Reorienting the Passover into the Lord’s Supper
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
How does a tradition become a sacrament? For millennia, Jewish people have commemorated their ancestors’ liberation from slavery in Egypt with the annual Passover celebration. Like all Jewish holidays, the dates for Passover are set out in the Torah, in our book of Exodus. However, because of differences between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, the actual dates change from year to year. But the eight-day observance (seven days in Israel) always takes place in early spring. One vital piece of the Passover week is the Seder, the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The Hebrew word “Seder” translates to “order.” This is a ritual meal, blending religion, food, song, and storytelling. Although every family has its own traditions, the Seder follows a pattern. First there’s the reading from the Haggadah, a book that tells the story of the Passover: fearing there were too many Hebrews in Egypt, the Pharaoh instituted slavery and ordered all the male infants killed. Baby Moses was saved by his mother, who tucked him into a basket and floated him down the Nile River, where he was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses grew up in the royal household, but when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, he killed the Egyptian and fled. Years passed, then God spoke to Moses in a burning bush, and, long story short, God “persuaded” the Pharaoh to release the Jews through a series of plagues, culminating in a night when the angel of death killed every firstborn male in Egypt except those of the Hebrew people, whose lamb’s blood-marked doors he passed over. Thus God liberated his people, and Moses led them out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.
After the reading comes the Seder meal. The foods, often presented on a divided platter, are all symbolic: a roasted shank bone representing the lamb sacrificed by each family that night; a boiled egg representing the circle of life; bitter herbs representing the bitterness of slavery; haroset, a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine, representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves for building; and greens, often parsley, representing spring. On top are three pieces of matzah, a cracker-like wafer, representing the unleavened bread the Israelites were instructed to prepare in haste and eat before fleeing Egypt. There is also a bowl of salt water, representing the tears of the slaves. And the Torah requires at least four cups of wine to be consumed at the meal, representing four promises God made to his children: sanctification, God’s promise to lead them out; deliverance, God’s promise of freedom; redemption, God’s promise to redeem his people; and restoration, God’s promise to be their God.
Jesus would have celebrated the Passover every year with his family and then with his friends. In fact, his final meal with his disciples, the Last Supper, was the Passover Seder. As the meal progressed, Jesus gave the bread and the wine new symbolic meanings: the unleavened bread was his body, broken for those he loved and would save, and the cup of wine was the promise of a new covenant through the blood he would shed on the cross. Tradition became sacrament, and for followers of Jesus, the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper is essential to our communion with God.
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