by Robert Brow
April 21, 2000 (www.brow.on.ca)
Tonight we connect ourselves with by far the oldest annual celebration in the world. It began 3,400 years ago when God told two or three million slaves to escape from their terrible slave labor in Egypt. The Passover is still celebrated by Jews everywhere. This year their Passover celebration was two days ago on April the 19th. As I read the Exodus account of the original event, notice the central importance of the lamb (which Jews symbolize with this leg of lamb here on my table). We each have a piece of unleavened bread (matzoh) and each table has a bowl of bitter herbs (moror) to remind us of the bitterness of the cruel bondage they had suffered.
"They are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household . . . They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Exodus 12:3-8).
Why do we connect ourselves with this ancient Jewish feast? Well of course Jesus was a Jew, and he would have shared in the Passover with his family ever year for the past thirty years. The night before he was crucified Jesus gathered the apostles for the chaburah meal which we call the Last Supper. That was yesterday on Maundy Thursday. It was a meal with a rabbi to explain how his closest disciples were to celebrate the feast the next day. There was no way a gathering of twelve men could be a Passover meal. As we follow the Jewish ritual you will see the mother of the household and the children all had a part to play in this family gathering.
The Jewish day was counted from sundown to sundown, so the ended at sunset. We began our Passover celebration as the sun set today. All four Gospels note that the priests and Pharisees had decided Jesus had to be killed before the actual Passover meal began (Matthew 26:5, 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:14, 31, 42). For Jesus that Day of Preparation was a long, long day. At the last Supper there was the foot washing and the long explanation of what the apostles would need to explain about Passover (John 13:1-17-26). Then he had that terrible struggle praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was arrested and had a preliminary hearing with the Jewish leaders. The Sanhedrin was called early in the morning to confirm the sentence of death. Then he was taken to Pilate who only could give the sentence of crucifixion.
That Good Friday as Jesus was hanging on the cross with his blood slowly dripping out thousands of Jewish families, including the apostles, had to buy a lamb in the temple, have it butchered by the priests, and make the preparations for Passover. After sundown as the actual Passover began each of the apostles would have met with their own family. And you can imagine them making the awesome connections of the Passover ritual with all they had seen.
As Paul was to learn after his conversion, the Messiah was the Passover Lamb. "Our paschal lamb Messiah has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). The apostles should have known that Jesus was the eternal Lamb of God from John the Baptist's announcement. "Here is the Lamb of God who keeps taking away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) the Greek present tense indicates that the eternal Lamb Son of God continually keeps absorbing all the sin of the world).
This means that the lamb killed at the first Exodus Passover was a visible symbol of the Eternal Lamb, who eventually was to become visible in person when he came and died as our Passover Lamb. He was the one Isaiah saw seven hundred years before, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7).
As we go through the Passover ritual you will see the significance of the four cups of wine . "We first raise the kiddush cup, and proclaim the holiness of the Day of Deliverance" (deliverance). With the second cup the father of the household declares "God not only redeemed our ancestors, but God redeemed us with them" (redemption). The third cup is the Cup of Blessing and the father of the household says . "We are about to partake of the third cup of wine in gratitude for the freedom which God granted our ancestors" (freedom). The fourth cup of wine is when the father of the houshold says, "On this night there is an extra wine glass, and an empty chair placed at the table for Elijah - symbol of the world's longing for Shalom" (peace)
After going through the Passover ritual we will share in the one "cup of blessing that we bless" (1 Corinthians 10:16), blessing means thanksgiving, Greek eucharist). Paul, the converted Jewish rabbi, explained how deliverence, redemption, blessing, freedom, the four aspects of our Lord's eternal Passover are expressed in the bread and wine of our communion services. "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14). "For freedom the Messiah has set us free. Stand fast firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1, see John 8:36). "You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For he is our peace" (Ephesians 2:13-14).
The communion service is our weekly reminder that we are totally safe
in the Messiah's love for us. And he plans for us to enjoy our freedom
as children of God while we work as peacemakers for the world (Matthew
5:9, see the many references to shalom at the beginning and
end of the epistles). That's why Paul was able to say so boldly "The Passover
Messiah was killed for us so that we can celebrate with the unleavened
bread (mazoh) of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:7