Freedom Seders, Old & New: Crisis 1968 & Crisis 2018

The Shalom Center has created a new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder, to reawaken and renew the wisdom of Martin Luther Ling – who was murdered 50 years ago. This new Freedom Seder –- connects Dr. King's teaching both with the ancient story of resistance to Pharaoh and the continuing story of resistance to racism, materialism, militarism, and sexism in America right now.

We welcome you-all to make the new Freedom Seder a family or communal Seder of your own. We welcome you to

<mlk50_freedom_seder_pdf_2-26-18._copy.pdf> where you can read it, see its graphics, sing its songs. You can use the whole Telling or draw on passages.

And we will be delighted for you to send us photos of your Seder, a description of what you did, perhaps a brief tape-recording of your memories of how it felt. Send them to  <>.  We will share them with our friends and members, noting your name and home town.

 Why did we create this new Freedom Seder? It is the legitimate heir of the original Freedom Seder that I wrote fifty years ago. (Here are its front and back covers:)

 In 1968, American democracy was in crisis – caused by its inability to go beyond “civil rights” to cure ourselves from the “original sin” of racism, and its inability to end the Vietnam War that was convulsing the country.

 One result of that crisis, and one cause of the worsening of the crisis, was the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King a week before Passover. The original Freedom Seder was actually celebrated on the first anniversary of his death, April 4, 1969.

  Now, 50 years later, the crisis of American democracy is even deeper than it was in 1968 -- perhaps the deepest since the Civil War. We are living through an anti-democratic power grab by the Hyper-Wealthy and modern Corporate Pharaohs. This power grab is being made politically possible by whipping up rank racism, hatred toward foreigners and “strange” religions, hostility toward women, and contempt toward the Earth.

This power grab by the modern Pharaohs is much like the power grab by the ancient Pharaoh – who incited fear and hatred toward foreigners and a “strange” religion, and through his egomania and cruelty brought plagues upon the Earth and famine and death on his own people.

 And we are also living through the sprouting of an amazingly broad and deep grass-roots Resistance movement.

 We face new pharaohs.  When the Jews living under Roman tyranny saw that they were facing new pharaohs, some of them in several different generations chose Passover-time to lift up their resistance.

Rabbi Jesus chose the days before Passover for a demonstration against the Imperial regime and its local puppet government. His supporters marched from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, waving palms and chanting psalms of transformation. A few days later, the inner leadership celebrated the Passover Seder in what Christians have named the Last Supper.


Several generations later, Rabbi Akiba led a Seder that according to oral tradition may have been a conversation about the rebellion against Rome led by Bar Kochba -- a Seder that lasted till morning and according to some,  ended with a warning that Roman troops were scouting out the neighborhood.


These Seders were themselves moments of freedom, where old and young could learn from and with each other, where they could talk freely about how to win and shape their freedom. They were moments of living in what Dr. King called the "Beloved Community" --  a "Promised Land" beyond all boundaries. And along with many other forms of struggle in concert with the Spirit, they helped give birth to new spiritual communities – embodied in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

So now is again the time to celebrate anew the archetypal moment of resistance to Pharaoh: Passover --- and the Christian Holy Week that began as intimately intertwined with Passover.

 When tyranny threatens, the Passovers of the past remind us to draw on their wisdom and their passion. It is time for a new Freedom Seder. So The Shalom Center has woven the new “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.” You can access the new Seder here.

On April 4 we will live through the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. King.  So the new Seder draws on Dr. King’s wisdom as it connects with the struggles and wisdoms of today. 

 The graphic on its cover suggests the ancient origins and the modern breadth of its concerns:

 The Shalom Center has worked to sow the seeds of such Seders that speak not only to the past but to the future. Those seeds are sprouting once again. In Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, new Freedom Seders or Freedom-Seder related events are already scheduled, with more under discussion.   For more information on these events, click here.

We welcome everyone to these events, and to make their own new Seders happen -- in their own homes, in congregations, or sponsored by interfaith councils. 

Why have we -- and these others -- taken up the Seder in a new way, drawing from the ancient story and going beyond it to reshape the future?

This kind of Seder is an important way to create communities of Resistance and to raise our knowledge and our consciousness. We can celebrate this step, and as the traditional Passover Seder teaches, we can sing “Dayenu! --  That much would be enough for us!”

But resistance cannot end there. There are many verses to “Dayenu.” We catch our breath, celebrate each step, and then take the next step:

  • Like Jesus on the first “Palm Sunday” and Dr. King in Birmingham, we must take prayer into the streets.
  • Like the dogged millennia of Rabbis, we must keep creating alternative communities even, or especially, when the Pharaohs and Caesars oppress us.  
  • Like Moses facing Pharaoh and Elijah facing King Ahab, we must name the ways in which the Powers and the Princes bring ecological disasters -- plagues -- upon our peoples,
  • We must create islands of alternative sources of renewable energy, both chemical and political. Energy to light our homes, energy among us to light up our work to heal and transform the world.

 All these -- and many more!


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