Pesach - Passover
Passover (Pesach) is the first of the Jewish festivals, occurring on the 14th day of the first month, called Nisan. The story is told in the book of Exodus. After the completion of the prophesied 400 years of oppression in Egypt (Genesis 15:13), God raised up Moses to confront the Pharaoh and his gods with ten plagues. The final plague resulted in the death of the first-born sons of the Egyptians. God gave Moses specific instructions about what the Hebrew people had to do in order to avert the same fate in their households. They were told to take one unblemished lamb per household, to kill it at twilight on the 14th day of the First month and place some of the blood on the doorposts and lintel of their house (Ex 12:5-7). They were then to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs that same evening, dressed ready to leave in a hurry (Ex 12:8-11). God’s promise was that when the Lord passed over the land that night and saw the blood, He would not allow the destroyer to smite them (Ex 12:13,23). This festival was to be remembered on an annual basis to pass the story of the Lord’s Passover from generation to generation and to remember the great deliverance of the Lord (Ex 12:14, 24-28).
TODAY’S PASSOVER PRACTICE
The Jewish people world-wide continue to keep this festival faithfully to this day. There are many beautiful symbols in the Passover service as it is now practised. As well as the synagogue service, there is a special meal called a ‘Seder’ held in the family home accompanied by the telling of the story from a book called the ‘Haggadah’. There is a ‘Seder’ plate placed in the center of the table, which contains visual symbols of the Passover story – bitter herbs (horseradish - the hard life), lamb shank bone (the sacrificial lamb), parsley/lettuce (like the hyssop used to apply the blood), haroseth (a mixture of apple, nuts, cinnamon and wine, representing the ‘mud’ for the bricks) and an egg (?peace offering, or new life for springtime). As well as this, there is unleavened bread and 4 cups of wine, which Jesus used as symbols for his upcoming death. The service concludes with the singing of the ‘Hallel’ psalms Psalms 113-118, which is most likely what Jesus sang just before he went into the garden of Gethsemane.
The ‘Matza’ or unleavened bread used today is square and like a dry biscuit. It has holes vertically and diagonally, and reminds us that Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions…by His stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5). Perhaps the most fascinating part of the entire Passover haggadah, is the mystery of the ‘Afikomen’. Before the meal there are three matzot (pl) wrapped in a special pocket placed on the table. During the meal the MIDDLE matza is removed, broken in two and half is hidden, which the children have to find later in the ceremony. Afikomen is a Greek word meaning ‘He came’! For Messianic Jews, the three matzot represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The middle one is broken (died), wrapped (buried), hidden, then brought out again before the third cup of wine (cup of redemption) is drunk.
Another tradition is that an extra place is always set at the table with a special cup for ‘Elijah’. Towards the end of the service, the children are sent to the door to see if Elijah is coming. This is associated with the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I am going to send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day for the Lord”. Passover brings with it a tremendous expectation of the coming of Messiah for the Jewish people, as well as a remembrance of past deliverance. For Messianic Jews, as Peter said, “The things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that the Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18).
During the last week of Jesus’ ministry on earth, we frequently find expressions such as ‘the Passover was at hand’ (Lk 22:1), or ‘after two days the Passover is coming’ (Matt 26:2, 17-19). Jesus’ last meal was a Passover meal (Matt 26:20-30), when he instituted the Lord’s supper, known now as the communion. He gave the bread and wine eaten at the festival a new meaning, as they were to represent His body and blood, which were soon to be broken and poured out. It was to be a reminder of His death (I Cor 11:23-26). Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God (Jn 1:29) was sacrificed for our sins at Passover time so that when His blood is applied to the doorposts and lintels of our hearts, the destroyer [Satan] has no claim to bring death on us. Jesus has become our Passover Lamb (I Cor 5:17).
Since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran, we have learnt a lot more about the Essene community and their practices. They observed a different calendar to that which was kept by the Pharisees and Sadducces in the temple. They had the Passover one day earlier than the main community. The Essene gate has been excavated on Mt Zion outside of the current Zion Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, near where it is believed that the Last Supper was held. The disciples were told to find a man carrying a pitcher of water (Mk 14:13, Lk 22:10) and follow him to the house where they were to celebrate the Passover. As water-carrying was a woman’s job in ancient times, this would have been unusual. The Essenes however, were solely a male fraternity, so they would have to fetch it themselves. This could mean that Jesus both kept the Passover (with the Essenes) and then was crucified at exactly the same hour as the lambs were being sacrificed in the temple on the following day.