Thursday, April 8, 2010
Close to Nowhere
Presbyterian seder supper
Last Wednesday evening, my friend Jane and I were privileged to be among the non-Presbyterian/Episcopal guests at a seder supper, presided over by a real “rabbouni,” (teacher) Rabbi Katie Bauman of Temple Israel in Memphis, Tenn.
Milton Winter graciously invited us to share the seder meal with the two congregations. I’d mentioned to Milton before that we’d had several seders at our Methodist church and how wonderful they were.
At our church, the seder meal was greatly simplified, mostly because as Methodists, none of us were very sure about how “exactly” it was done. I was very pleased to note that our seders were not too far off base. And the spirit was the same!
“Seder” is the meal at which those of the Jewish faith remember the Passover and the escape from Egypt. The seder is a “retelling” of the story and a way of passing history down from generation to generation, so the story of Passover will never die.
Children are a very important part of the seder. At the beginning of the meal, the youngest child present asks four questions –
“Why is this night different? Tonight, why do we eat only matzah? (To symbolize the hurried exodus from Egypt, when there was no time for the bread to rise.)
“Tonight, why do we eat only the bitter herbs? (Life was bitter, with harsh labor at mortar and bricks.)
“Tonight, why do we dip the greens twice (The greens are dipped in salt water for the tears that were shed.)
“Tonight, instead of sitting upright or reclining, why do we all recline? (Several rabbis were reclining at a seder table and spent an entire night discussing the Exodus. As the heirs of these teachers, we come together to discuss the Exodus from Egypt. At every seder table, we celebrate our inheritance.)
Each food that is eaten at seder is a symbol, representing a part of the story. The wine partaken of during the meal symbolizes the sweetness. A roasted egg is placed on the seder plate, a reminder of the festival offerings brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem – the egg also reminds us of the beginning of all life and reflects our hope for renewal each spring; a hope that brings us back to the seder table.
A large shank bone (pesach) is placed on the seder plate, to symbolize the feast and Passover offering in the days of the Temple. The pesach reminds us that the Holy One passed over the houses of our ancestors.
A seder plate and glass of wine are always prepared and placed at the head of the table, waiting for the Prophet Elijah to come. Near the end of the meal, the door is opened and Elijah is invited inside.
There are many such symbols and reminders throughout the seder meal. At the conclusion, a prayer is offered that all humankind be freed from violence and from wrong and united in an eternal convenant of mutual esteem and love, celebrate a universal Passover in the name of God.
Perhaps the most moving is the very last sentiment expressed – “Next year in Jerusalem!”
As Rabbi Katie explained – in years past many Jews perhaps dreamed of visiting Jerusalem. Today, that’s not such an impossible dream, but for many years, it could only be a dream to most Jews.
But visiting Jerusalem at Passover is only part of “next year in Jerusalem!” Jerusalem, in this sense, is the end of our spiritual path and the place where everyone will meet God.
Before Rabbi Katie told the story of “next year in Jerusalem,” as she invited us to lift our glasses and toast with her, most of us were perhaps not as lively as we could have been. After she finished with that part of the story, Rev. Bruce McMillan, of Christ Episcopal Church, said it for all of us – “Next year in Jerusalem!” as a resounding toast!
(I hope I haven’t mangled too badly the rich traditions and symbolism of seder. Any mistakes are purely mine.)
One of the many “good” things that I experienced at the seder was being surrounded by friends from this area of all different faiths. Jane, a former Presbyterian, and I, a former Baptist, sat with Vicki and Walter Webb, who are both Episcopalians. We saw friends from the Baptist and Methodist churches in Holly Springs and were introduced to the coordinator of the seder, Sheryl Bowen, a former Catholic.
It was a lovely, holy evening and one I’ll long remember. And at our church the following Thursday night, as we observed Maundy Thursday — celebrating the night Jesus and the disciples observed Passover by enjoying a seder meal together (the Last Supper) — our pastor, Bro. Troy Barton, said he would like to begin a tradition of a meal before the Maundy Thursday service.
A very bright light went off in my head – and I promptly offered/asked if I could coordinate a seder supper for us next year.
I wonder how Rabbi Katie would feel about visiting a tiny Methodist church, tucked out in the woods?
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