Some years, because of the wiles of the lunar calendar, the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian Triduum (the three days that carry Christians from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday) intersect. Saturday is the first day of Passover, and it is also, in the ecclesial calendar, Holy Saturday, when Christians sit with Jesus in his tomb.
On Friday night, many Jewish families held a Passover Seder, and many Christians attended a Good Friday service, focusing their attention on the Cross. Some of us, who live in families that include Jews and Christians, participate in both sacred commemorations; on Friday, I went from my church’s small, quiet Good Friday service to my aunt’s Passover Seder.
The Seder helped me appreciate the Christian story more fully. The Seder teaches, among other things, a special kind of memory — participants are enjoined not merely to recall the Exodus from Egypt, but to remember it as though they had been there. In theological language, this is “anamnesis”; it is the kind of memory that allows the past to bear on the present in an especially powerful way.
Christians practice anamnesis at the Eucharist, the meal of bread and wine that Christ gave to his disciples at the Last Supper, instructing them ever after to partake of that meal “in memory of Me.” At the Eucharist, Christians practice not just ordinary remembering but the kind of remembering that makes the past (and indeed makes Jesus) present in the present.
So I feel grateful that my Jewish relatives include me in their Seder. When Passover and Triduum intersect, I find my own experience of the Christian paschal cycle deepened by my family’s Seder.
And yet, as I left church on Good Friday and headed to my aunt’s house, I was worrying.
As at many churches, my church had just read the Passion narrative according to the Gospel of John: “[T]he Jews . . . cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ ” The vilification of “the Jews” in John’s Gospel has had murderous consequences through the ages — and although Christians turned on Jews at many times of year, the Triduum was especially violent. As the 15th-century Rabbi Joseph Cohen said about Good Friday, “Every year we live in fear of this day.”
As I left church on Friday, I was worrying about what we have forgotten: the killing that our ecclesial forebears undertook on Good Fridays past. We have forgotten that sermons and liturgies prompted this killing.
I don’t want to banish John’s Passion from the canon; I do want the church to stop proclaiming the Johannine Passion as though we are ignorant of the violent consequences it has had.
Essential to the Passover Seder is retelling the story of the Exodus. We read that we are to find ways of telling this story that even the youngest at the table will understand.
I wonder if Christians might pause at the intersection of Passover and the Triduum and retell some of the harder stories of our past — the stories of the murders undertaken by Christians at this time of year, in the name of the One who died to triumph over hatred and death.
Let us retell those stories, and repent.
Lauren Winner teaches at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She is author, most recently,of “STILL: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.”