Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Passover, Past & Present

Bill and Shannon Wilson share their most recent experience of leading elementary students at our Downtown Campus in the Passover meal of Seder:

On Palm Sunday morning, my wife Shannon and I led the children at Downtown Camp Grace in a Passover meal. This was a special moment for both of us because of our own experience celebrating the Passover with my stepfather, Hy, who is Jewish. As a result of my Episcopalian mother marrying Hy when I was eight years old, I grew up celebrating a number of Jewish and Christian holidays. I particularly enjoyed the mingling of the two faith traditions in December when I could look forward to presents at both Hanukkah and Christmas. Another ceremony that I enjoyed every year that seemingly had no Christian counterpart was the Passover meal in which Jews all around the world gather with their families to remember the Lord delivering them from slavery in Egypt. The meal and ceremony together are known as the Seder (which means “order”) and bears many similarities to the liturgical worship service I grew up experiencing each Sunday morning. There are readings, songs, Hebrew blessings (always translated into English), wine (juice for the children), bread (matzah), and traditional foods signifying various aspects of the Passover story. The meal incorporates children. The youngest child reads aloud the “four questions,” which inquire into various ways “why this night is different from all other nights.” Also, during the meal, a special piece of matzah known as the afikomen (off-ee-co-men) is hidden. The father brings forth three pieces of matzah and breaks the middle piece in half. One of the halves, the afikomen, is wrapped in linen and hidden in the room for the children to find. At the appropriate time the children search for the afikomen, and the one who finds it returns it to the father for a prize.

Photo of Seder table set for volunteer training.
There also are several traditional foods eaten at particular times during the Seder, each having its own symbolism for the Jews’ deliverance from Egypt. Maror, or bitter herbs (usually horseradish), symbolizes the bitter lives of the Jews in Egypt. Charoset (an apple, nut, and honey mixture) symbolizes the bricks and the clay that the Jews were forced to make for Pharaoh. Karpas, a vegetable (usually parsley), is dipped into salt water to symbolize the tears of the Jews in slavery. Matzah, or unleavened bread, represents the hurriedness with which the Jews left Egypt, not even having time to allow their bread to rise. The four cups of wine represent the four expressions of God’s promise in Exodus 6:6-7 to deliver the Jews from Egypt. And, most importantly, a lamb shank bone represents the lamb that was sacrificed in order for its blood to be placed on the doorframe so that the Lord would pass over the homes of God’s people while carrying out the tenth and final plague – death of the firstborn. Throughout the meal, the Passover story would be told, and the foods would be eaten in ceremonial fashion. There is much more to this meal, but these are the highlights. These meals always felt important as I celebrated them growing up. It is amazing to think how the Jewish people celebrated this same meal for centuries prior to the coming of Christ and continue to celebrate it today, thousands of years later, despite being scattered throughout the world. What came to light as Shannon and I took part in the Grace training for leading the children is how Jesus is intertwined into every aspect of the Seder. Most of us probably see and understand that Jesus was the lamb of God – “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” echoes the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and is stated every week during the Holy Eucharist, or communion, that I celebrated growing up in the Episcopal Church.

It was not until I experienced Passover in preparation for Camp Grace that the full meaning of this amazing ceremony hit home. Weaved throughout the traditional elements of the Passover ceremony is Jesus, our Lord. He is in every moment of a ceremony that far predates his coming. Consider Exodus 12, which required the Jews to bring an unblemished lamb into their homes on the tenth day of the month of Nisan (with the Passover occurring on the fourteenth day). Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the tenth day of Nisan, and then celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples on the fourteenth day, which we now call the Last Supper. As he celebrated this Passover meal, he knew that he was the unblemished sacrificial lamb, and he used the very elements of the Passover meal to signify his body and blood, which we now partake of when we celebrate communion. Also consider how the matzah is striped and pierced. Jesus was striped with whips and pierced with a spear. Also, recall how the center piece of three pieces of matzah is broken, wrapped in cloth, hidden away for a little while, and brought back out later. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was broken, wrapped in linen, hidden in a tomb for a little while, and then rose from the grave. And even more amazing is that the name of this hidden piece of matzah, afikomen, is a Greek word that can be translated as “He came.” We now see the full meaning of this aspect of the ceremony. Also consider how Exodus 12:46 commanded that the bones of the lamb to be sacrificed must not be broken. And John 19:36 tells us that none of Jesus’ bones were broken. And finally, at the time of judgment in Exodus, God looked for the blood of the lamb in order to pass over. Similarly, at the time of the final judgment, God will look only for the blood of Jesus the lamb.

The parallels are stunning and reveal the creativity and awesome power of a God who is sovereign and working throughout history to tell his story. The story has always been about Jesus. And it was this story, through a traditional meal that is thousands of years old, that we were able to teach the children of Camp Grace about God’s deliverance – both the deliverance from Egypt of the Jews and more importantly the deliverance from their sin of those who trust in Jesus.

- Bill Wilson, Camp Grace Volunteer, Downtown Campus

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