What Happens During a Seder Meal?
The week of Passover is important to believers of both the Jewish and the Christian faiths. It marks important moments in Biblical history in the Old and New Testaments, and encourages meditation and thoughtfulness from the faithful.
In Judaism, one element of Passover that is sometimes - but rarely - incorporated into the Christian observance of Holy Week is the Seder meal. In the Jewish faith, it is an important time to pass on the tenets of the faith to the next generation by remembering and honoring the meal the Hebrews had their last night in Egypt.
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What Does the Seder Honor?
In Exodus 12, the Bible recounts God’s final plague in Egypt, and how He spared the Hebrews before their day of freedom. While the Angel of Death came for the first-born of everyone in the land, the Hebrews sacrificed a lamb, put its blood on the doorposts, and waited inside. During that night, God said:
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat [the lamb]. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover” (Exodus 12:7-11).
The Seder meal honors this command from the Lord on an annual basis. It is a time of reflection, family, history and spiritual understanding.
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What Are the Parts of a Seder?
The Seder, as it is practiced today, is broken up into fifteen sections. Each section has ritual, or food, or Scripture associated with it. This list with descriptions is not a complete description of each step, but does give enough for people with no Jewish background to understand it.
One significant aspect of the Seder meal is the four cups of wine, which each represent the four promises from God for deliverance in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem,” and “I will take.”
Another important note is that in the past, a lamb was also sacrificed, but today that is not practiced at Seder meals.
1. Kadesh - Sanctification of the day
A cup of wine or grape juice - the first of four - is filled, and the prayer is said.
2. Urchatz - Handwashing with no blessing
Ritual hand washing is done with warm water, but no blessing is done yet.
3. Karpas - Eating of green vegetables
The blessing is said, “Borei Pri Haadamah” and the vegetables are consumed after being dipped in saltwater. The saltwater evokes bitter tears.
4. Yachatz - Breaking of matzah
Matzah is the unleavened bread - without yeast - made in the tradition of the bread from Exodus. Three pieces of matzah are made, and the middle piece in broken in half and consumed.
5. Maggid - Telling the story in the Exodus
The second cup of wine, or grape juice, is poured, and the story of the Exodus is told.
6. Rachtzah - Handwashing with a blessing
The ritual hand washing is repeated, accompanied by a prayer. It serves as a time to meditate on purification and sanctification.
7. Motzi - Blessing before eating matzah
Two blessings are said over the matzah. The second explicitly mentions the mitzvah - a Jewish commandment - to eat the matzah from the Exodus narrative.
8. Matzah - Eating the matzah
Everyone consumes the matzah.
9. Maror - Eating of bitter herbs
During the first Passover meal, God calls the Israelites to eat bitter herbs. This tradition continues at the Seder meal. A blessing is said, and they are consumed.
10. Korech - Hillel sandwich
The bitter herbs are placed between the matzah and are eaten as a sandwich. This sandwich comes from a Jewish leader from history called Hillel who combined the bread, the herbs and the sacrificed lamb.
11. Shulchan Orech - Eating of the meal
Now a much larger meal is served. Traditionally it involves hard-boiled eggs, gefilte fish, and other traditional meals. The specific foods can vary depending on the country and culture.
12. Tzafun - Eating the afikomen
The afikomen is a piece of matzah hidden earlier during the meal. Once it is found, usually an activity reserved for the small children in the family, it is consumed. After this step, no more food is to be consumed.
13. Barech - Blessing over the eating
A blessing known as Birkat Hamazon is said. It is the Grace after meals. The third cup of wine is consumed, and a cup is poured for the prophet Elijah.
14. Hallel - Songs of praise
This part is a recitation of the songs of praise. These songs include Psalms 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, and 136. After the songs of praise, a portion of a Jewish prayer called the Nishmat.
15. Nirtzah - The conclusion and celebration
The meal concludes with the exclamation, “L’shana haba-a bi-Y’rushalayim” or “Next year in Jerusalem!” Depending on the family, some activities may continue.
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When Are Seder Meals During Passover?
The Seder meal that accompanies Passover begins the celebration of the first of Three Pilgrimage Feasts. Along with Shavuot and Sukkot, Passover is a feast where, historically, the religious individual made a journey to Jerusalem to celebrate. Some Jewish communities will have a Seder meal on the second night of Passover, which usually lasts 7 or 8 days, depending on the religious community. On the lunar Jewish Calendar, the first day of Passover is on the 15th day of Nisan -- which correlates to March or April on the Gregorian calendar depending on the lunar cycle.
While Seder meals are usually celebrated by those of Jewish faith, some Christian communities also celebrate a form of the Seder meals. Some may or may not have wine. An important difference for Christians who chose to have a Seder is that they discuss the elements of the meal, and the Exodus story, that point to Jesus Christ, and Easter, which is the end of Passover week on the Christian calendar.
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Why Is Passover Connected to Easter?
Easter is considered one of the most, if not the most, important holy day for Christians. It is the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the defeat of death, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament. As a Jewish man, Jesus would have celebrated the Seder meal faithfully during His earthly ministry. Some believe the Last Supper may have been a Seder, though there is some dispute about the timeline.
Some elements of this special observance do correlate to Easter and the resurrection. The lamb that was consumed historically that was slain as a sacrifice foreshadowed the role Jesus played as the final sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Leaven, or yeast, was used by Jesus as a symbol for sin (Mark 8:15, Matt. 16:6), so unleavened bread could symbolize the sinlessness of the Lord Jesus.
This holy week carries great meaning and significance for those of Jewish and Christian faith. The Seder meal begins the Passover week, which ends with Easter, moving from the Jewish calendar to the Christian one - from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Understanding the importance of the Seder meal can help Christians appreciate the Old Testament better and see the deep connections with the songs and prophecies about the Lord Jesus.
Bokser, Baruch. The Origins of the Seder The Passover Rite and Early Rabbinic Judaism. Berkley: University of California Press, 1986.
Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.
Scharfstein, Sol. Understanding Jewish Holidays and Customs: Historical and Contemporary. Newark: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1999.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains a faith and lifestyle blog graceandgrowing.com, where she muses about the Lord, life, culture, and ministry.
Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.