Why is that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzo, but on this night we eat only matzo?
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?
Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?
The Passover Seder answers those questions, which are typically asked by the youngest child gathered around the family table for this special storytelling meal. I grew up attending Seders at my grandparents’ Skokie home – hearing the story, eating the food, searching for the afikoman. I can still hear my grandfather saying “You’re getting warmer” as I peeked behind the gigantic stereo console in their living room in search of the broken matzo, key to the Passover story, which had been wrapped in a napkin and hidden at an earlier point in the evening’s celebration. Whoever found the afikomen would be rewarded with a dollar pulled from Grampy’s pocket.
I remember the awe I felt the first time I attended a seder at a Messianic congregation, shortly after Bill and I got married. The story of deliverance I’d always known took on a deeper meaning when I saw how each element also told the story of the deliverance wrought for me in Christ. Participation in the Seder each year was core to forming my Jewish identity; it gave me a deep gratitude for communion, which came directly from the Seder meal.
We did demonstration, educational Seders for people over the years, but it was not a consistent, core yearly practice as a family while we were raising our kids. And this, I regret deeply. The meal is their birthright, just as its been mine. Various Good Friday/Easter events seemed to take center stage for us. Those events were mostly good things, long on remembering Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection and short on bunnies and colored eggs. I wonder now if the good was actually working against us experiencing God’s best.
At the end of the Seder meal, all who live as diaspora exiles promise one another, “Next year in Jerusalem!” We Van Loons understand the existential ache of an exile’s life. The closing words of the Seder acknowledge this never-rooted reality. When Bill and I arrived in Jerusalem in early February, I remembered saying those words as a little girl.
I didn’t realize then those words were a prayer. But they were.
They still are.
In fact, they might be the most profound prayer I can pray for my family today.