Passover and The Last Supper

On Saturday, April 20 at 5:30 p.m., the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida commences the reading of its Humanistic Haggadah in celebration of Passover. The public is invited to join our Seder.

Send your reservation check, payable to “HJH” in the amount of $60 per person, to Ralph Lieber, 26225 Hickory Blvd., Unit 7A, Bonita Springs, FL 34134 no later than Monday, April 15. Please indicate your mailing address and phone number, as well as your preference for either chicken or brisket along with your payment. Alternatively, a reservation form is available to download from our website at www.hjhswfl.org.

This year the Jewish celebration of Passover coincides with Easter weekend. Christians and Jews have different explanations for this holiday that have been open to interpretation by various scholars who ask, “As Jesus was a Jew, could The Last Supper have been a Passover Seder?” Relevant passages found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not answer this question with certainty. Moreover, these narratives were written after the event when some Christians no longer kept Jewish law.

One biblical scholar argues that The Last Supper-Passover connection was created in part by early Christians who wanted to connect Jesus’ martyrdom to the redemption of the Jews from Egypt.

An interesting aspect of this question is that the rabbinic Seder ritual was developed after 70 C.E. (almost two generations after Jesus’ death in the early 30s C.E.). If the Seder didn’t really exist until after 70 C.E., it could not have been practiced whenever Jesus had his Last Supper, Passover or not.

Passover (Pesach) is the oldest of Jewish festivals. Jews observed it in the most ancient of times, when they were still nomadic shepherds in the wilderness. Holidays usually start as nature festivals and are observed in that season of the year when nature itself changes. Ceremonies attending the holiday grow out of these manifestations of nature. Later, when a higher cultural level has evolved, people give a deeper spiritual meaning to the festival. As time went on, Passover became a historic and national holiday as the festival of the deliverance from Egypt, assuming a newer and higher meaning.

The highest point in the evolution of Pesach came when Jews suffered from heavy Roman oppression. During this period, the Messianic hope flamed up, and in the minds of the Jews the deliverance of the future became bound up with the first redemption in Jewish history, the deliverance from Egypt. Jews had long believed that in the deliverance to come, God would show the same sort of miracles that He had performed in redeeming the Jews from Egypt. The Seder ritual, by that time, was entirely different from the spring festival of the Jewish shepherds of old.

Central to the story of Jesus’ life and his death, The Last Supper is of vital importance to all those who wish to better understand and follow the religion he founded. Many American Christians have taken to celebrating Seders during Holy Week as a way of connecting to the roots of their religion. These Christian Seders highlight the decidedly non-Jewish stories of Jesus’ martyrdom and the second coming alluded to in Mark 26:29.

Judaism and Christianity continued to influence each other, long after the death of Jesus. For example, words at the beginning of the Haggadah, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt” (traced back to medieval manuscripts), finds similarity in Eucharist words of Jesus, “This is the bread...”

NOTE: Due to the age range of its membership, this year’s Seder portends to be the “last supper” of the Humanistic Jewish Havurah.