A Tenebrae Seder

The mystical sadness of our annual Tenebrae liturgy is very meaningful to many of us. This was not different when we gathered on Maundy Thursday in the sanctuary, with the cross and its black shroud above our heads.

What was different, however, was the setting: Three long dinner tables with candles, wine glasses and a nice tablecloth were set up below the cross. And there we gathered – thirty of us, to celebrate a Christian Seder that led us to the somber beauty of Tenebrae. Both were connected with pieces from Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, performed by our Senior Choir led by its able director, Ben Berman, and John Coakley with the solo clarinet. Why a Seder? The reasons were manifold: Passover and Holy Week coincided this year more than in others. We wanted to celebrate an interfaith event. Some of our members have Jewish spouses.

And we realized in many ways the crucifixion of Christ continues the ancient Exodus tradition of Israel: Moses led the Israelites out of bondage from Egypt; Jesus liberated us from our insurmountable distance to God. Ethel Salamone summarized it all when she said, “Our Seder brought Jews and Christians together, and we saw where we came from.”

It was a fun and sad event at the same time, bitter sweet as was much of the symbolic food on our Seder plates. The high point was the meal of lamb shanks carefully prepared by Ethel and her team of women. It was served from a number of steam tables next to the chancel area. My daughter, Lily, brought it to a point by saying, “It felt like we were eating in the presence of God.”

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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