Passover and Last Supper have common themes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

This year the first day of Passover on the Jewish calendar falls on Thursday, April 13.

It so happens that many churches will have a Maundy Thursday service (the Thursday before Easter) on that same day this year, which is a commemoration of the institution of the Lord's Supper.

Both events originated in a Passover meal, called a Seder (Hebrew word for &#8220order of service”).

The celebrations of both Jews and Christians have a common theme – redemption.

The story of the redemption of the Jews from 400 years of slavery in Egypt is told in the Book of Exodus.

The God of the Israelites (the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) sent ten plagues on the Egyptians to obtain the release of His chosen people.

Moses was sent to the Pharaoh with the message, &#8220Let My people go!”

The tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, brought about the exodus of the Israelite slaves, an estimated population of two or three million!

The Passover ritual was established the night of deliverance (Exodus 12).

Each Israelite family would escape the death of the firstborn by smearing the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their home.

The death angel would see the blood and &#8220pass over” each home who had obeyed the Lord's instructions through Moses.

The whole lamb with no broken bones was to be roasted in fire and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

The family would eat this meal hastily and be dressed to leave at once in the morning, the day of their independence, their freedom!

God decreed that this memorial feast was to be kept as &#8220an everlasting ordinance &#8220 (vs. 14).

Among the religious feasts of the world, Passover is the oldest continuously observed feast in existence today, celebrated by the Jews for some 3,400 years!

For 1,975 years Christian churches have been celebrating the Lord's Supper and their redemption from eternal death.

It was in 30 AD when Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant in Jerusalem at a Passover meal with His disciples.

He said, &#8220With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15).

On that night, today known as Maundy Thursday, He was arrested and brought to trial.

His crucifixion occurred the next day, and He died on the cross at three o'clock in the afternoon, just as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered at the Temple.

(Jesus and His disciples celebrated Passover the day before the larger Jewish community celebrated it, because at that time the feast was celebrated for two days.

See John 13:29.)

The themes for Passover and the Lord's Supper are the same, redemption.

For the Jews, it is their freedom from slavery and their beginning as a nation.

For the Christian, it is his personal redemption from eternal death, the penalty of sin, and the beginning of the church.

On the third day of Passover, which is the biblical Feast of Firstfruits, the New Testament records the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

The Christian believes he has eternal life based on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, whom he believes to be the Son of God and his sin sacrifice (John 3:16).

The Apostle Paul declared, &#8220Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (I Cor. 5:7).

In the Seder ritual in every Jewish home today, the history of the Exodus is reenacted in the ceremonial foods.

The unleavened bread is called &#8220matzah” and &#8220the bread of affliction.”

More and more churches are beginning to host Passover Seders.

They point out the symbolism of the Messiah throughout the ritual, His beating, crucifixion, and resurrection.

The matzah is held up to the light to demonstrate that it is pierced.

Also, the cracker-like bread is striped.

It has no yeast, which is a symbol of sin in Christian theology, and the Messiah had no sin.

A most interesting part of the Seder ritual is the piece of matzah known as the afikomen, a Greek word meaning &#8220I came” or &#8220The coming one.”

Near the beginning of the Seder the host takes up a three-sectioned bag called the &#8220matzah tash” or &#8220the unity.”

Three pieces of matzah are inside it.

The host removes the middle piece, breaks it, and wraps one half of it in a white linen cloth.

Then as the children cover their eyes, he hides it in the room.

After the meal the children are told to look for this wrapped piece of matzah called the afikomen.

The child who finds the afikomen then presents it to the host who rewards the child with money.

The host then breaks the afikomen and shares it with all the guests.

Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews have not been able to offer animal sacrifices.

Therefore, they cannot have lamb at the Passover Seder.

Rabbinic law requires everyone to eat the afikomen as a reminder of the Passover lamb.

It is like the dessert, and the Jews are encouraged to let the taste linger in their mouths.

There are different explanations about the meaning of the three pieces of matzah in the matzah tash.

Christians explain that the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are represented by the three pieces of matzah.

They say that the Son of God (the middle piece) was &#8220broken” on the cross, died and was buried (wrapped in a white cloth and hidden), and then was resurrected (brought back at the end of the meal).

Furthermore, the third cup of wine in the Seder ritual is believed to be the &#8220cup of redemption” that Jesus referred to as His blood of the New Covenant.

Since Jesus and His disciples were all Jews and the entirely Jewish church was a sect within the larger Jewish community, it is believed that the afikomen part of the Seder ritual was an addition to the feast made by the early church, and the non-Christian Jews accepted it and continued to observe it down through the centuries.

A part of the Seder ritual called &#8220The Four Questions” is assigned to the youngest member at the table.

He rises and asks, &#8220Why is this night different from all other nights?”

After the four questions, the host replies, &#8220Because on this night we celebrate the going forth of the Jewish people from slavery into freedom.”

At the Lord's Supper, Christians celebrate freedom from sin by remembering the sacrifice of their Savior.

The Apostle Paul said, &#8220For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes” (I Cor. 11:26).

Wherever Jews and Christians gather on April 13 this year it will be a celebration of redemption.

Both Christians and Jews are not only looking back at an event in history, but they are also looking forward to future redemption with the return of the Messiah.