The original Easter story took place against the backdrop of the passover festival, with much of the central part of this happening at a passover meal.
“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples went to Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover meal?” He said, “Go to a certain man in the city and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is near. I will celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. When evening came, Jesus was sitting at the table with the twelve. While they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” Feeling deeply distressed, each one began to say to him, “Surely I am not the one, Lord?” He replied, “The man who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man is going away, just as it has been written about him, but how terrible it will be for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” Then Judas, who was going to betray him, said, “Rabbi, I’m not the one, am I?” Jesus said to him, “You have said so.” While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and handed it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it. This is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant that is being poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink the product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
With this in mind last night our church held a passover meal as a preparation for Easter. This blog entry covers a brief account of what we did and thoughts and lessons we can learn from the passover*. The passover of course is recounted in Ex 12v5-14. In this passage God tells the Israelites to mark their door frames with lambs blood and eat the lamb along with bitter herbs to protect them from God’s wrath when he killed the first born Egyptians.
We started the Seder with the lighting of a candle done by the most senior woman on our table and a prayer thanking God who gives us life and sustains us. We then moved onto the Kiddush (cup of sanctification). Wine is a big part of passover and this is the first of four prayers of giving thanks to God for the fruit of the vine. We drank one glass of wine (actually grape juice).
Next was the Karpas. This is was a prayer of thanks for springtime and its bounty and involved eating parsley dipped in salt. The prayer we prayed was a specific remainder that God is the creator and we rely on him for our food.
Passover is a festival of remembrance of deliverance from slavery. In the next section the Maggid the story is recounted and the youngest member reads out a series of questions about the symbols and an elder answers each one. We thanked God for the unleavened bread the Israelites took in their hurray to leave Egypt and prayed for the hungry and oppressed. We then poured another glass of wine.
Moving on, in the “Hallel: cup of redemption” we first thanked God for his rescue from Egypt and asked him to allow plenty more passover meals in peace. We then thanked God for the fruit of the vine again and drank the second glass of wine.
Passover is of course a meal and before every meal you should wash your hands (Mat 26v23). We did this in water with lemon in it. Jesus washed his disciples feet showing his humility (Jn 13v2-17), we didn’t go that far. A prayer of blessing was prayed (Rachatz) followed by the Motzi Matzoh the blessing of the bread and prayer to remind us that its God who gives “bread from the earth”.
We kept some bread back for the Morar (the blessing of the bitter herbs). In this section we dipped our bread in sweet Charoses made of apples and nuts meant to symbolise the mortar with which the the Israelite slaves built the pyramids with. Followed then by horseradish to represent the bitterness of slavery. This ended with a prayer and a reading of Luke 22v15-19 which is an account of Jesus’ celebration of the passover.
The next thing to do was actually eat (Shulhan Orekah). The church had laid on a fantastic meal of lamb with couscous. At this point my table did drink some real wine (we didn’t feel we could manage to down four glasses and stay sober). For the first time we could talk and we aptly discussed what we had or hadn’t given up for lent, a wedding and the merits of vegetarianism as well as holidays. At the passover you give thanks at the end for the food (Borekh), this took the form of a three part prayer and response thanking God, the food and fellowship, being able to celebrate passover and for God’s mercy. We then thanked God a third time for wine and drank again!
The passover meal, service?? started to come to a close with a Hallel psalm of praise (Ps 116) and another blessing for the fruit of the vine. This time we only drank half the glass keeping half for the Nirtzeh when we brought Christ into the final thanks for the fruit of the vine.
There is so much resonant symbolism in the passover meal for Christians. We see Christ as the unblemished lamb who saves us from our sins. There are also echoes of the unleavened bread in 1 Cor 5v6-8, a passage we were encouraged to read on our table. Paul sees it as a symbol of throwing off the old and embracing the new, which is Jesus. Roman 8v38-39 we also read, talks of coping with bitterness and suffering, something the bitter herbs reminded us of. This I regard as all true and the passover meal was a moving reminder of my need for Christ.
But there was more to the passover meal than I expected. The issue of food security and God’s place in it came up several times in the prayers we prayed. I have written a blog post on this subject this very week. We in the rich west have lost our link with the land almost completely and we seem to think we are immune from food insecurity. This is increasingly untrue. Long supply lines, oil dependency and climate change means feeding ourselves in the future will be expensive and challenging. The passover meal also reminds us that eating is an act of celebration and community. A last ironic thought. The passover meal we celebrated had no vegetarian option. But eating meat at the time of the patriarchs would have been rare, unlike today. Perhaps only in such festivals as the passover. This could be the future for us too.
Have a happy Easter.
*How authentically Jewish this is I’m not sure. As far as I am concerned its a Christianised version and not meant to offend. I do have some distant Jewish ancestry.