You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance.
[Exodus 12:24-25 New Revised Standard Version]
The Haggadah is a Jewish text that sets forth the order for the Jewish Passover. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to “tell your son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus.
The best-known quote from the Haggadah is, “why is this night different from all other nights?”
This line is usually recited by the youngest person at the table who is able to recite it, for the purpose of expressing the child’s confusion at the difference between a typical every-day or holiday meal and the unusual features of the Passover Seder.
The Haggadah was written by Jews for Jews at a time when most Jews observed, or at least were familiar with, Jewish law and custom. It was written with the assumption that even the youngest child at the Seder would know the daily rituals followed by observant Jews and would notice how this night is different from other nights.
But according to Judaism 101, an online encyclopedia of Judaism, times have changed. Today, more than 80% of Jews have attended a Passover Seder, but barely half of all Jews have had any Jewish education whatsoever. To much of the modern audience, the Seder is a confusing mix of unfamiliar, meaningless practices. Everything is different from what they know, so they don’t understand how this night is different from typical Jewish practice.
In similar fashion, many Christians have gotten out of touch with their traditions and the reason for worship. There is a lack of understanding of the Christian identity and its history. There are more Christians in their beds and family rooms or soccer fields on Sunday morning than are in worship. Only three in ten American Christians worship on any given Sunday, and then, only when they can get around to it.
In my time as a parish pastor, I can’t tell you the number of children I baptized that I hardly ever saw again.
So it begs the question, “Who should be held accountable?”
Christian nurture is a three-legged stool. The baptized is supported by The church, the parents, and godparents. The church offers the opportunity for education, but the parents or godparents must bring them. The church can only do so much. Christian nurture begins at home. Praying with children, reading Bible stories to them, bringing them to Sunday school are all activities that require parental involvement.
As God commanded Moses, “You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children.”
This same God who freely grants mercy also calls us to a relationship of responsibility. The children will not know, unless they are told.