I don’t really remember much about my first Passover Seder. In fact, I am pretty sure I could recall what the back of my eyelids looked like more than what happened during the actual ceremony. I remember my mom and me reading a book when I was little about a young Jewish girl. There was something about preparing lots of food and something else about the Four Questions – whatever those were. Fast forward several years and Passover has become one of my favorite holidays and something with a significance that can’t quite easily be formed into words.
I have another memory from childhood. It was one that evoked a bit more excitement and enthusiasm, leaving a more precise imprint in my mind than some vague memory of dozing at a table during an ancient Jewish tradition. I was at a youth conference (though I was a bit younger than the church “youth” age). The stadium was packed with goofy teenagers sporting their matching neon youth group T-shirts, loud music, passionate speakers, and pyrotechnics scaring me out of my wits as they randomly erupted at the front of the stage. I always remember leaving that event (which I attended annually for years, and ultimately ended up helping to produce when I got older) with a feeling of elation, inspiration and vigor. This is what real Christianity is all about, I thought. It is not some dry, lame religion, but something full of life, excitement – something worth being a part of. It was there that I remember first learning the phrase “a relationship with God.” I felt like I was somehow part of some cool Christianity that everyone else was missing out on.
You see, my generation (I am 20 if that gives you a reference point) has always focused evangelism on depicting Christianity opposite the conservative swing of the pendulum. Leaders seemed to typically want to indicate that being a Christian is not just about sitting in pews or fulfilling a list of right and wrong. It is not a stuffy environment trying to produce perfect people . . . sort of like how the world depicts the 1950’s. I clung to this idea. I wanted my friends to know that there was something more, something that would change their lives. And I still cling to this idea, but age and time and a splash of wisdom has colored what real Christianity looks like, differently.
For as long as I can remember, Passover has been a part of my growing up. Year after year we pull out the Haggadah, invite our friends over, recite the same verses as my dad blurs over the Hebrew words with nonsensical gibberish, and most importantly, eat matzah ball soup. And somewhere along the line, the sacredness and historical richness of this ceremony changed what I found important in a Christian life. I had previously been so concerned about making my faith seem fresh and new and real, that somewhere along the way, I had missed that whole part about it being deeply rooted in something that transcends the “now.” Passover taught me that. My eyes were opened to the beauty of the fact that I was participating in something millions of Jews partake in all over the globe, that Jesus did a couple thousand years ago, and his ancestors did for hundreds of years before him.
I saw the value of tradition.
I don’t come from a very ethnically distinct family. We are a conglomeration of European backgrounds with a little bit of Native American thrown in there. So, we aren’t the kind of family that cooks recipes that can be traced through our family line all the way to the Prussian empire. But where I lack in ethnic culture, I seemed to gain an identity with our celebration of Passover.
Sure it requires an hour or so of sitting still, being careful not to knock over the wine (or grape juice) glasses, following along in a book filled with ancient verbiage. But that ancient verbiage tells the story that gives my meaning of existence – that of Christ. It connects me to the greater body of Christ and places my beliefs and faiths and everything I am trying to live by in a greater, deeper context. It is one that dates back to the beginning of time. It isn’t “new” or “fresh” or “hip.” It is old, ancient, liturgical, ritualistic. But those very things are what seem to keep my faith from being something shallow, something that is tossed to and fro in the wind. They keep it from being shaped and molded by the hands of relativism, shallowness, and ever-hanging “truths” and emphases.
And they incite in me a small flame – the flame that brings forth a deep and genuine smile when being in fellowship. The flame that both puts me at peace and spurs me on to a greater understanding and depth of who my God is and what His plan is for my life in this world. The flame that reminds me my God is unshakable: He survives wars and destruction, precarious beliefs and customs and worldviews. We are fools to forget the past and to think that our modern ideas are necessarily what God always intended us to have.
I still think cool pyrotechnics and exciting bands are valuable tools in evangelism. I still believe that Christianity is more than sitting in pews or absentmindedly attending church. But I do not have to exclude thousands of years of practice and belief and ceremony to arrive at that conclusion. And while we are always looking to the future, to the coming of Christ, our answers come from the past.
Even as the youngest in my family, my turn to ask the Four Questions has come and gone. And I now love being able to join with my Christian brethren and Jews around the world in heartily saying: “Until next year in Jerusalem!”