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A Christian 'Passover'? Some Jews say yes, some Christians oppose

Published: Saturday, April 19 2014 4:10 a.m. MDT

In this March 21, 2013 photograph, St. Philips's members John Jungkind, left, holds hands with wife Lynda, while Rabbi Marshal Klaven, director of rabbinic services for the Goldring-Woldenberg Institute for Jewish Life in Jackson, in the background offers blessings of the family as he begins his Passover pilgrimage across the South by leading Seders, the traditional Passover meal with members of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Jackson, Miss.

Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As often happens, Passover, the Jewish feast commemorating the liberation of ancestors from slavery in Egypt, and Easter, observing the resurrection of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, coincide this year. Passover began the evening of April 14 and ends the evening of April 22. Easter Sunday is April 20.

But does that mean Christians should incorporate a Passover Seder, a ceremonial meal that commemorates the Exodus with specific foods and texts? And should they connect that event with the Last Supper observed by Jesus and his disciples, as the Gospel accounts record?

The question of what constitutes Jewish and Christian practice has shifted in recent years. Many Christians want to connect with the "Hebraic roots" of their faith, carrying Bible versions that use Hebrew names for Jesus and his followers and buying Jewish-themed worship music recordings. Some Christians even wear a tallit, the traditional prayer shawl, in church.

And while 60 percent of American Jews, according to a 2013 Pew Research Religion & Public Life survey, say believing Jesus is the Messiah puts one outside of Judaism's ranks, a record 34 percent of the American Jews surveyed affirmed one could hold such a belief and still be considered Jewish.

An estimated 3,000 churches, mainly Protestant congregations, participate in a "Christ in the Passover" presentation annually, given by missionaries connected with Jews for Jesus, a 40-year-old evangelical outreach. Many other Christians believe that observing the Passover connects them with the roots of a faith whose founder was a Jew and whose disciples were almost exclusively Jewish.

A Seder-free zone

But one Christian writer stood athwart the ceremonial border crossing this week, yelling, "Stop." Rebecca Cynamon-Murphy, a member of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation in Glen Elyn, Ill., penned a widely read item for the Religion Dispatches blog arguing "Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders," citing the sotto-voce requests from friends who knew Cynamon-Murphy's husband is Jewish. She believes something is amiss when Christians mimic a Jewish practice.

"I don't think that we become the people God wants us to be when we are not authentic to ourselves and the environment that we come from," Cynamon-Murphy said in a telephone interview from the East Coast where she celebrated Passover with her husband's family.

"In the core of it, that's what's wrong with it. It's trying to be something we are (not)," she added. "It's offensive when we do it to those we're trying to be or mimic, whose experience we're playing pretend with, play-acting with. I think it's offensive and we really don't learn that much."

Cynamon-Murphy said her unease came from "actual individual people talking to me about it. Thought it through out loud with people. How uncomfortable with it made me, because the friends and relatives I have that are Jewish are uncomfortable with it."

But not every one of Cynamon-Murphy's Jewish friends are, apparently, "uncomfortable" with the concept. Rabbi Evan Moffic of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Ill., officiated at Cynamon-Murphy's 2009 wedding and responded to her with his own Religion Dispatches blog, favoring the idea of a "Christian Passover."

Speaking with the Deseret News, Moffic said, "I'm more grateful for the fact that many Christians find meaning in a Jewish ritual. That's something to be thankful for. Most Christians approach it as an opportunity to experience a ritual that Jesus experienced in one form or another. It's experiential learning at its best."

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