Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Seder

For centuries, Jews have commemorated liberation from their Egyptian overlords with a Passover feast called the Seder. As Psalm 77 declares, "The things we have heard and understood, the things our ancestors have told us, these we will not hide from their children but will tell them to the next generation: the glories and might of the Lord and the marvelous deeds God has done. . . . God gave a command to our ancestors to make it known to their children that the next generation might know it, the children yet to be born."

The Seder is most often a family meal that tells and retells the history of the exodus, when "God divided the sea and led them through and made the waters stand up like a wall; leading them by day with a cloud, by night, with a light of fire." The word Seder means "order," and refers to the order in which the liberation story narrated in the Seder handbook, the Haggadah, is related. Each food served at the meal is symbolic of some aspect of the rushed and dangerous journey out of Egypt.

Sometimes Passover falls during Easter week, which lends a special significance to Holy Thursday, or the commemoration of the Last Supper. This year I was in New Mexico with my daughter and son-in-law and grandson Eli, who offer a Seder meal every Passover as Josh's family has done for generations past. I was startled by two things: how much the Eucharistic meal depends upon its Passover roots, and how right and good it felt for me as a Christian to be a guest at this venerable and beloved Jewish celebration.

As I pondered this, I was reminded of the core of St. Benedict's Rule for monastics: that we should "pray without ceasing." And it seems to me that the Seder fulfills some of the same functions as the Daily Offices do; these are all ways to worship God, to praise him, and to thank him for his never ending goodness, mercy and compassion. Though I can certainly pray in this worshipful way on my own, my efforts in this regard are often puny and self-referential. When I pray this way in concert with other believers, however, as we do in the Seder, as we do when we pray the Psalms and Canticles during Vigils, Lauds, Eucharist and Vespers, then my petitions transcend the level of the purely personal and become one with those who have gone before me: at one with the prayers of the angels.

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