Monday, April 17, 2006

Pass the Matzo

From: Los Angeles Daily News

Michael Deering ate the bitter herbs, broke the matzo and partook in the Seder meal as Passover began Wednesday evening.

For more than 3,000 years, Jews have celebrated Passover to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

But Deering is a lifelong Catholic - and he's among a growing number of Christians who attend Seders to connect with their religious roots and to draw parallels to their deliverance from sin.

"Any Christian who doesn't know our Jewish roots is an incomplete Christian," said Deering, 55, of Granada Hills.

"The Passover is more of the Exodus story; that was the birth of the modern Jewish nation," said Deering, one of more than 200 people at a Seder at St. John Eudes Catholic Church in Chatsworth. "Jesus was tied into it through being the sacrificial lamb to wash away our sins."

The Seder began with the "mother" of each table lighting a candle that represents the spiritual joy of God's promise to the Israelites. Monsignor Peter Nugent explained to the goys what each object on the Seder plate represented - the bitter herbs of slavery, the nuts and apples of hard work, the unleavened bread of people on the run, among other items.

They filled their glasses with wine and after Nugent sang in Hebrew, they drank the first spirits of deliverance. Three more sips followed.

"Each of us, each generation, is a beneficiary of God's power of salvation," the people said in unison. "For this reason we raise our cup."

The two-hour Seder could have been celebrated in a synagogue just as easily.

"As an educational tool to learn about Judaism, that is great," said Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism. "Being able to see it for what it is as a Seder, not creating something that isn't Jewish out of it."

The divergence from Jewish tradition, obviously, is made with the inclusion of Jesus.

The Last Supper of Christ and the Apostles was itself during Passover, at which Jesus gave the bread and the wine new meaning to his followers.

"You really can't understand the Communion if you don't understand the Pesach (Passover)," said Mark Brewer, senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, a 2,300-member congregation that sits above Encino on Mulholland Drive.

Communion, or what Catholics call the Eucharist, is the remembrance of Christ through eating his body (bread) and drinking his blood (wine or grape juice).

Brewer said Passover is heavy with Christian symbolism: the striped matzo representing the scourges of Jesus; Father, Son and Holy Spirit seen in the three matzos; the sacrificial lamb that spared the Jews' firstborn from the Angel of Death.

"We understand the Passover through the eyes of Jesus," Brewer said.

That's why most of Bel Air Presbyterian's congregants are participating in Seders with their Bible studies. The text provided by the church was written by two members with Jewish heritage.

Glendean Thompson is accustomed to attending Jewish Seders. On Friday - Good Friday - she will host her first.

"It has so much meaning for a Christian," said Thompson, a Woodland Hills psychotherapist who leads a small Bible study. "Christianity is a Jewish faith."

Other groups, like Betsy Cramer's, are trading the gefilte fish and unleavened bread for food a bit more American.

"We're calling it a fake Seder dinner," Cramer, 26, of Sherman Oaks said of their trip Tuesday night to Hamburger Hamlet, where they read through materials provided by Bel Air Presbyterian.

"We certainly revere our Jewish friends, but we didn't think we had to go fully out to embrace the tradition," Cramer said. "Plus, all of us are so gentile. We were like, 'Where do you get a rack of lamb?"'