Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

This is the opening sequence of the Kadeish, the first element of the Seder commemorating the  Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Many families recited this blessing last night as part of the second night of Pesach (Passover.)

This is one of those years where Pesach and the Christian Holy Week coincide, and with it the two two faith traditions often intersect.

Many churches will include something called a  Christian Passover as part of the Holy Week observances. When I was about ten, I attended a one of these Passovers at my grandparents’ church (then an ALC congregation) in Madison, Wisconsin. I had been the dutiful little girl that attended enough Sunday School and knew some of the “bible stories” to understand on, at least a kid’s level, what the Exodus about.  To me it was about  bunch of plagues–boils, frogs, a bunch of creepy-crawlies, blood, etc and the Charleston Hestonesque Let My People Go. It seemed like an extension of Christianity.

Only it wasn’t.

Pesach is a uniquely Jewish experience.  There is no such thing as a Christian Passover. And I mean that in the most positive sense. When we were in junior high, my friend E was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. It was in the spring of 1985, and was either right before or right after Pesach.  And it was through E that I realized that Pesach was more about her relationship with God, not mine. And I was okay with that. Where she had Pesach and her Bat Mitzvah to affirm that she is a child of God, I had that with my Baptism and Confirmation.

Now I don’t have a problem of attending a Seder to undertand Jewish expressions of faith. It is a great way to understand how our faith tradition evolved from the Jewish tradition as long as you respect the boundaries.

But what I do have problems with is when Christianity tries co-opt the Seder and make it its own. The Seder is not the Last Supper. There is no Gospel in the Seder. The broken piece of matzoh is not a symbol of Christ. Each element of the Seder has a specific meaning in retelling the history of the Exodus.

To give it a Christian spin to the Jewish Seder really diminishes its significance and ignores what the Seder really is about.

The article this week in the Houston Chronicle really emphasized how I feel about this:

The Christianized Seder initially became popular about 30 years ago and seems to be experiencing a resurgence across denominations. About 20 churches in the Houston area will host Passover celebrations this week.

Some in the local Jewish community, however, fear their traditions are being used out of context.

“They take our symbols, our holiday, our ritual and start investing them in Christian meaning,” said Rabbi Stuart Federow, who leads Congregation Shaar Hashalom and speaks out against the evangelization of Jews on his Web site, WhatJewsBelieve.org. “It’s spreading out through the more liberal Christian churches. The Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians are doing this without understanding the hurt it causes to their Jewish friends.”

Fortunately the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America does not push for evanglizing to Jews. It is comforting, at least to me, to know that ELCA has reached out in Christian-Jewish dialog to embrace the similarities and respect the differences.

We as Christians share deep and common roots with Jews, not least books of Scripture revered by both communities. There is much to be gained in exploring those common roots, as well as the reasons for the “parting of the ways” during the first generations of the followers of Jesus. New Testament texts reflect at many points the hostility between the two communities, but also point to ways in which a new spirit of mutual respect and understanding can be achieved.

We as Christians also need to learn of the rich and varied history of Judaism since New Testament times, and of the Jewish people as a diverse, living community of faith today. Such an encounter with living and faithful Judaism can be profoundly enriching for Christian self-understanding. It is to nurture this blessing that we offer these guidelines for honest and faithful conversation and cooperation between Lutherans and Jews.

Furthermore, the ELCA cautions against the practice of a Christian Seder:

Although attendance at Seders in Jewish homes or synagogues is to be preferred, “demonstration Seders” have been held rather widely in Christian churches and can serve a useful educational purpose, in which both common roots and significant differences can be learned. This should be approached with caution, however, and with the awareness that this might be considered “trampling on the other’s holy ground. ” If such demonstrations are done, they should be done carefully, preferably in consultation with, or hosted by, a local rabbi.

Enter Jews for Jesus. Much to my displeasure, as part our pastors’ enthusiatic edict to evangelize and make disciples of all blah blah blah, Jews for Jesus is putting on a Christ in the Passover version of a Christian Seder at my congregation this Good Friday.

So much for not trampling on faith traditions or respecting the true meaning of a ritual.

Don’t let the can’t we just get along sweet name that the organization has. Jews for Jesus isn’t about Jews embracing both Judaism, their heritage and Christianity. It’s strictly about evangelizing to Jews and attempt to convert them to the right team. While the “missionaries” that present this form of a Passover claim to embracing their Jewish herritage, they are preaching right from the playbook of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity.

There is no respect for the Jewish faith tradition. It is all about converting. And getting money for putting on these bogus Seders. Needless to say, the won’t be getting a dime from me. I have no intentions of attending their performance (because worship service seems to give them more credit than they’re worth.)

From What Jews Believe:

The “Jews for Jesus” are not Jews. Originally founded by a very old organization known as The American Board Of Missions To The Jews, as their San Francisco office, they changed their name to “Jews” for Jesus, as the newest technique in missionizing the Jews to Christianity. Were you to compare the theology of the “Jews” for Jesus with the theology of the Southern Baptist Convention, you would see no difference. Compare the statements of faith of the Messianic “Jewish” Alliance of America (whose original name was the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America), with the statement of faith from the Southern Baptist Convention. Both the MJAA and the SBC have web sites.

Christian missionaries (and this includes the “Jews” for Jesus, the Messianic “Jews,” and the “Hebrew” Christians) claim that this deceptive technique originates with Paul, in I Corinthians 9:20, where he says that it is okay to pretend to be anything, so long as it gets converts to Christianity. One can also see this in Phillipians 1:18. Furthermore, it is expanded in the idea of Indigenous Cultural Evangelism. This is the name to the missionary technique which says so long as you make the targets think that they can be both a Christian and whatever they were before their conversion, then missionizing will be easier. See Understanding Church Growth, by Donald A. McGavran, the chapter on The Sociological Foundation.

So, the “Jews for Jesus” are merely another Christian Missionary organization, which make converts to Christianity by dressing up the Christian theology in Jewish clothing.

The ELCA seems to be on to the scam and warns in its guidelines for Lutheran/Jewish dialog:

Groups such as “Jews for Jesus” or “Messianic Jews” consist of persons from a Jewish background who have converted to Christianity and who wish to retain their Jewish heritage and identity. Lutherans should be aware that most Jews regard such persons as having forsaken Judaism, and consider efforts to maintain otherwise to be deceptive.

My concerns about Jews for Jesus coming to celebrate Christ in the Passover not only continues to trample the Jewish faith traditions, but also sends the message that my church endorses such deceptive behavior.

Jews for Jesus’ mission is a 180° turn from the ELCA’s goal to embrace the differences yet affirm both Christianity and Judiasm as different yet  equally worthy faith traditions:

Our relationship to contemporary Judaism requires both sensitivity to what we have in common and a respect for the independent right of Jews to define themselves as a community. A mature Christian respect for the work of God in Judaism thus affirms the faith and practice of Jews as more than a foil, a footnote, or a problem for our own identity.

So as Pesach and Holy Week converge once again, I challenge those who want to evangelize at any expense to take a step back and realize we are all on the same team.

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’

Acts 10:34

Let’s not trample one faith tradition in order to raise up another. Let us not dimish the meaning of rite that is millenia old and replace its symbolism with something else. Let us remember the story of the Exodus and how it set God’s people free from slavery, and let us remember how Resurrection set us free as well. But I challenge us all to respect each as unique and blessed gifts from God.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, indeed!