Growing up in a reform Jewish home, my family was not very religious, but we did celebrate Passover every year with our extended family. All would gather, sometimes at our house, other times at the cousins’. The table would be set with all the traditional elements: matzo, wine, charoses, Seder plate, salt water, white linens, candles…. Matzo ball soup, gefilte fish (ugh!) and horseradish, etc.
Now, as with all Jewish “holidays” (btw- most Jews refer their special days as “holy days” not holidays), the actual day begins at sundown. That’s because in the account of creation, Genesis 1:5 says “God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” Evening and morning = the first day. Day began at evening.
So when we’d gather together, everyone was eager for dinner, but we had to read through the Haggadah before we could eat. The retelling of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt could take over an hour or more. So our family used Cantor Applestone’s abbreviated version. The cantor (rabbi’s assistant and song leader) in our synagogue created a shortened account of the Exodus story, sort of a Cliff Notes version, and every year, we’d pull out the tattered mimeographed copies (remember those!). I never even knew we had a real Haggadah book that was my mom’s when she was a girl. Here’s a picture of our Seder plate, and my mom’s original Haggadah. The mimeographed pages have long been lost.
It wasn’t until I became a Christian that I began to truly appreciate all the elements of the Passover. Tonight March 25th is the first night of Passover this year.
What Christians commonly call the Last Supper was a Passover seder. And so much of what Jesus and the disciples did and spoke about have meaning beyond what appears on the surface. For example, the bread and wine that we partake during communion are important elements of the Passover seder. Much of what is celebrated in Jewish homes across the world has important meaning for Christians as well. Jesus, after all, is referred to as the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7).
There are many elements to this special event, but I think one of the most misunderstood ones is the meaning of the word ”Passover.” In Hebrew, the word “Pesach” means “exemption.” And in the book of Exodus, “it” refers to the Passover sacrifice = the spotless, unblemished lamb.
Exodus 12:11-12 = This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; IT is the LORD’s Passover. Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.
We usually think the word Passover comes from the angel passing over the homes of the Israelites. But Exodus 12:27 says, “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.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.” These instructions from God calling the lamb the passover came BEFORE the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites at midnight sparing the first-born but smiting the Egyptians. And the instructions to “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.” also came BEFORE the Lord delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians. By faith, the Israelites - while still in bondage - celebrated their deliverance that would be observed for generations to come.
The Passover refers to the sacrifice, the spotless lamb who’s blood was shed to save the lives of God’s people. The lamb provided the exemption for God’s people from death. That is why Jesus was called the Passover lamb. He was sinless, spotless, unblemished, and He paid the sacrifice for all God’s people.
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love. John 13:1