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Common Beliefs Unite Christians, Messianic Jews During Passover Seder

With Passover beginning this week, Jews across the world celebrate with a ceremonial feast called a Seder. But they aren’t the only ones holding the tradition. In Murray a small interfaith community breaks matzah together.

At Murray Family Church enough tables to seat 60 form a U for the annual Seder. Traditional Hebrew music plays softly in the background. Candles grace heavy burgundy tablecloths with matchbooks lying beside them.

David Hannigan sits at the head of the table in front of the Seder plate wearing a yarmulke and traditional shawl. But he and his wife aren’t Jewish.

“We have gone through a number of different faiths, including the Word of Faith movement, the charismatic movement,” he said. “Checked out the Seventh Day Adventists for a while. I realized Jesus was a Sabbath keeper so I wanted to check out the Sabbath keepers…eventually through our love for Israel we go to Immanuel Lutheran Church.”

The path leading Hannigan to the head of this table began with a trip to Israel. That’s where he realized that Jews and Christians weren’t opposing each other, and that the latter had a lot to learn from the former.

“The Apostle Paul says ‘Remember you wild Gentile branches that have been grafted in, that it’s the root that nurtures the branch and not the branch the root,’” Hannigan said. “So once I saw that I began to realize that I needed to get hooked in to what God was doing with Israel and with the Jewish people because they really are the root. I began to realize the Jewishness of Jesus.”

The Rev. Dr. Chad Foster has been teaching people like Hannigan for several years about Christianity’s Jewish roots in his Torah Tuesday class. Foster is a Messianic Jew—that is a Jew who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. But Foster is also the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church.

“Most people are familiar with Christians being evangelical to Jewish people, I kind of view myself as a Jew who’s being evangelical to Christians,” Foster said. “That is, I finally have found my home in the Church and that is to teach the Church her roots, her roots in Judaism. That their Messiah, their Lord was Jewish and what that meant.”

Foster was raised in a Baptist home although his mother’s family is Jewish. After college he investigated orthodoxy, Catholicism and eventually became a Lutheran. But in his personal spiritual life he prays in Hebrew and studies the Torah.

Rabbi Carnie Rose at Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis says he doesn’t oppose non-Jews learning about Judaism or celebrating traditional feasts like Passover. In fact his own synagogue hosted an interfaith Seder.

“You can appreciate potentially why there would be discomfort, especially among Messianic Jews. We don’t believe our Messiah has come yet, yeah. So they may disagree with their religious outlook, with their theology. That says nothing about who they are as moral, wonderful human beings,” Rose said. “But I don’t think most Jews would have a problem with people utilizing the Passover Seder as a paradigm for the liberation of all people.”

At the Seder back in Murray, Jan Seargent sips from the grape juice option during the ceremonial meal. She says attending Foster’s classes has deepened her understanding of the Scriptures.

“Learning about the Jewish roots has really opened the Scriptures to me,” she said. “I think differently about the Word of God after learning about the Torah and about what Jesus believed.”

At this educational feast including Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists and many others, a sense of interfaith tolerance overcame any theological debate. 

Whitney grew up listening to Car Talk to and from her family’s beach vacation each year, but it wasn’t until a friend introduced her to This American Life that radio really grabbed her attention. She is a recent graduate from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., where she studied journalism. When she’s not at WKMS, you can find her working on her backyard compost pile and garden, getting lost on her bicycle or crocheting one massive blanket.
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