Holiday Mirrors: The Passover Lamb is our Risen Lord!
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Holiday Mirrors: The Passover Lamb is our Risen Lord!
Easter and Passover have accrued a lot of baggage from various customs and practices over the centuries. With Easter, elements like bunnies and chocolate eggs lead people to think that the holiday is paganistic. With Passover, the extreme cleaning, piling on of stringencies, and entertaining large groups of guests can all distract from the holiday’s core purpose.
We see Passover’s “core purpose” in Exodus 13:8, “You are to tell your son on that day saying, ‘It is because of what Adonai did for me when I came out of Egypt.'” In a previous “Holiday Mirrors” article, we briefly discussed how communal storytelling finds its zenith in Passover. We can say the same regarding the traditional liturgies of Easter (and the lead-up to it).
Essentially the entire Passover Seder is a lesson in biblical theology, brought down to a child’s level, including built-in object lessons.
Specifically, with Passover, there are two fundamental biblical commands: to eat matzah and, as mentioned above, to tell the story to our children. The specificity of teaching the children is encoded in Jewish law. This detail is evidenced in not only inviting the young people to participate but even to the point of preparing the elements in front of a baby. To highlight the importance of explicitly teaching children the Rabbis state that if one has a choice of having matzah or teaching their children (the two biblical commandments), teaching the children takes precedence. Essentially the entire Passover Seder is a lesson in biblical theology, brought down to a child’s level, including built-in object lessons. The parent’s responsibility is not merely to read the story and show the proper objects at the appropriate times but to engage with the children and help them understand to the best of their ability.
What is the story that we tell? The story of our historical redemption from slavery into the free people of God. We see this in the first part of the Haggadah (“telling” in Hebrew, a written guide to the Passover seder) called Hey Lachma, which directs us to say, “This year we are slaves, next year in the Land of Israel free people.” Also, as was stated in our First Fruits article, many of these details are partial receptions of what is yet to come from God’s future. As prolific biblical scholar N.T. Wright noted, “[In his letter to early believers] Paul is trying to teach the Corinthians to think eschatologically within the Jewish categories… not of an imminent expectation of the end of the world, but of the way in which the future has already burst into the present so that the present time is characterized by a mixture of fulfillment [sic] and expectation, of ‘now’ and ‘not yet’… the Messiah has been raised from the dead as the aparche, the ‘first-fruits’, the first sheaf of the harvest which guarantees that there will be more to come.”
Hence, we end the Passover seder with the fourth cup, known as the “Cup of Salvation,” and Nirtzah, our prayer that we may receive the final redemption just as we received the deliverance from Egypt. Our corporate and personal redemptions foretell a more excellent rescue. As the Apostle Paul himself stated, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). These words are typically included in the Christian community’s most common retelling of our redemption: Holy Communion.
Communal storytelling is central to these traditional celebrations, Passover and Easter.
The practice reinforces the narrative of who we are: the people of God bought and made thus through redemption. Both in the Easter story and the Exodus account, we recount a salvation not by our power but as a sovereign work of God. As it states in the Haggadah,
“And Adonai brought us out of Egypt not by means of an Angel, not by means of a Seraph, and not by means of an agent, but the Holy One Blessed Is He Himself in His glory… for He said, ‘I have no other intention other than I Myself will descend, I in My glory, I in My greatness, I in my holiness, I Adonai and no other.”
Passover and Easter are the grand remembrances. In Judaism, we repeat this remembrance weekly in Shabbat Kiddush and daily in Birkhat Hamazon (prayer after meals) with a re-enactment of Afikomen and the Cup of Salvation. It seems this was the moment in the re-enactment when Yeshua inserted Himself into the Seder.
And while they were eating, He took matzah; and after He offered the bracha, He broke It and gave it to them and said, “Take; this is My body.” And He took a cup; and after giving thanks, He gave to them and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Amen, I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)
To my understanding, this was the end of the meal, and historical witness also claims that was how the earliest believers understood it (cf. the early Christian Agape feasts Paul described in 1 Corinthians).
Let us then look at some of the key Passover symbols. At the start of the Seder, we take a piece of matzah and break it. One part goes back into the pile of matzot for us to use in the meal, and one part is hidden under the tablecloth for use as the Afikomen. A custom has arisen regarding the “hidden” Afikomen, wherein the children find it, and ransom it back. Likewise, in a typical meal, a piece of bread is also supposed to be placed under the tablecloth until just before Birkhat HaMazon (prayer after meals). There are several intriguing details connected to the Afikomen. It is necessary to eat it before midnight, and it is also essential that there be no break between eating it and Birkhat HaMazon. However, we also are required to say the bedtime Shema before midnight. So we say the bedtime Shema and then launch into Birkhat HaMazon. The Afikomen was also a remembrance of the manna that we ate in the wilderness.
Lastly, we take up the Cup of Salvation. In the Seder, we reserve this until the fourth cup, but during the weekday, we do this during the blessing after meals. Ideally, this cup holds red wine, symbolizing both the blood of the paschal lamb and the judgment poured out on the Egyptians. These symbols carry over into the Easter celebration and communion, with a radical change: the judgment is poured out on Messiah instead. We add three drops of water during the Seder to “sweeten” the wine. Symbolically, this addition of water sweetens the judgment Yeshua suffered with the understanding that it was carried out on our behalf. These three drops also symbolize the three miracles of water in the Exodus: the crossing of the sea, the well of Miriam, and the crossing of the Jordan. The Christian view is that the water symbolizes our baptism, the beginning of our salvation completed in the sufferings of Messiah. Consider Paul’s inspired account: “They all were immersed into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. And all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink—for they were drinking from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the Rock was Messiah” (1 Corinthians 10:2-4). Hence, the traditional expressions of Christianity prioritized baptizing believers on Easter.
Passover is not merely an annual ceremony.
As stated earlier, Passover is not merely an annual ceremony. It carries over into the weekly Sabbath cycle and even into the twice daily Birkhat HaMazon. Ideally, this post-meal blessing is done with three people as the Talmud states that God is in the midst of three. Yeshua also said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). This is a statement about the surety of God’s presence and the power of communal worship, not one of limitation or necessity. In fact, Jewish law states that, though not required, one still should do the entire ceremony with the wine even if one is alone because the constant remembrance and re-experience of the redemption is so essential.
As we conclude, let’s consider what is probably the oldest piece of Christian liturgy:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you—that the Lord Yeshua, on the night He was betrayed, took matzah; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you. Do this in memory of Me.” In the same way, He also took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in memory of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
This content, often in expanded form, has found its way into every Easter and Communion liturgy throughout Church history. In this respect, Easter is more than just a mirror of Passover—it is its expansion. Our Easter celebration is a remembrance and re-enactment of the Exodus, but it’s permeated with the Messiah’s fulfillment of it through His death, burial, and resurrection. Hence, Easter also is a re-enactment and commemoration of the Messiah’s sacrifice.
Accordingly, both holidays hold the potential to have a miraculous effect on our lives!
Talmud Bavli Pesachim 116a, Shulhan Aruch OH 173:6
Shulhan Aruch OH 472:14
Kaf HaHaim 473:139 Hazon Ovadia 149
Kaf HaHaim 473:135
Wright, N.T., The Resurrection and the Son of God (Fortress Press 2003), 202.
Siddur Rechovot HaNahar Haggadah Shel Pesach p184-185.
Pliny, To Trajan, vol. Book 10, Letter 97, trans. by William Melmoth [revised by F. C. Bosanquet] September 2001
Shulhan Arukh OH 473:8
Shulhan Arukh OH 181:1
Shulhan Arukh OH 477:1
Siddur Rechovot HaNahar Haggadah Shel Pesach p. 330
Magen Avraham OH 274:2 in the name of the Rosh
Apjin, Shalom, Divrei Shalom Vol 5 2005 p 297
Shulhan Arukh OH 204:5
Shaar HaMitzvot 46a, Kaf HaHaim OH 183:6
Apjin, Shalom, Divrei Shalom Vol 5 (2005), 299.
Cabasilas, Nicholas, The Life In Christ (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir Press, 1998), 130-139.
St. Basil (4th c) notes: “But it is just to regard as more suitable, the time which is more nearly connected with it: and what time is more closely connected with baptism than Easter day, since the day itself is a memorial of the resurrection, and baptism is the powerful means for our resurrection?” (See Basil of Caesarea, A Treatise on Baptism and A Treatise on Confirmation, trans. Francis Patrick Kenrick (Philadelphia: M. Fithian, 1843), 226.)
Shulhan Arukh 157:1
Shulhan Arukh OH 182:1
Avot 3:4-7, Berakhot 6a, Sanhedrin 39a
Apjin, Shalom, Divrei Shalom Vol 5 (2005), 297.
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