The Jewish Seder Passover Meal
The Seder feast takes place on the first two evenings of Passover (except in Israel where it is held only on the first night) and is typically conducted in the home. It is here, in the family Seder, that the essential dimensions of the holiday are celebrated.
The Seder is marked by an abundance of ancient customs and rituals, feasting, prayer, joy, and warm hospitality. Jewish people are obligated to share their Seder meal, not only with family, but with others as well. In fact, Jews begin the Seder by declaring, "Let all who are hungry come eat with us."
Order and Narration
The Seder, which means “order of service,” refers to the order of ceremonies performed at this festive meal. The text containing the readings and ceremonies of the Seder is called the Haggadah, meaning “the telling” or “narration.”
Because so many Christians have now embraced the Jewish roots of their faith and have an interest in conducting Seders as part of their faith tradition, a number of Passover Haggadahs for Christians are now available.
At the end of this guide, you will find several links to both Christian and traditional Jewish Passover Haggadahs that you can use for conducting your own family Seder.
Elements of the Seder Meal
The Seder plate contains six unique foods which symbolize the experience of the Jewish people as they moved from bondage and slavery in Egypt to freedom as God’s chosen people. These Seder foods include:
Charoset — a mixture of apples, nuts, red wine or grape juice, symbolizing the mortar the Jewish slaves made in the building of cities of Egypt for Pharaoh and his kingdom.
Zeroa — a roasted shank bone of lamb or neck of a chicken, representing the paschal lamb that was sacrificed and eaten during the time of the Temple at Passover.
Maror and Chazeret — two different bitter herbs, often horseradish and romaine lettuce, representing the bitterness of life under slavery.
Baytza — an egg that is first hard-boiled, then roasted, served as a reminder of the festival sacrifice during the time of the Temple. With its destruction, the Jews began to associate the egg with the loss of the Temple. Today the egg is a reminder for us to mourn the suffering of all people living under bondage and slavery.
Karpas — a green vegetable, usually parsley or celery, which represents the reemergence of life at springtime. During the Seder, the karpas is dipped in salt water and eaten. The salt water represents the tears of suffering that became tears of joy as the people moved from slavery to freedom.
Other Elements of the Seder Meal
Matzah — the unleavened bread that the Israelites took with them when they escaped from Egypt. The Bible records that the people had no time to bake bread with leaven (yeast) and so they made
matzah, a simple mixture of wheat and water in the form of a flat wafer that bakes quickly.
Afikomen — the “dessert,” a piece of matzah hidden during the service and sought out by children toward the end of the meal. It symbolizes the Passover lamb, which was eaten at the end of the meal.
Wine (or grape juice) — tradition is to drink four glasses of wine during the Seder to symbolize the Jewish people’s trust in God’s fourfold promise of redemption:
“I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians, I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:6-7) [emphasis added]
Elijah’s Cup — a fifth glass of wine, which is filled only at the conclusion of the Seder, and which represents the fifth stage of God’s promise of redemption: "And I will bring you into the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Exodus 6:8).
According to Jewish tradition, the fifth glass is poured, but not drunk from to symbolize that God’s promise for the Jewish people’s return to their homeland remains unfulfilled. It is called Elijah’s Cup since, according to tradition, it is the prophet Elijah who will usher in the Messiah and the ingathering of Jewish people into Israel.
Pillow — traditionally the leader and/or participants recline while partaking of the Seder, as was the manner of Roman emperors, to demonstrate their freedom on this day.
God’s Delivery and Protection
The Passover festival, with its rich traditions and meanings, is an eloquent testimony for all who participate that God hears the cries of the oppressed, that He is present in human lives, that He intervenes in history to deliver man from affliction, and that He redeems man from oppression.
Resources for Conducting a Seder Meal
If you would like to conduct your own Passover Seder, the following resources will help guide you in the elements of the Seder and the Haggadah for telling the story of the Exodus. Resources below include both Haggadahs specifically geared for a Christian audience and traditional Jewish Haggadahs as well.
Let Us Break Bread Together: A Passover Haggadah for Christians (Many Mansions) (Paperback), Michael Smith, (2007, Paraclete Press: Brewster, MA)