When I was a kid, my family would gather in the Skokie, IL apartment of my grandparents for a Passover Seder. My grandfather read what seemed like every page of the Haggadah (order of service; the liturgy for the ceremonial meal) published by Maxwell House coffee. The house was filled with the smell of matzo ball soup, long-cooking brisket, and a table-groaning variety of sides warming in the oven, and it seemed torture to sit at the table and wait for the best meal of the year while Grampy and the rest of the grown-ups went through what felt like an endless preamble. My mom would sneak bits of matzo (unleavened bread) to my sister and I to keep us quiet until Nana brought out pots and platters of glorious food.
It wasn’t until I hit adulthood that I realized that our yearly Seders were our three generations’ links in a chain that stretched back to Moses, who told his people what God required of them: “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” (Exodus 12:24-27)
Passover begins this Friday evening, April 22nd, at sundown. The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These moments and days point us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday and season in both the Hebrew and Christian calendars. It’s time to look at my favorite holiday of the year. Passover is a holiday that defines Jewish identity like no other, and has shaped Christian faith and practice as well.
God commanded his people to retell the story of their deliverance each year. This was the final meal our Deliverer Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and execution. He adapted some of the rituals surrounding this ceremonial meal to give them what we now know as communion.
As we retell the exodus narrative at the Seder, we are reminded that we are to experience the story as if we’re experiencing it for the first time. It is core to Jewish identity, and offers a helpful way to understand the kind of “remembering” Jesus asks us to do when we share communion together.
Passover began at sundown on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew springtime month of Nisan. This is when the ceremonial meal and retelling of the Exodus story is to occur. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began the next day, on the fifteenth day of Nisan, and lasts for seven days. During this time, the people were to eat matzo in order to remember the haste in which they fled from more than four centuries of enslavement in Egypt, as well as presenting offerings to the Lord. The Feast of Firstfruits occurred on the sixteenth day of Nisan. Once they arrived in the Promised Land, God told the Israelites they were to present the cream of the new crop of barley along with other offerings to him. Most people now call refer to this eight-day grouping of holy days as Passover.
During the days in which the Temple in Jerusalem stood, Passover was one of three pilgrim feasts in which the people were required to come together as one to celebrate. (The other two were Shavuot/Pentecost and Sukkot.)
There are a number of excellent Passover Haggadot (plural of the singular Haggadah) designed specifically for Christians published by ministries . They highlight ways in which Jesus fulfilled this story at each point in the Seder. Participating in a Seder at least once can be of great learning value for your family or small group. You’ll never see communion the same way again once you’ve experienced it in the context Jesus gave it to us. In addition, I can commend to you an interview with Rabbi Evan Moffic about Christians celebrating Passover.
Finally, just for fun, a little music video for you: