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As Easter Approaches, Some Christians Welcome Passover alongside Jews

( [email protected] ) Apr 02, 2015 05:56 PM EDT

Easter and Passover
Christian worshippers carry crosses as they take part in the Eastern and Orthodox Church's Good Friday procession in the Old City of Jerusalem April 13, 2012. Photo by Reuters

The Jewish people have been celebrating the tradition of Passover since Biblical times. Now some Gentiles, particularly Christians, are observing the custom of Seder before celebrating Easter.

According to Leanne Italie of the Associated Press, a few Jewish and Christian leaders have worked together to organize a traditional Passover Seder. Some of these leaders included Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman and the Rev. Msgr. Donald M. Hanson of the Most Holy Trinity Parish; they both lived in the beach town of East Hampton, N.Y.

"We got a kosher caterer and we paired it up so that the tables would be evenly Christian and Jewish," Hanson said. "I wanted my people to understand the Jewish character of it, but in understanding the Jewish character of it, they have the foundation now to better understand the Christian take on it."

Italie reported that about 250 people, Jews and Christians, attended the Seder. Zimmerman, who works at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, noted that he and his wife have welcomed outsiders to Seder for 53 years.

"We would have more Christians this year but the Seders are on Easter weekend," Zimmerman, 73, said. "All of the Christians are busy with their own families."

Zimmerman added that historically, the United States wasn't always open or friendly to the idea of Jews and Christians celebrating together.

"There was a time 70 years ago, 80 years ago, when you didn't invite Christians to your Seder," Zimmerman said. "There wasn't that openness in America, but people want to know and want to learn now. It's a way to understand the Jewishness of Jesus."

Easter and Passover
Holy Week is celebrated in many Christian traditions during the week before Easter. (Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters)

According to Carol McPhail of AL.com, Jews viewed the Seder "as a way to remember the persecution and celebrate their freedom as a people." However, it can be controversial for Christians to celebrate it, given that the meal associated with Seder reenacts Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples.

"For us, we try to (heed) the Old Testament call on people who follow the God of the Bible to remember the Exodus story and pass it to the next generation," Rev. Jeremy Steele of Christ United Methodist Church said. "The Exodus story is part of our faith story as well."

McPhail noted that the Last Supper "was a distant forerunner to what would become a Seder." Steele did his best to balance out both Christian and Jewish traditions around this time of year.

"One of the things we are trying to be careful with is not to have a replacement theology," Steele said. "What we're trying to do is to be as Jewish as a bunch of Protestants can be."

Alabama church member Connie Guggenbiller told McPhail why it was important for her to celebrate the important Jewish tradition as a Christian.

"I wanted to remind us that we have a direct connection to Abraham," Guggenbiller said. "In a way, we forget where our roots are. This helps us to remember our heritage and ties us back to our roots."

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