Continuing my study of Jewish festivals as they arrive on the calendar…
Passover is the first of three spring festivals, and it’s probably the one Christians are most acquainted with. It stems from the very familiar story of the Exodus, when Moses led the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Remember the ten plagues, and how Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Hebrews free until the death angel swept through Egypt killing every firstborn? But Hebrews who painted the blood of a slain lamb on the top and sides of their door were saved. Because this is such a clear picture of how Messiah would shed his blood to redeem humanity from slavery to sin, God ordained that his people commemorate it every year.
The focal point of this eight-day celebration, the Seder dinner, is so crammed with pictures of redemption that my family has begun celebrating it each year. It includes several food symbols that are eaten at different times during the meal. These include matzah, the unlevened bread of haste and affliction; horseradish, the bitter reminder of slavery; a roasted egg, for the morning sacrifice; parsley, to recall the hyssop branches used to apply the blood to the doorframes; salt water, the tears of the slaves; charoset, a nut and apple mixture to symbolize the clay bricks the slaves were forced to make; and the shankbone of a lamb.
Matzah, in particular, is a powerful picture of Jesus, the Messiah. First, it’s appearance must be striped and pierced with holes, recalling how our Lord was whipped and pierced for our transgression. It also must be unleavened (which in the Bible represents sin), as Christ was free of sin. And at one point, three pieces of Matzah are wrapped together, the middle one broken, hidden and returned. What a beautiful picture of God the Father, God the Son – who was broken, buried, and risen – and God the Holy Spirit.
And of course, we recall that Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. As he passed around the Matzah at the last supper, that final Seder with his disciples, he called it his body, which would be broken for them. Just so, the wine he shared with them represented his blood, which he would spill for them. Then he commanded that as often as they ate of it, at that yearly Seder meal, they should remember him.
By instituting this ancient festival, God was revealing part of his plan, so that when he sent his Messiah to fulfill it (Christ died during Passover, in the very hour the lambs were sacrificed), his people would recognize Him. Today, believers can also participate in the Seder as a way of thankfully commemorating that final sacrifice and the freedom and eternal life it bought for Jew and gentile alike.