BY TOM WRIGHT
We are entering into Holy Week for the Christians and Jews. Passover begins April 8 and is perhaps the most solemn and widely celebrated of all the Jewish feasts. It also has great meaning to Christians as the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper which is celebrated regularly in Christian churches, is taken from the Passover celebration.
All of us, no matter our faith are awaiting deliverance from this Coronavirus that is holding us captive. It might be helpful to look at and turn to some ancient celebrations that still have meaning for many of us today and find solace in their message.
To the Jews, Passover commemorates their deliverance and freedom from Egyptian captivity. The Passover Seder or dinner is a 3500-year-old tradition which today, follows an outline from a ninth century Haggadah or Passover book. There are many Passover traditions and many Haggadahs have different songs or Psalms and readings, but the basic story is unchanged.
The day before the Passover begins, members of the family clean all the leaven – bread or cookie crumbs out of the house. In the Jewish tradition, leaven represents sin and this feast is to be celebrated without sin being present. At Passover’s sundown, the women light candles, before the Seder begins. To start the meal, the male head of the house pours the first cup of wine referred to as the cup of sanctification and offers a prayer of sanctification called a Keduch.
He then takes three pieces of unleavened or matzah bread and places them in a bag with three pockets. Later in the dinner, he removes the middle piece, breaks it and wraps it in white linen and hides it for the children to find after the meal. This is called the Afikomen, which means “hidden.”
Before the meal is eaten, the father or elder asks the children four questions on why they have bitter herbs on their plate, with a burnt lamb bone and why they dip parsley in salt water and then he tells the story of the exodus from Egypt. At the conclusion of this narrative, a second cup of wine is poured and consumed. It represents the second promise of God for deliverance.
The main Passover meal is then served and eaten. At the meal’s conclusion the children are sent to find the Afikomen containing the broken pieces of matzah and a final cup is raised which is called the cup of redemption. The prayer over this cup is “Blessed art thou Lord God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth. The matzah is then consumed with the wine.
A fourth and final cup of wine is poured which is called the Cup of Elijah and the front door is opened in anticipation of the return of Elijah, the prophet who announced the coming of Messiah, who will finally reconcile those who await him to God. The final prayer recognizes while their deliverance is not yet complete, they eagerly await the coming of Messiah. In the days of the Exodus, the Jews longed for their return into the “promised land.” The closing prayer of the Seder is “Next year we drink in Jerusalem.”
This year Easter and Passover both occur during the same “feast week.” Easter is always the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (this year April 12). This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar while Passover begins on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan.
Christians realize the celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the remembrance of the Passover Seder Jesus shared with his disciples. Jesus, being a Jew rightfully sat at the traditional Passover table in remembrance of the deliverance of the Jewish People from their bondage in Egypt.
To the Christian, there are many types and shadows taken from the Passover meal which are rich in meaning and symbolism. The women lighting the candles is symbolic of a woman – Mary, bringing light to the world, Jesus. Removing the matza from the middle pocket, breaking it and wrapping it in white linen and hiding it depicts the body of Jesus being taken from the cross where he was crucified between two others; the white linen represents his funeral shroud; hiding represents burial and having the children find it depicts the resurrection.
Jesus concluded the Passover meal by taking the broken unleavened (without sin) bread from the linen (his grave clothes) and gave a piece to each of his disciples saying, “Take and eat, this is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” He then took the final cup of wine and after blessing it he said, “Drink all of it; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
Jesus told his disciples to celebrate the feast often, in remembrance of Him, until He comes again. Therefore, Christians and Jews celebrate the same feast with the same message of redemption and anticipation of the coming Messiah.
During this Holy Week, let us therefore, celebrate our faith in mortal deliverance from this virus as well as our faith in the coming of Messiah who can and will deliver us.
Tom Wright spent 25 years in disaster relief, having responded to Chernobyl, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, natural disasters and wars. He has been a consultant to the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), a division of USAID.