We are preparing for our annual Passover Seder. We will have 25 people coming together from “Celebration Fellowship”, our house church, to share in the meal and the celebration. Shopping for the meal, preparing for the event, guests will be coming to meet new people. How exciting!
In 1987, I was part of my first Passover Seder. I had heard of these celebrations before but really didn’t know what they were all about. The Love In Action program I was a part of and all of the staff would be participating. There was going to be about 36 people in all. We began by setting the stage. We would use the large great room at New Hope House. This meant that we needed to move all of the furniture out of the room. Being in California, it wasn’t a problem to just set it all outside.
Then we needed to set a large table to facilitate all of the festivities. The men and women let loose of all of their creativity to make the room look like it was literally set during the day of Jesus life. Palm fronds, lots of purple fabric, floral displays began to dominate the room in such a manner it was hard to remember its former use. There were several very creative people involved so the room was highly decorated and we couldn’t wait until the candles were lit and the guests would come and see the creation.
The recipes for all of the ceremonial foods were brought out. The one we all enjoyed making the most was the Charoseth, or “mortar’. It was made of apples, oranges, dates, raisins, walnuts, and a little cinnamon. This mixture was almost impossible to make without a food processor since it all had to be chopped and mixed together. So, several of us began by peeling, cutting, and shoving into the top of the processor. As it came out, the ingredients lost their vibrant colors and became a bland brown. Each of us took a teaspoon to taste the mixture and it was quite delicious in spite of its ugly brown presence. We asked a lot of questions as we cut up all of the bitter herbs like parsley and the fresh radishes. Since each one had historical meaning, the day became a Bible lesson of the Jewish heritage of the Christian faith.
We took all day working hard to get all of this ready. Each group had their jobs to do. As we all worked together, Frank Worthen, the director of our ministry, taught us about the real meaning of Passover. Frank also talked about the modern day Jewish practice of the Passover Seder and how many who held Passover meals served chicken. I remember him saying, “It was the Passover Lamb, not the passover chicken.” . When Frank left the ministry in 1991, to go to Manila Philippines, I got to become the “Seder Master” leading the ceremony. I would often think of who we might invite to come and experience this wonderful event. Inviting people who were from outside of our ministry family seemed to be similar to the guests in Jesus day that would come into the cities to celebrate Passover.
Cleaning, organizing, and pondering all that we will experience all are reminiscent of what the people of Jesus day were going through. I have been involved in preparing for this event each year for 24 years. It is a special holiday celebration for me. It is the only holiday that has only positive memories. It is special also because it is unique to my own Christian walk.
This year, as is typical, I am cooking the lamb and with helping hands, I’ll also be preparing the Charoseth (mortar) because I really like doing that. It is especially fun when there are others involved. We have others who will be shopping, cutting up the fresh vegetables, and preparing the settings. It really is a family coming together to remember our history, and our heritage.
I want to set the stage so you can get into the mood of a Passover Seder!
I have found that many Christians do not really know what a Passover Seder is and the traditions that were in place that brought Jesus to what most refer to as the Last Supper.
By reading the following you might be able to picture just what Jesus and the Discples may have been thinking right before the fateful experience of the death of Jesus on the cross for the atonement of all of our sins.
Passover, God’s Object Lesson
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. Matthew 26:20
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29
Back in Old Testament Times
You’ve just sat down to a Holiday Meal that you have done each year as a family. For weeks, you have been cleaning your homes, watching workmen repair all kinds of things around you like streets and sidewalks. You were getting ready for your town to swell in size to four times its normal population for the upcoming passover celebration.
Your household also received extensive teaching for about four weeks. The Jewish people placed much emphasis on teaching and reinforcing the holiday’s meaning.
You are going to have many visitors in your home. Some family, some from far away who just need a place to stay. The people would come about two weeks before Passover so they could go through their seven days of ritual purification. This was a time of joyful expectation and relational unity. This was also a time of hospitality and gift giving.
This past week your father selected the best lamb in his possession and brought it into your house to observe for four days. This lamb was approaching the prime of its life and was frisky and winsome. The test was to see that it was healthy and perfect for the Passover feast. The kids and adults alike became attached to the cute little thing as you fed it and cared for its needs. You will probably have to avoid its eyes as the head of the house kills it.
You did not have meat often but how could you eat the friend of the family? The lesson was painfully sad: God’s holiness demands that He judge sin, and the price is costly indeed. But He is also merciful and provides a way of escape.
The innocent Passover lamb foreshadowed the One who would come centuries later to be God’s final means of atonement and redemption. This is a reminder to us today that Jesus the Messiah presented Himself to Israel in public ministry for three years and showed Himself perfect in heart and deed toward the Father. Even Pilate found no fault in him. 1 Peter 1:19 describes Him as the Lamb without blemish or spot. In Exodus 12:3, the commandment is to take a lamb, a nebulous, unknown entity, nothing special; in Exodus 12:4, God says “the” lamb. Now he is known, unique, set apart.
No Leaven Allowed!
Your family has cleaned until there is nothing more to clean. One of the special projects is to rid your house of all leaven. Leaven is almost always a symbol of sin in the Bible. Leaven causes dough to become puffed up so that the end product is more in volume, but not more in weight. The sin of pride causes people to be puffed up, to think of themselves as far more than they really are.
Paul described the unleavened bread as sincerity and truth. The Hebrew word matzo, means “sweet, without sourness.” The unleavened bread typified the sweetness and wholesomeness of life without sin. It foreshadowed the sinless, perfect life of the Messiah, who would come to fulfill all righteousness and to lay down His life as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb.
For the Hebrews, the putting away of all leaven symbolized breaking the old cycle of sin and starting out afresh from Egypt to walk as a new nation before the Lord. They did not put away leaven in order to be redeemed; rather, they put away leaven because they were redeemed.
The Bitter Herbs
Tonight your palate will experience some very interesting things. Jehovah commanded the Israelites to eat the Passover lamb with bitter herbs. With bitter herbs they shall eat it. Exodus 12:8
The first symbolism that comes to mind is the obvious one – the hardships which the Israelites endured under the whips of Pharoah’s taskmasters.
Bitterness in Scripture often speaks of death. The bitter herbs are a reminder that the firstborn children of the people of Israel lived because the Passover lambs died.
Bitterness in Scripture also speaks of mourning. Zech. 12:10 says, Israel as a nation will weep and be in bitterness of deepest mourning for her Messiah, as when one mourns for an only child who has died.
The Last Supper
The Passover was the feast where Jesus had His Last Supper with His disciples. The momentous occasion when Jesus told us to “do this in remembrance of Me!” Imagine with me tonight that you were in your own home while Jesus was eating with His disciples and knowledgeable of what was going to take place the next day in His life.
1. Arm of the Lord – Lamb shank bone
2. Tash – three compartments for three pieces of matzo
3. Special plate, goblets etc.
Other Ceremonial Foods
1. Charoseth = Sweet mixture of apples and nuts
2. No dessert but rather, the affikomen, the Matzoh left at the end of the ceremony.
3. Bitter herbs = radish, horse-radish, parsley, lettuce, celery
4. Roasted Eggs = sign of new life mixed with salt – tears.
Matzoh, and other Symbols
Interesting to note, the matzoh is made of unleavened bread. The matzoh that is on the grocery shelves today is like a large soda cracker. But, it is pressed into a ribbed form and toasted. It is also made with pierces in lines. Since it is made this way, the toasting process puts dark lines across each piece. Therefore, the scripture says that “He was pierced for our transgressions, and by his “stripes” we are healed”. During the ceremony, their are three pieces of matzo in the “tash”. At one point, the middle matzoh is removed, it is broken and part of it is hidden. At the end of the ceremony, the matzoh, called “affikomen” is brought back out and shared as the “dessert” of the meal. It was amazing for me to see this symbol, and practice so connecting to the prophetic passages of the coming of the Messiah and how the torture, death and resurrection of Jesus so aligned with these symbols and yet people of the Jewish faith who practice this each year did not see Jesus for who he really was and is today.
Another symbol is the mixture of the bitter herbs and the strong flavor to help each participant to feel the bitterness of slavery as in Egypt. Then the taste of the heavily salted water as the “tears” of bondage. There is a shankbone of the lamb on the Seder Master’s plate. This is a strong, and raw reminder of Jesus broken legs as he hung on the cross.
Drinking the four cups of “wine” tells me of the many symbolic ceremonies that the Jewish faith have to carry their message of the coming Messiah throughout history.
In many churches today a symbolic “Communion” is practiced. Throughout my lifetime I have participated in symbolic communion. Many of us are familiar with the small “Chiclets” sized piece of bread and a little “thimble” sized cup of grape juice. I used to think that WAS communion until I began practicing an annual Passover Seder. When I saw the ceremony that Jesus was referring to when He spoke of “taking this bread, and drinking this cup” I realized that there was so much more to the symbolic practice we saw today.
As I read the scripture:
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 11:27
I realize that He wasn’t talking about the little piece of bread and the small cup we commonly call communion today. Those are just symbols. After these many years of celebrating Passover, I realize there is a real communion that Paul was talking about in First Corinthians. This is a sharing of fellowship that is real, honest, and is in truth. Coming together for a meal is something that brings relationship to a deeper level. To prepare a meal and invite someone into our homes can be incredibly intimate. When Paul exhorts us not to do this in an unworthy manner I believe means not to fake it! Not to come into a friend’s home when you hold something against them but hide that while you eat. When it says to “examine” ourselves, this means to get right with God, and to get right with each other before we partake of “real” communion. I don’t think this specifically means not to take the “chicklet and thimble” in an unworthy manner, as those are only symbolic of the real communion.
There was a time when I was invited to eat with a small group of people. I felt uncomfortable accepting the invitation for some reason but I didn’t really know why. So as I prayed and asked the Lord for clarity, I realized that I was uncomfortable because there was a broken place in the relationships that were represented in the small group. It was at that time when the passage in First Corinthians became so clear to me.
Scripture also says not to come to the Communion Table hungry so as to “overeat”. Well, how can you over eat or over drink with a chicklet and thimble? I then saw even more of the truth of Christian communion. I looked back over my time as a believer and saw that eating in the homes of others in the faith brought a deeper relationship and memories that would not go away quickly. The real fellowship we shared was sweet, meaningful, and built deeper and valuable facets to all of our relationships.
So, today when I consider sharing communion, the Passover Seder has helped me to value others more deeply, to understand the ways Jesus taught us to honor one another, and of course most significantly, to see the cross of Christ more clearly.