A few years ago, my husband and I were invited to celebrate the Passover with Hilary and her family. I had always wanted to experience an authentic Passover seder meal, so I jumped at the opportunity. That dinner brought the Exodus narrative and Last Supper to life in a way I had never experienced before, and I’ve since thought about recreating the experience for my own children and extended family. If you’re looking for a family activity that brings authenticity and gravitas to your Holy Week preparations, and that prepares your own heart in multi-sensory ways, read on as Hilary describes for us what a Passover Seder is, how to prepare it, and how it prepares our hearts to to celebrate Jesus at Easter.
Guest Post by Hilary Bernstein of Home to a Haven
Growing up, my family’s Easter traditions consisted of church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Sometimes Christian friends commemorated Maundy Thursday, but when it came to the Easter story, the fact that Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover during the Last Supper was largely skimmed over.
It wasn’t until I married into my husband’s Jewish family that I experienced my first Passover Seder and was amazed by all the rich symbolism that points directly to Christ.
Messianic Jews realize that their religious traditions point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – and Christians can learn from their rituals and celebrations, as well.
I’ve realized that by celebrating Passover through a Christ-honoring Seder – along with normal Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday traditions like church services – you can experience a richer, more meaningful Easter.
And as a mom, I’ve found that Passover gives such a vivid sensory experience so it’s a great teaching tool for children.
What is a Seder?
If Passover traditions are as foreign to you as they were to me, I’d love to offer some basic explanations.
A Passover Seder is simply a dinner where you remember how the Lord delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. This commemoration is brought to life through food and an ordered reading and ceremony.
The order of the ceremony is dictated by a Haggadah. A Haggadah is a book of ordered readings and prayers – Haggadah means “the telling” in Hebrew. Since the evening is guided by the Haggadah, look for a Messianic version like this one or maybe this one.
Seder guests gather around a table to read and pray through the Haggadah together. Through the ceremony, you’re asked to eat or drink specific things. These foods and drinks solidify the Israelites’ exodus in your mind as your senses are brought to life with salty, sweet, bitter, and savory flavors.
Before the Seder, read through the Haggadah so you have a basic idea of the order, what you can expect, and how you can prepare.
Preparing for a Seder
A special part of Passover involves examining your heart. As you search your heart for sin, you’re also meant to mirror this in your home. This involves thoroughly cleaning your home in a meaningful spring cleaning.
As you search your home for leaven – any dirt – and remove it, you’re also asked to search your heart for sin. Believe me – as you make the time to deep clean your home, you’ll have plenty of time for soul searching, prayer and repentance.
Planning the meal
As you’re cleaning your home and searching for leaven – both in your home and in your heart – it’s also time to plan and prepare your meal.
I like to think of a Passover Seder a lot like a Jewish Thanksgiving: there are a lot of foods made especially for this particular feast.
Like Thanksgiving, the Passover feast isn’t a meal to throw together at the last minute – it will take some planning and preparation but is well worth it.
As you prepare for Passover, one important stipulation is to avoid anything made with leavening. Since God commanded the Jews to make unleavened bread and since your home should be free from leavening (goodbye yeast, baking soda, and baking powder!), your food may seem a lot different from other meals.
You’ll need matzo crackers, and depending on what recipes you plan on making, possibly matzo meal. (You can find these in the Jewish section of your local grocery store.)
As I’ve prepared to host Seders each spring, I’ve tried different menus – some include traditional family favorites, and other years I try new recipes. My go-to Passover Seder menu involves four basic courses. Remember … it’s a feast like Thanksgiving!
First course: Gefilte fish and hardboiled eggs
I’m not sure if this is part of a traditional Seder course, but it’s been part of my husband’s family tradition for decades. Don’t worry about making your own gefilte fish – you can buy it in a jar in the Jewish section of a grocery store.
Second course: Soup and salad
Typically, I serve matzo ball soup and a tossed salad. While you can Google matzo ball soup recipes, mixes also are available in the Jewish sections of grocery stores.
Third course: Main course
Choosing a kosher main dish is necessary – so forget about cooking a big pork roast.
My husband loves his Bubby’s (grandmother’s) recipe for beef brisket, so I make it with carrots and potatoes.
My kids and I prefer eating roast chicken, though, so I make that, along with roasted root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, and onions).
If you’re an adventurous cook and eater, you may want to try some kugel recipes. They make filling and tasty side dishes.
Fourth course: Dessert
Most of the courses are delicious (unless you’re like me and don’t care for gefilte fish!) … and desserts won’t disappoint. Just make sure you stick to unleavened desserts like coconut macaroons or flourless chocolate cake.
Because a large part of a Seder ceremony involves drinking the fruit of the vine, you’ll want to stock up on red grape juice or red wine.
The trick is that the main dish cooks during the Seder reading. That means all of the prep work must be done ahead of time. All in all, that’s about two hours of baking and smelling the fragrances. Since a Passover meal begins at sundown, you and your guests definitely will have an appetite by the time dinner is served!
Preparing the Seder plate
One of the important elements of a Passover Seder is passing a Seder plate around – it includes foods with distinct tastes and textures to help you relate to the Jews’ slavery experience.
Your Seder plate should include:
- A lamb shank bone. (Ask for a lamb bone at your local butcher’s shop.)
- A roasted egg.
- Salt water. (Using a cup of water with a few spoons full of salt is fine.)
- Charoset (a mixture of chopped apples, honey, and walnuts).
Your Haggadah will explain how to use the Seder plate. A few other things you’ll need for your evening include:
- A bowl, pitcher and towel for handwashing.
- Candles and napkins.
- Cloth napkins for the afikomen, along with a small cash reward for the child who finds the afikomen.
Basic Seder timeline
Because your meal needs to be prepared before the Seder starts at sundown, planning is important. I’ve found this particular timeline works well:
- Two weeks before: Start deep cleaning your home and choose recipes.
- One week before: Deep clean your kitchen, gather serving dishes, make a grocery list, and go grocery shopping.
- One day before: Bake desserts. Hard boil eggs. Make matzo balls. Make charoseh. Make the Seder plate.
- Day of the Seder: Cut vegetables for salad, soup and side dishes. Set the table.
- Evening of the Seder: Prepare your meats for the oven. Simmer matzo balls in the soup on the stovetop during the Seder. Bake main dishes and side dishes in your oven during the Seder.
While I’ve suggested doing most of the cooking on the day of the Seder, it’s not a quick meal to pull together in an hour or two. Depending on how many people you’re serving, how comfortable you are in the kitchen, and what you’re preparing, it could take a lot of time.
The reward of celebrating Passover
Depending on when you choose to observe Passover, your Seder can be a beautiful opportunity to remind you of your need for Jesus and His sacrifice for your sins, as well as a way to prepare your heart for Easter.
If you start feeling overwhelmed by the preparations or how foreign the Seder may seem, remember that you’re doing it to honor God the Father – who led the Israelites out of captivity and can free us from our sins through Christ.
All of the preparations also are a fantastic reminder that Jesus’ sacrifice came at a cost – and the Seder is a powerful way to identify with what Christ might have experienced in his last supper with his disciples.
Ideally, your Seder experience will draw you and your guests closer to the Passover Lamb, His sacrifice on Good Friday, the good news of His resurrection, and a transformed life after Easter!
Hilary Bernstein is a Christ follower, wife, mom, and writer who helps Christian women transform their homes into havens at Home to a Haven. To sign up for her free checklist, 3 Essentials for a Thriving Spiritual Haven, click here.