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A Simple Christian Passover Celebration

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Christians celebrating Passover actually dates back to at least 1080 A.D. with Melito of Sardis. Easter in the early church was known as Pascha which is Greek for a transliteration of Aramaic of the Hebrew name for Passover, Pesach. The early church merged the celebration of Passover and Jesus’ death and resurrection much like Christians seeking to connect with the Hebrew roots of the faith do today. The name Easter came much later from 7th century Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity who recognized the Pascha holiday as falling in the same season as the spring festivals of Eostre they were familiar with.

This celebration of Pascha (Easter) and Pesach (Passover), actually became one of the most divisive issues in church history. From this disagreement among other reasons, we ended up with splits in the church and multiple dates for celebrating Pascha, some that align more closely with Pesach and others that are less connected depending on the year. It makes sense that as Pascha began to be separated in date from Passover that Christian celebrations began to neglect Passover in favor of solely Easter, and why the name Easter gained in popularity in English speaking areas.

On one side of the disagreement were those who celebrated Pascha on the 14th of Nisan in accordance with the historical account of the crucifixion. This meant that Pascha could fall on any day of the week in a given year. The other side felt that Pascha should always fall on a Sunday with some content to place it as the Sunday following the 14th of Nisan and others wanting to depart entirely from the Hebrew calendar and give it a Julian and ultimately Gregorian date. In 325 A.D. The First Council of Nicea ruled that the celebration of Pascha should be separated from the Jewish calendar and calculated by a Christian calendar instead.

We still see the effects of these disagreements today with Eastern Orthodox churches celebrating Easter at a different time than Catholic and Protestant churches. Even the debates about if we should celebrate Easter at all, or if we should call it Easter over concerns about the Pagan origins of the name, are not new issues of disagreement within the church.

So how did those early Christians celebrate Passover?

Much of the modern Passover Seder can’t be found anywhere in scripture; it comes from Rabbinic teachings over centuries as ritual got added on top of ritual. In some cases it even seems that the Jewish traditions were made as a response to, or copying of the Christian celebrations of Passover. This might even be how we get interpretations of scripture that ascribe modern Passover Seder significance to events that happened before those traditions existed.

An alternative approach to the modern Rabbinical Passover Seder is found in Karaite Judaism. The Karaites hold that the written Torah is the only authoritative source of God’s word, and the oral Torah (Rabbinical teachings such as the Mishnah) are subject to scrutiny just as an other interpretation of the written Torah. Karaites do not follow the kosher laws as prescribed by Rabbinical teaching, and they also do not celebrate Passover with a Seder plate and all the elaborate traditions that have become synonymous with the holiday.

In our quest to understand the Hebrew culture at its roots, the Karaites gives us a powerful picture of what is actually taught in the Old Testament and what has become tradition over the years based on Rabbinical teachings. 

 Exodus 12 Requirements for Celebrating Passover

  • 10th of Nisan: get the lamb for your family, making sure there will be enough for everyone to eat
  • 14th of Nisan: at twilight, slaughter the lamb and collect the blood to place on your doorframe
  • 15th of Nisan: after sunset of that same day (the 14th) roast the lamb over an open flame fully intact, eat it with bitter herb and unleavened bread
  • 15th of Nisan: all the food must be eaten before the next morning, anything left must be burned
  • 15th of Nisan: eat the meal ready to leave with your shoes on, bags packed
  • 15th of Nisan: tell the story of the Exodus, recall how God passed over Israel and spared their first borns 
  • 10th of Nisan: get the lamb for your family, making sure there will be enough for everyone to eat
  • 14th of Nisan: at twilight, slaughter the lamb and collect the blood to place on your doorframe
  • 15th of Nisan: after sunset of that same day (the 14th) roast the lamb over an open flame fully intact, eat it with bitter herb and unleavened bread
  • 15th of Nisan: all the food must be eaten before the next morning, anything left must be burned
  • 15th of Nisan: eat the meal ready to leave with your shoes on, bags packed
  • 15th of Nisan: tell the story of the Exodus, recall how God passed over Israel and spared their first borns

Immediately after the Passover sacrifice the Festival of Unleavened Bread begins

  • 15th -21st of Nisan: no leaven in the house, may only eat unleavened bread
  • 15th of Nisan: sacred assembly, Sabbath rest, no work except preparing food
  • 21st of Nisan: sacred assembly, Sabbath rest, no work except preparing food

At the root of all the ritual, every Haggadah (which means telling) is an immersive remembering of the Exodus story. If you wish to celebrate Passover with a traditional Seder meal, or a Messianic Haggadah, there is nothing wrong with doing so. But if you’d like to celebrate in a more simple way here are some ideas from how my family honors Passover.

My Family’s Simple Christian Passover

The Passover Meal

For the meal we eat lamb, bitter herb, and unleavened bread just in more of a regular meal vs the traditional Seder plate. There are numerous meals you can make with lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, and keep in mind you aren’t limited to only those foods in your meal.

Lamb

  • Ground Lamb
  • Lamb Chops
  • Lamb Kabobs
  • Rack of Lamb

Bitter Herb

  • Arugula or Dandelion Greens – as a salad or on burgers
  • Horseradish Sauce – on burgers or as a dipping sauce

Unleavened Bread

  • Pita
  • Naan
  • Roti
  • Tortillas
  • Homemade matzah – There’s a Karaite recipe for matzah that is much more flavorful than the kind you buy at the grocery store. Since we’re not following Rabbinic kosher a homemade matzah is fine (and so is putting cheese on those burgers).

Those options can be combined into so many different meals: burgers, tacos, kabobs, meat with a salad, wraps, stew, etc. Simplifying the Passover meal into something you’d normally eat can help put the focus back on remembrance rather than cooking.

Communion

At the end of the meal we take communion as a remembrance of how Jesus taught us to celebrate, regardless of if the cup and bread he used originally came from Rabbinic teachings or Old Testament scripture. We use a beautiful stoneware communion set my dad made but a simple cup and plate will do. It’s more important that we rightly recognize the significance of communion as not just another part of the meal, than it is we take it with a fancy communion set. Aside from Passover though, a special communion set that your family uses on a regular basis can be a very meaningful heirloom and tool for partaking in this sacrament.

Grape juice or wine are both fine for communion, and the bread can be some of the unleavened bread from your meal or a different unleavened bread you set aside especially for communion. When not observing unleavened bread for Passover, oyster crackers, challah, or other types of bread are good for communion as well.

Taking communion at home can feel odd at first, there’s no pastor to lead you through it – what do you say or pray? Do you just eat it and that’s it? Two of my favorite resources that have helped deepen our home communion are The Power of Communion by Benni Johnson and The Power of the Lord’s Table by Chris Gore.

We take the bread and the cup and have a moment of silence for each of us to reflect and bring awareness that this is not just more food as part of our meal. Then we pray thanking Jesus for each sacrament – his body broken for us, by his stripes we are healed, his blood poured out covering over our sins, allowing us to be adopted into the bloodline of God’s family. Then we take each sacrament; we take it freely in larger portions than the little sip and cracker at church, but we are careful to remain focused on their meaning and not eat them just because we are hungry. Whatever is left over we put away for the next time we do communion or we pour it out/throw it away so that we are not tempted to forget it is not merely food for sustenance.

Remembrance

The key aspect of Exodus 12’s instruction and modern Passover Haggadahs is remembering the Exodus story and recalling how the Lord delivered Israel. For our Passover celebration we recount both the Exodus and Easter stories, highlighting the prophetic parallels and chronology between the Passover lamb and Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Recounting can take many forms: reading scripture, discussions and oral story telling during the meal, watching movies like The Prince of Egypt, Story Keepers: Easter Story, or The Passion of the Christ, or doing crafts that combine story telling with an activity. Some years we may even use our seder plate and do a traditional Passover seder as a tool for our remembrance. The way we remember the Exodus and Easter varies each year and the variety helps keep it fresh rather than just becoming a ritual that loses meaning over time. Practice remembrance in the ways that make sense for your family in the season you are in.

One of my favorite parts of celebrating Passover is that it is a quieter time to really reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Aside from the commercialization of Easter, even good things like Easter Sunday services and family gatherings can make the day so busy there isn’t time to really reflect. Whether you celebrate Passover, Easter, or both, don’t forget to take time and remember the reason for all our celebrations.

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