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How to Prepare for a Passover Seder

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A Messianic Seder

Seder is the Hebrew word for "order" or "procedure." It is the liturgy of Passover, a living tradition that links the present with the past. Like the other feasts of Israel, Passover is a fascinating blend of elements designed to make the story of the Exodus from Egypt as riveting as possible.

You may at first find the preparations to be daunting.  But if you gather a reliable team and serve the Lord with gladness, we believe you'll be rewarded for your efforts.

“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sac­rificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” ...They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So, they prepared the Passover.” (Luke 22:7-8, 13)

The service itself, including the meal, follows the typical traditions of Passover found in the Jewish community today. The service is modified to show that Jesus is the Passover lamb as described in the New Testament. Therefore, if you are asked by a Jewish guest what type of Passover you will have, you can say you are taking the traditional Passover service and pointing out why it is meaningful to Christians who believe Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah.

The Length of the Seder

The Passover Seder (“order”) will take approximately 2.5-3 hours from start to finish.  We recommend starting no earlier than 5:30 PM and no later than 6:30. We will likely begin 15 minutes after the posted start time, due to latecomers.  While we don’t wish to inconvenience those who arrive on time, it’s awkward to begin this event with people streaming into the auditorium. Families with children should be informed that the event will require their children to sit quietly for a lengthy period.

Please discuss this section with your speaker to get a better idea of how the evening will go and what time you should expect to serve the meal.

The evening is typically divided into three parts:

  1. introduction and 1st set of Seder rituals (~80 minutes)

  2. meal (~45 minutes)

  3. conclusion (~35 minutes)

The Cost of the Seder

You may have already settled on financial issues related to the Seder, but in case you’re interested, here is some information: Churches handle the expense of the Seder in various ways, including:

  1. paying for the meal entirely from church budget (no cost to participants)

  2. charging a small registration fee to help defray the cost (e.g.; $5/person). The fees may be collected in advance or at the door on the night of the Seder.

  3. covering all costs through registration fees (typically, $10-$30/person, depending on whether the meal is catered)


Whether you choose to charge your guests for the cost of the Seder, we recommend you require an early registration to know how much food to buy.

You can download sample registration forms from the bottom of this post.

Timeline for Preparing for a Seder

This timeline assumes you have ready access to a venue.  If you need to hire a venue you will need to begin the process earlier.

At least 6 weeks before the Seder:

  1. Determine where the Seder will be held.

  2. Determine who will help with the preparations.

  3. Determine what will be served for the meal and estimated cost.

  4. Determine how the cost will be funded.

  5. Determine how many can attend.

At least 4 weeks before the Seder:

  1. Promote the Seder (Suggested promotional templates can be downloaded from links at the bottom of this post.)

  2. Take registrations.

  3. Make or purchase non-perishable items needed for the Seder.  (A checklist for preparing the tables can be downloaded from the bottom of this post.)

  4. Make or purchase matza tosh (matza covers).

  5. Decide on recipes to use.

  6. Determine the items that will need to be purchased just before the Seder.

  7. If music is desired at the Seder, determine what music will be provided and who will be responsible for it.

  8. Determine what technical items are needed for sound amplification, video or audio recording.

At least 3 weeks before the Seder:

  1. Determine how many Haggadahs (guide books) you will require and print copies as needed.

  2. Practice music.

Approximately 1 week before the Seder:

  1. Close registration and set up tables and chairs.

  2. If you think it will be helpful, print name tags and place cards. Set place cards on tables and place name tags on a table where greeters will stand. (Not required!)

  3. Practice music.

  4. Set up and test audio/visual equipment.

2 days before the Seder:

  1. Purchase perishable food supplies.

1 day before the Seder:

  1. Prepare food that can be prepared in advance.

  2. Practice music

Day of the Seder:

  1. Prepare the remainder of the dinner.

  2. Prepare the Seder plates and Matza pouches.

  3. Set the tables.

  4. Re-check audio/visual equipment.

An optional Trello template to help your teamwork through these tasks is available from the CMNZ office.

Table Arrangement

If using rectangular tables, it is a good idea to “point” one end of each banquet table toward the speaker’s table. A standard banquet table will contain 9 settings: Four on each side, and one at the back end of each table. If you must place a setting at the front end of each table, that’s okay; it just means that person must turn his or her chair to see the speaker.

The speaker will present from a head table, but during the meal, he will sit with the other guests.

Please refer to the Table Preparation Checklist for what items are needed for the tables.  The checklist is also available for download at the bottom of this post.

The Haggadah

One essential tool for the Passover celebration is the Haggadah. The Haggadah is a book that outlines the order of the evening.  Like the Seder plate, Haggadah come from all parts of the world, and some of them are centuries old. The word Haggadah is a Hebrew word taken from Exodus 12, meaning “the telling”. A Haggadah may be simple or ornate, but its purpose is to guide us through the order of the Passover service.

Your speaker may request that you provide a Haggadah at each setting, or at every other setting (one per couple). Some churches re-use their Haggadah at future Seders; some make them available for their guests to take home.  Please ask your speaker to provide you with the file to print your booklet or the PowerPoint presentation that he will use.

The Matza Tosh (Cover)

The matza cover is the ritual pouch used in the Seder. You will need at least one for the head table, but it is preferable to have one for each table.

The simplest way to make one is to purchase the largest white serviettes (paper) you can find. Ideally, they should be as large or larger than the sheets of matzah/matza/matzo. (You’ll see the word spelled various ways.)  Just tuck 3 sheets of matza into the folds of the serviette, so that the sheets are separated by folds of the serviette.  Traditionally, cloth serviettes are used, or special bags created for the purpose, but the paper option will be fine. Please place an extra serviette on top of each matza tosh. This will be used to wrap a piece of matza during the Seder.

If someone is crafty in your group, you can make a cloth matza cover. Below are some general instructions. You can find another guide by clicking here.

  1. Measure your matza and make it large enough to easily take the matzos in and out. (The cover will be approximately 41cm x 41cm).  Allow for seams.

  2. Cut 4 pieces of the broadcloth fabric to your finished size plus seam allowances. Plan to use the selvage for the “outside” edge of the openings as this creates a finished edge.

  3. Cut your cover fabric the same width, but at least 1/2″ longer. Create a lining for the cover by sewing one end of a shorter edge (right sides together) to one of the broadcloth pieces. This seam will be at the opening of the matza tosh. The cover fabric will be slightly larger and hide the opening when sitting on your Seder table and it will have a nice finished hem that folds under where joined to the lining (much like a suit jacket sleeve hem).

  4. Place the right side of the cover to 3 broadcloth pieces (selvages on edge to be left open). Sew 2 sides and bottom together, leaving the top open for matza. Finish seams to your preference. Turn right side out and press lightly.

Preparing Food

A few recipes to get you started are available on our website. And there are endless Passover recipes online. However, the main things to know are these: NO leavened products and NO pork or shellfish!  The food items listed in this guide are kosher in style. That means, though we try to follow the traditions of how the food is prepared, we realize you cannot purchase kosher food in most grocery stores. This is particularly true of the meat. Therefore, if someone asks if this is a kosher meal, it is best to say it is not kosher but a “kosher-style” meal.

The Seder plate holds the place of honour at the Passover table. Seder plates are some of the finest and most beautiful examples of Jewish art. Families pass them down from generation to generation, and some of them are breathtaking examples of artistry. However, for our purposes, you may simply use a large plate or a platter for the Seder plate.

The elements found on the Seder plate all have their parts to play, and all of them are easy to obtain and prepare. These are the elements of the Seder plate:

  1. Parsley – which symbolizes life, and the hyssop used to place the blood of the sacrificed lamb on the doorposts and lintels on the Israelite homes during the tenth plague. You will need one sprig of parsley for each guest at the table.

  2. Horseradish – which reminds us of the bitterness of slavery under Pharaoh. Please purchase or prepare ground horseradish, which is available in most food stores. The creamy style is not appropriate for this occasion. You will need 1-2 teaspoons of ground horseradish per guest.

  3. “Charoset” – a tasty combination of apples, nuts, spices (often cinnamon) and a little wine or grape juice. When mixed, it is meant to have a consistency that reminds us of the mortar that the children of Israel used to make the bricks as they laboured for Pharaoh. Charoset is easy to make in a food processor or blender. You will need at least 1 tablespoon per guest.  This is a delicious mixture and some guests will appreciate having more.

  4. Lamb Shank Bone – a symbol of the lambs that were sacrificed at the first Passover. Just let your local butcher or meat department know that you need some shanks set aside. They’re usually happy to oblige. The lamb shank bone should also be roasted. Typically, all the meat is removed so the bone is clean, but that is not essential. Only one shank bone is needed per table. If you cannot find shank bones, that’s okay; just notify your speaker and he will bring a shank bone for the head table only.

  5. Roasted Egg – a symbol of the daily Temple sacrifice, or the life that sacrifice brings to us through reconciliation with God To roast the eggs, hard boil them, remove the shells, and cool them.  When they are cooled, place them under the broiler (grill) in the oven and remove them when the tops have browned. They will turn leathery – that’s okay! Only one egg per table is needed.

  6. Salt Water – (for dipping parsley).  You will need 1 clear cup with ~200ml of salty water.

Please refer to the Table Preparation Checklist for a list of all items required for the tables.  It’s a good idea to go over this list with your speaker since each one may have a slightly different approach.

Where to Find Matza

(Call ahead and order matza as soon as possible. Or make your own. You can find a recipe here.)

Auckland (and shipping to all New Zealand)The Kosher Deli, 108 Greys Ave at Auckland Hebrew Congregation Centre, 09 373 2908

As Passover approaches you may be able to find items at the following stores:

  • Countdown Supermarkets

  • New World Supermarkets

  • Pak n Save Supermarkets

Serving Food

We recommend serving the food “family style,” in which platters of meat and vegetables are prepared in the kitchen for each table and delivered to the tables by special servers (e.g. the church youth group) or by a couple of people assigned from each table. The speaker can make these assignments at the beginning of the event if you prefer.

The meal will not be served until one hour after the start of the Seder. A person should be designated to cue the kitchen staff 10-15 minutes prior to service. This is the point of the service when the speaker is instructing the group to dip and eat the parsley.

When dinner is served (~80 minutes after the service begins), we recommend serving the food as follows:

  1. Matzo ball soup

  2. Prepare the main course for serving

  3. Remove soup bowls and appetizer plates

  4. Serve the main course

  5. Remove plates

  6. Serve coffee and tea

  7. Serve dessert(s)


Music is very appropriate at certain parts of the Seder, though it is not essential. About one hour into the service, all will sing a traditional Passover song Dayenu with or without musical accompaniment (guitar or piano). The accompaniment is extremely simple, consisting of 3 major chords. If musical accompaniment is desired, the musician should meet with the speaker prior to the start of the service to rehearse the song. You can find more information about this song here:

During the final portion of the Seder (after the meal) there is an excellent opportunity for musical worship if desired. A song can be inserted immediately after the drinking of the third cup, focusing on one of the following related themes: The blood of the Lamb, the sacrifice of Christ, Communion, Redemption, atonement, the Cross. In other words, any song that you might use during a Communion service would be appropriate.

The song may be sung solo, corporately, or as a recorded presentation (CD/DVD). We recommend a quality solo presentation. Immediately after the song concludes, we will continue with the remainder of the service. Again; a special song is not essential, but can enhance this portion of the Seder.

Finally, you may wish to have prelude music as people are entering the hall prior to the start of the Seder, and background music during the meal portion. This can be recorded music (Messianic music is suggested, by such artists as Paul Wilbur, Marty Goetz, Ted Pearce, Joel Chernoff, etc). Please make sure the music is not so loud that guests cannot enjoy talking during the meal.  Check with your speaker; he will have helpful suggestions for adding music to the presentation.

Suggested Personnel

The following division of labour may be useful as you prepare for the Passover program to alleviate pressure on one or two individuals.

  1. Coordinator

  2. Cooks – The coordinator should select several cooks and helpers. We have found the menu and recipes to be successful. It would be a good idea to try the recipes a few days before so the cooks will get a feel for how the cooking will go.

  3. Greeters – The greeter(s) stands at the door, handles any tickets, etc., directs people to church facilities, and answers other general questions. He or she also may act as co-chairperson in charge of the hosts, hostesses, and servers.

  4. Servers – From experience, we have found that high school and uni-age students work well as servers. A general rule is to have at least one server for every ten people served.

  5. Clean-up committee – Several individuals should form a clean-up committee to help clean the kitchen. Although paper plates and cups may be used, there will be several pots and pans as well as cutlery to be washed.

  6. Hosts and hostesses – If possible, a husband and wife team should act as host and hostess at each table. The role of this couple is to act as the father and mother of their table and carry out ceremonial parts of the service when instructed by the leader. The host couple would also make sure that the people are being served properly. If you prefer, the CMNZ speaker can assign the hosts and hostesses at the beginning of the Seder.

  7. Decorators – If you wish to add decorations to the tables, you may want to assign an individual to oversee this. One idea is to cover each table with a white tablecloth (paper is fine) with a blue streamer down the centre of each table, depicting the colours of the Israeli flag.  Two white candles with matches may be placed at the centre of each table.


Passover A4 Poster

(Enable editing and add Day, Date, Time, Church Name, Address, Contact Information and the CMNZ or church website where an inquirer may find more information.)

PowerPoint Slide

PowerPoint Slide Behold the Lamb (Please note: After clicking the link, you may need to allow access to our Google Drive.)

Please contact your speaker to see if he will provide additional slides.

Church Bulletin Notices and Inserts / Flyers

Sample Registration Forms

Table Preparation Resources

Charoset Recipe Word Docx (Please note: After clicking the link, your preview may not display Word documents correctly, but it should look fine after you download it to your computer.)


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