a promise he renewed to each generation, to Isaac and Jacob. As time passed Jacob’s children came to live in the land of Egypt where his son Joseph was advisor to Pharaoh. But years passed and another Pharaoh came to power who did not remember Joseph and did not know his God, so he enslaved the Israelites. He forced them to work hard making bricks of clay and straw with which to build his cities. As the people increased in numbers, he feared that they might rebel against him, so he ordered every newborn boy drowned. They knew only toil, suffering, and tears.
Leader: They cried out from their cruel oppression, hoping that God would remember the promises He had made to the fathers. And God heard their cry and remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham. Through a wise mother and sister, God saved the life of the boy Moses from the ruthless hands of Pharaoh. After he had grown up, God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, and promised Moses that He would be with him.
Mother: And yet when Moses asked Pharaoh to free the Israelites, he refused and increased their labor. So God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt so they might know that the Lord is God, and let the people go.
Action: The Leader takes the second cup of wine and holds it.
Leader: In a moment we will drink the second cup, the cup of deliverance, and we will celebrate in joy God’s deliverance from slavery. A full cup is a symbol of joy. Yet our joy is diminished because the Egyptians, who are also God’s children, suffered from Pharaoh’s evil ways. Lives were sacrificed to bring about the release of God’s people from the slavery of Egypt, and we do not rejoice at the death of any of God’s children. As we recount the plagues, we will spill a drop of wine from our cups for each plague to recall the cost of sin, and the consequences of evil in our world.
Action: As each plague is recited, a single drop of wine is removed from the cup, either with a finger or spoon, and placed on a plate. Traditionally, a finger is used to symbolize the finger of God’s judgment on sin. DO NOT drink from the second cup yet.
Leader: Blood. Frogs. Lice. Swarms. Cattle Disease. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Death of the First Born.
Action: The Leader replaces the second glass on the table WITHOUT drinking, as the participants do likewise.
Mother: Pharaoh continued to refuse to let the people go until the last plague, the death of the firstborn of all of Egypt, convinced him to release the people. By following God’s instructions and putting the blood of a lamb on the door posts of the houses, the Israelites were spared this plague as death “Passed Over” their houses.
Preparation: The Seder plate at the Leader’s table should contain the lamb bone and the egg.
Action: The Leader removes the symbolic lamb bone from the Seder plate and holds it up for all to see.
Leader: This is the symbol of the Passover lamb that was killed so that our children might live. It reminds us not only of God’s wonderful grace in providing for us life and not death, it also reminds us that we are called to obedience in response to God’s gift of life. The sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem were a reminder of that grace and that gift of life.
Action: The Leader replaces the bone and removes the roasted egg from the Seder plate and holds it up for all to see.
Leader: The egg is a symbol of mourning, and is to remind us that the Temple in Jerusalem, the place of sacrifices, is no longer standing, and so sacrifices are no longer offered. But since it has no beginning and no end, the egg is also a symbol of new life and hope, and reminds us that God’s grace is not confined to sacrifices in a temple.
Action: The Leader replaces the egg.
Mother: Even as the Israelites were leaving, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after them. Trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites had nowhere to go. But God told Moses to lift his staff over the sea, and God parted the waters. They were able to pass through the midst of the sea . When the Egyptians tried to follow, the waters closed back over them. When the Israelites saw that they were free, Moses’ sister Miriam led them in rejoicing and praising God.
People, Mother leading: We Praise you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who hears the cries of the oppressed, who brings freedom to the captive, and who creates for yourself a people.
Action: A Song of Deliverance or Grace (e.g., He Brought Me Out)
Action: The Leader takes the remaining half of the Matzah and holds it up for all to see.
Leader: Tonight we eat Unleavened Bread because our ancestors in Egypt had to leave in such haste that they could not wait for their bread to rise, and so had bake it while it was still flat.
People: You shall eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you came out of the land of Egypt with great haste, so that all the days of your life you may remember the day of your departure from Egypt [Deuteronomy 16:3].
Preparation: At the Leader’s table, there should be a small clear custard type bowl containing the Maror.
Action: The Leader replaces the Matzah and takes the Maror (horseradish) and holds it up for all to see.
Leader: Tonight we eat bitter herbs to remind us of how bitter our lives were as slaves in Egypt. As sweet as our lives are now, we must never forget the bitterness of our bondage.
People: The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields. [Exodus 1:12-14]
Preparation: At the Leader’s table, there should be a small clear custard type bowl containing the Charoset (pronounced ka-ro-set).
Action: The Leader replaces the Maror (horseradish) and takes a spring of Karpas (Parsley) and the bowl of Charoset and holds them up for all to see.
Leader: Tonight we dip twice. We have already dipped the Karpas. We will also dip the Charoset to remind us of the sweetness that God can bring into the most bitter of our circumstances.
People: I am sorely afflicted; give me life, O LORD, according to your word! How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! [Psalm 119:107, 103]
Action: The Leader replaces the Karpas (Parsley) and Charoset.
Leader: Tonight we eat with special ceremony because in each generation, every person should feel as if he or she has actually been redeemed from Egypt. We tell the story because we are the redeemed of the Lord, and we can sing a new song of praise because of His grace. And yet it is not a new song, because it has been sung by countless people through the centuries as generation after generation have experienced the deliverance and redemption brought by our God.
People: Once we were slaves but now we are free!
Action: A Song of Testimony (e.g., Amazing Grace)
IX. The Second Cup: the Cup of Deliverance
Action: The Leader takes the second glass, and raises it for all to see.
Leader: With the second cup we celebrate the deliverance that God has brought to us. We are privileged to thank God, to praise Him, to reverence Him, and to rejoice in His grace. He has brought us forth from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption.
People: I am the Lord; I will deliver you from slavery [Exodus 6:6]. We praise you O Lord our God, who has freed your people.
Leader: We praise you O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth.
Action: We all drink the second cup.
X. The Meal
Explanation: Here begins the actual meal. It is traditionally preceded first by another ceremonial hand washing [which is here omitted] and the symbolic eating of herbs. If this is not a full meal, the symbolic eating serves as the meal.
Action: The Leader removes all three remaining pieces of Matzah and holds them in front of him as he recites the blessing.
Leader: We Praise you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Action: The Leader takes the top and middle Matzoth (the half from which the afikomen was broken) and breaks pieces to distribute to the group. If this is a public service, the leader at each table or group should also perform this action, using only top and middle Matzoth, and distribute pieces to everyone; or each person may have the Matzah and break their own. The bottom Matzah will be used later.
Leader: Let us all offer a blessing for the bread.
People: We Praise you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with your word, and has commanded to eat unleavened bread.
Action: We eat a piece of Matzah.
Explanation: The Maror or bitter herb is traditionally horseradish root. Since some people may not be not familiar with the “raw” version of this herb, it may facilitate a public service to use prepared horseradish. Do not use the “creamed” variety that is processed into a white sauce, but the type that is made with grated roots. To be effective as a symbol, however, it needs to have a little “edge” to it, even to the point of bringing tears. Although most prepared horseradish is relatively mild, it would be wise to check it ahead of time and perhaps warn people that this herb is very “hot.” Sometimes a second bitter herb is used to make the Hillel sandwich, usually romaine lettuce. For simplicity, the horseradish is used here for both.
Preparation: In anticipation of someone getting too much Maror, it is wise to have a small glass of water at each place setting, or a few extra glasses and a pitcher of water, since it will be a few minutes before another cup is taken.
Action: The Leader distributes a small piece of Maror to each person, or if the prepared Maror is used, passes a bowl of Maror for each person to dip a small amount onto their plate. They will need enough for the next two actions. If this is a public service, the leader at each table or group should also perform this action, or each place setting can have a small piece of Maror. If the prepared Maror is used, a small piece of Matzah can be used to dip the Maror.
Leader: With bitter herbs, let us remember how bitter our slavery was in the land of Egypt. As we eat, let us allow the bitter taste to bring tears of compassion for the pain that our fathers and mothers felt long ago. But let us also weep for those who are still enslaved and have not yet experienced the deliverance that our gracious God brings.
People: We Praise you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made us holy with your word, and has commanded to eat bitter herbs.
Action: We eat the bitter herb.
Leader: As we are reminded of the bitterness of our slavery, so too are we reminded of the hope that we have in our Lord.
Action: The Leader takes the bottom or the third Matzoth and breaks it in two. On one half he puts another small piece of Maror and places in on a plate (or if the prepared horseradish is used, he dips some onto the Matzah). If this is a public service, the leader at each group, or each person, should also perform this action. The Leader then takes the bowl of Charoset and holds it in front of him.
Leader: The Choroset is a sweet mixture of apples [dates], honey, and nuts. It symbolizes the mixture of clay and straw that the Israelites used to make bricks for the cities of Pharaoh. But the apples of the mixture also remind us of something else. Apple trees set fruit before the tree has leaves, and then grow leaves to protect the fruit. Tradition tells us that in slavery in Egypt, the women of Israel gave birth to children under the trees of the orchard to try to avoid the decree of Pharaoh, with no assurance of their safety and future. That hope in a future from God sweetened the misery of their slavery. Often, life is a mixture of the bitter and the sweet, of sadness and joy.
Action: The Leader takes the Matzah and Maror and dips it into the Charoset. If this is a public service, the leader at each table or group should also lead this action. If the Charoset is very thick, it may have to be spooned onto the Matzah after a symbolic dip. The remaining piece of Matzah is used to make a “sandwich” of the Maror and Charoset.
Leader: In the days of the Jerusalem temple, Rabbi Hillel ate a sandwich of the Pesach, the Passover lamb, with bitter herbs and Matzah. Since the temple is no longer standing and the Passover lamb no longer offered, we cannot eat the lamb with our sandwich. So instead, we use the Charoset to take the place of the Pascal lamb to remind us of the hope we have in God, of the sweetness that He can bring into the most bitter of our circumstances.
Action: We eat the Hillel sandwich.
[Action: If this is a full meal seder, the seder plate is removed from the table, and the meal is served. Often, boiled eggs are the first course of the meal. Sometime during the meal, either the Leader or the children secretly hide the afikomen (the broken part of the middle Matzah). After the meal is finished the dishes are removed from the table, and the seder plate is returned to the table.]
XI. The Third Cup: the Cup of Redemption
Explanation: At this point we leave the traditional order of the Seder to move into Christian celebration. Normally the concluding order is: the Afikomen is found and eaten, the third cup is taken, the hope of Messiah is expressed in Elijah’s cup, and the fourth cup concludes the Seder. Historians suggest that it was the third cup with the Afikomen that Jesus used at the Last Supper to institute the Eucharist. To preserve this tradition, we will combine Elijah’s cup with the third cup in celebrating Eucharist, since we are no longer looking for Elijah to come.
Preparation: Since Eucharist should never be taken privately by only some members of a group, even if this is only a demonstration seder with no audience participation, provision should be made to serve communion to everyone present if they so desire. Otherwise, the following should only be described and not actually carried out.
Leader: We will now offer a blessing for the food.
People: We praise you O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who in kindness, goodness, and grace gives food to the world. Your love for us endures forever. We praise you, O Lord, who provides food for all life.
Leader: May the Holy One, who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us and for all people. Amen.
Action: The Leader fills his third cup of wine and replaces it on the table. NO ONE ELSE fills their cup yet.
Leader: This cup is for Elijah the Prophet. Elijah did not see death but was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. It has been the hope of God’s people that Elijah would come at Passover, to announce the coming of the Messiah, the son of David. As the prophet Malachi said: “See, I will send you Elijah the prophet before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” [Malachi 4:5]. This cup has traditionally been left untouched, awaiting the time when Elijah would appear to share the Passover.
*[Leader: We will now open the door to welcome Elijah to the Passover.]
Action: A child opens the door.
*[Action: If there is no door handy to open (or as an additional symbol), a child can place an empty chair at the table to the right of the Leader to symbolize the hope of Elijah, and the Leader can say: We will now set a place to welcome Elijah to the Passover. The Leader then places the filled third cup at Elijah’s place.]
Leader: It is now time to reveal that which has been hidden. We will find the Afikomen so that we may conclude our meal. The Afikomen has traditionally symbolized hope for the future, a symbol of redemption, as God again acts in history to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [Isaiah 61:1-2 quoted in Luke 4:18-19].
People: I am the Lord; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm [Exodus 6:6].
Action: If the Leader has hidden the Afikomen, the children now search and find it and return it to the leader for a prize. If the children have hidden it, the leader gives them a gift for its return. If time is short, or if very small children are participating, the Leader or others, even the older children, can give clues to the younger children where to find the Afikomen, especially if more than one piece has been hidden. This serves in its own way to symbolize the role of parents and the community in leading children to an understanding of the hope and future that they will find in being God’s people. After the children have received their prizes, the Leader holds a piece of the Afikomen in front of him in his left hand.
Leader: As we have found the afikomen that has been hidden, we celebrate the fact that our long hoped for Messiah has come, and brought us a new freedom from a very old slavery. “Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” [John 8:31-34]
People: To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. [Revelation 1:5-6]
Leader: We will now fill the third cup.
Action: The people refill their cups (if this is only a symbolic meal, only a little should be added to the cup).
Leader: Jesus stood in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth and read from the Isaiah scroll that promised a new work of God in the world. When he had finished reading, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” [Luke 4:21]. We still live in the “today” of that fulfillment, and so we celebrate the coming of Jesus the Messiah, and the faithfulness of God in working throughout history to bring deliverance and freedom to his people.
Mother/Woman leader: Jesus has brought to us a new freedom from the chains of oppression and sin that enslave us. Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples on the night before he was betrayed and delivered up to be crucified. He commanded that his disciples partake of the bread and the wine as emblems of his broken body and shed blood. We partake of these elements to participate in the new life, in the new birth that God in Jesus the Christ has provided for us.
Action: The Leader takes Elijah’s cup in right hand, while still holding the Afikomen in his left hand.
Leader: I have taken Elijah’s cup because we no longer wait for Elijah. We celebrate in joy today not only because Elijah has come, but because Messiah has also come!
People: Blessed is He who has come in the name of the Lord!
Mother/Woman leader: We praise you O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you, O God, for giving to us your only Son, who suffered and died and rose again, that we might be reconciled to you. How great a love you have bestowed upon us! As we now eat this bread and drink this cup, may you forgive us of any sin that we secretly harbor in our hearts, may you give us the freedom that comes as you transform us into the image of your Son, and may you fill us with your presence through the Holy Spirit that we may truly become your people.
Explanation: Some Christian traditions only serve Eucharist to “believers,” excluding children, those who do not make a Christian profession of faith, or who do not belong to a particular church. This service views the sacrament of Eucharist not only as a celebration of God and His grace, but also as a means of that grace. The very nature of this Christian Seder as communal celebration requires that no person present, especially children, be excluded from the Eucharist, although, of course, some may choose not to participate. Some Christian traditions also require that ordained clergy must officiate at any serving of Eucharist. These theological and doctrinal issues should be resolved before the Seder is planned.
Action: The people all take a piece of the broken Matzah. In a home setting, this would be pieces broken and distributed by the Leader from the Afikomen. If this is a public service, the Matzah can be either from what they have earlier broken from the middle Matzah, or a piece broken by the group leader and distributed. The Leader holds up the bread for all to see.
Leader: This broken bread of redemption reminds us of the broken body of our Lord Jesus Christ that was broken for us. Take and eat this, remembering that Jesus died for us, and in so doing accept the grace of God that brings freedom from bondage to sin.
Action: All eat the bread. When finished, the Leader holds up the cup for all to see.
Leader: This cup reminds us of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that was spilled because of us and on our behalf. Drink this, remembering that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and in so doing accept the grace that transforms us and brings us from darkness into His marvelous light.
Action: All drink the cup. This is followed by a song of praise for God’s grace (e.g., And Can It Be)
XII. The Fourth Cup: the Cup of Thanksgiving and Hope
Leader: Our Seder is now complete, just as our redemption is complete. We rejoice with thanksgiving, and yet are humbled by God’s love!
People: I am the Lord; I will take you as my people and I will be your God [Exodus 6:7].
Leader: Yet the story of God’s redemption is not ended. We celebrate what God has done in our history, and what he has done for us, but at the same time we still await a new future. All creation still groans and longs for its final redemption. As Jesus left, he promised he would come again and restore all things. We have faith enough to believe that God will not leave the world the way it is, so we await the day in which He will again come and bring His Kingdom in fullness.
Action: The Leader fills the fourth cup and signals the participants to refill their cups (if this is only a symbolic meal, only a little should be added to the cup). The leader raises his glass in front of the people, and all the people also raise their glasses.
Leader: We raise our glasses a fourth time in Thanksgiving for God’s enduring grace and love to us. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has adopted us as your children, and allowed us to call you Father.
Action: All lower their glasses for the prayer.
People: Our Father, who is in heaven, Holy is your name! Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into trials, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Action: All raise their glasses again and then drink the cup.
Leader: The traditional conclusion of the Seder is a hope for the future expressed by Jews throughout history: “Next year in Jerusalem.” We will conclude our Seder with the same expression of hope and faith in God, as we await the coming of a new Jerusalem.
People: Next year in the New Jerusalem!
Action: The Leader extinguishes the Passover candles. If this is a public service, the leader at each table or group should extinguish the candles on their table.
–Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2006, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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Last modified: July 19, 2006