Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Happy Passover!

What do you mean you're a Christian and you don't celebrate Passover?
Passover celebrates how God brought his people out of slavery, through the barren wilderness, into the land he promised to their ancestor Abraham! This is very much the story of the Christian life. Thanks to Jesus, the "prophet like unto Moses" (Deut 18:15ff; 34:10ff) we are freed from slavery to our sins and the old way of life! We just haven't reached our "promised land" yet!
The Passover cannot be celebrated until all the "chometz," leaven, yeast, have been removed from the house. The bread that is eaten at Passover, called matzoh, is thin and cracker-like because it is made without yeast. Ostensibly, this is because the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that they didn't have time to add yeast from the last batch of bread to the lumps of bread dough that were in the "kneading troughs." The result being, they left Egypt with unleavened bread! These both have a fine symbol for the modern Christian, because, the New Testament often uses yeast as a symbol of sin. Think about it, it puffs us up with pride at our self rule, and it only takes a little bit to affect our entire being! So, we want to get rid of the "yeast" in our lives and celebrate our deliverance.
The matzoh pictures Christ, because he was without sin. Furthermore, matzoh is pierced full of holes before baking, and Jesus was "pierced for our transgressions." It is worth pointing out that piercing the matzoh in nice, even rows creates a striping effect, and we are reminded that Jesus bore the stripes of the whip for us, and "by his stripes we are healed." (see Isa 53)
We Christians are fairly familiar with this particular symbol, because it was a Passover meal at which Jesus "took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying 'Take, eat, this is my body." We also remember that he took the "fruit of the vine" and reinterpreted its symbolism as the blood he would shed. Based on the fact that it was after the meal, this is the 3rd of four cups of wine/juice that are drunk during the Passover meal, and it is called "The cup of Redemption," because the Lord "redeemed (bought back) his people from slavery." We Christians look at this cup and realize that "we are not bought--not with things that will pass away, like gold or silver--but with the blood of Christ, a lamb without spot or blemish." (1 Pet 1:18-19)
And then there's that pesky "afikomen." (The accent falls on the 'af' and then on the 'ko.') At Passover, you have this cloth sack divided into three pockets, with a piece of matzoh in each pocket, one right on top of the other. During the meal, the middle piece of matzoh is broken, and half is hidden away somewhere in the house. That hidden half is called the afikomen (a Greek word, by the way, not Hebrew.) Near the end of the night, the children are sent throughout the house to find the afikomen. The one who finds it, brings it to the head of the house and it is "redeemed" with money or prizes (like the nifty t-shirts at The rabbis are baffled about this very ancient tradition. What do these matzohs represent, and why is the middle one broken? The original meaning has been lost to the sands of time. Some suggest there are three for the three divisions of Hebrew Scripture: the Torah (law), Nevi'im (prophets), and the kethuvim (the writings.) But why are the prophets broken? Similary, some rabbis believe it is because of the three Jewish patriarchs: Abraham, Yitzach, & Jacob. Again, though, why is Isaac broken? The best explanation (and there are many) lies, I think, with those who have found their Messiah. The three matzohs represent the three personalities that make up the holy trinity of God: God the Father, God the Son (Who we call Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. The middle matzoh, Jesus, is broken--just as Jesus was (though not his bones, which makes him the perfect Passover Lamb as well); it is hidden away--or, for our purposes, buried; and then it is brought back to light--redeemed from the grave!
There's so much more! In a great twist on the final plague upon the Egyptians, God's own Firstborn is slain in the image and purpose of the Passover lamb. The Passover lamb was to be flawless, and not one of his bones were broken--just Jesus was without flaw of sin, and none of his bones were broken; he was already dead when the Roman soldiers went to break his legs to speed his death.) The lamb was to be killed and have his blood applied around the door of the Israelites' homes so that the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn, would not come upon them. Instead, God would "pass over." When we apply the blood of the Lamb to our hearts, God's judgment does not come upon us!
There is the tradition of setting a place for and going to open the door for Elijah, because Malachi said that Elijah would precede the Messiah--and we remember that Jesus pointed out John the Baptist as "the Elijah who was to come."
They end a Passover feast with the expressed wish to celebrate it in the holy land in the future. "Next year, in Jerusalem!" they say. We Christians can say, "Next year, in the New Jerusalem!" or "Next Year, with Christ!" Or, since the folks at Cornland Christian Church celebrate "passover" every week in "The Lord's Supper," we are perhaps more prone to say, "Next week, around his table!"
Happy Passover!

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