by Giles Fraser
Thursday, 9
April 2020
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09:39

Virtual Seder was almost as good as the real thing

by Giles Fraser
For this year’s Seder, Jerusalem came to us. Credit: Giles Fraser

Since the fifteenth century it has been customary to conclude the Passover Seder service with the aspiration: “Next year in Jerusalem”. But this year, and courtesy of Zoom, Jerusalem came to us. Laptops perched at the end of the dining room table, some usurping the empty place traditionally reserved for Elijah, allowed families separated by plague to be with each other across thousands of miles of distance.

We didn’t have all the ingredients for the full Seder operation this year, but an unfrozen leg of lamb and a good glass of burgundy were more than enough to celebrate this great feast of Jewish freedom. We sing some of the better known Passover songs together.

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” the child asks. And the story of Jewish origins is recounted, this year with something of a Star Wars theme. The rebels vs the empire: it kind of works. “To life” we toast, raising our glasses. Given the circumstances, these are the most powerful words of defiance. Then the “meeting” as Zoom calls it, is ended. And I have something in my eye.

Judaism is much more comfortable in the home than Christianity. Unless persecuted, Christians tend to do their religion in purpose-built public buildings. And Covid-19 has exposed various previously submerged assumptions about the importance of these spaces. For those at the more Protestant end of the spectrum — and the Archbishop of Canterbury is somewhere here — these are little more than rain shelters, and there is no problem abandoning them under pressure from Health and Safety. For those of a more Catholic disposition, where things take place matters theologically.

I predict there will be several PhDs forthcoming on the way in which communication technology exposes various different understandings of what the church is supposed to be. The more community-minded prefer Zoom, with its capacity for the congregation to speak to each other, different people to doing the readings, interacting, singing together. This way is live and messy, but has the authentic feel of a parish church. Other churches prefer to be in broadcast mode, using platforms like Youtube where the message can be pre-edited and made to look fluent and slick. There is something to be said for both approaches.

But the Eucharist, with its strong — albeit complicated — connections to the Jewish Passover, ultimately requires the physical sharing of bread and wine. Zoom is an excellent stand in. But both Judaism and Christianity are corporate activities, they require physical community togetherness. Today is Maunday Thursday, the day that Christians remember the Last Supper, and when Christ issued the instruction to “do this in remembrance of me”.

This day of all days I find social distancing particularly hard. I long for that day when I can open my church doors again and place the body of Christ into the hands of the faithful. No platform will ever be able to replace this.

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