The Passover - A Christian Perspective
I love Passover. It is my favorite holiday, trumping even Christmas. There are many Passovers that our family spent with Zola Levitt, as he went through the tradition and ritual from a Jewish perspective. The feast and its rituals are beautiful in symbolism and ultimately, our story of redemption.
But, what is it?
Did you grow up in church? Okay, think WAY back to sitting in Sunday School as a young child. Remember the teacher talking about how the Jewish people painted lamb’s blood across their doorway, and the angel of death passed over their house? This is the Passover story, the beginning of the day of remembrance.
Maybe you didn’t have to opportunity to grow up in church. Here are the basics:
The Israelites were in bondage as slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh refused Moses’ plea to let them leave and be free. You see, God was with Moses, and guiding his actions and words to Pharaoh. He simply asked to give the Jewish people their freedom.
When Pharaoh refused to comply, God brought 10 plagues to Egypt to show Pharaoh that He was the one true God, and it was His plan that the Jewish people have their freedom in a mass exodus (hence the name of the book in the Bible).
The very last plague was a death of the first-born son to the people and animals of Egypt. You can read about it in Exodus, chapter 11 and 12. While this may seem a harsh plague, it shows God meant business. He had given Pharaoh 9 other chances to let His people go. On this night, the Jewish people were to sacrifice a pure, clean lamb. They were to rub blood from this lamb along the door frame of the house. When Yahweh (the God of Israel) saw this blood, He would pass over this house, leaving the first-born son to grow and thrive. If a house didn’t have this sacrificial blood on the doorway, they would be held to the plague.
If you read the story, there are more rituals that the Jewish people had to perform in order to complete this task in full. Every ritual, while seemingly important at the time, points towards Jesus as the spotless lamb who will save his people.
Fun fact: Jesus was celebrating the Feast of Passover in the Upper Room before His death on the cross. When He said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25), He was drinking the wine of the Passover meal. When He said, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19), He was breaking the unleaven bread of the Passover meal.
THE PASSOVER OF TODAY.
Passover is one of the 9 major Jewish feasts or festivals, and is celebrated beginning the 15th day of Nisan (part of the Jewish calendar). It falls sometime around the celebration of Easter on the Gregorian calendar (the calendar you are probably used to).
Passover is rich in history, remembrance, and symbolism. While it is celebrated as a day of remembrance for the Jewish people, it is a day of hope and confirmation that Jesus was/is the one true spotless lamb, sent to save his people through his blood shed on the cross.
The feast itself is comprised of a Seder plate (the focal point of the Passover feast). This plate contains all the food needed to remember the Passover story: a zeroah (a lamb shank that represents the lamb that was sacrificed on the night of the Pass Over), a beitzah (a hard-boiled egg that represents rebirth), charoset (a tasty apple paste that represents the mortar used with bricks while in slavery), maror (a bitter herb/horseradish that represents the bitterness of slavery), karpas (a leafy vegetable/parsley that represents rebirth), chazeret (another bitter herb/romain lettuce representing the slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt), and salt water on the side (representing the salt of Jewish tears).
The “meal” is also composed of 3 pieces matzo. Hold that unleaven bread up to the light. Do you notice anything? “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds (stripes) we are healed.” - Isaiah 53:5
Also needed are 4 glasses of wine per person, Haggadah books (this will walk you through the steps of Passover), a kosher meal, and a small prize (candy).
So what do you do with all these “props” for Passover? It is a highly scripted “meal.” It’s all about going through the different steps, and remembering about the rich history of the Jewish people. As Christians, it is also an important “meal” that points straight to Jesus as our Savior. You can see how He is woven all through history, and fulfilled in the promises of the Bible.
The feast starts with somebody placing 3 whole matzo crackers in a folded clean cloth. This unleaven bread represents the swiftness with which the Jewish people had to flee during the exodus. They didn’t have time to add leaven (yeast) and let the bread rise. So the bread that was baked turned into matzo. The stripes on the matzo represent the hast with which the bread had to be baked. The speed and temperature of the baking process give it these marks. To Christians, the stripes represent the stripes by which we are saved through Jesus. We also know that yeast (leaven) represents sin that must be purged from our lives. These crackers contain no yeast, or sin. Finally, to Christians, the THREE matzo crackers represents the trinity, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.
The next steps are to fill everyone’s wine glasses (of course, children get grape juice), give everyone a Haggadah (A book which contains the Exodus Story and the guide for the ritual feast), and to designate an adult to lead the Seder meal. A kiddush (blessing) over the wine is recited, and then everyone drinks their first glass of wine. There will be 4 cups of wine poured for each person during this meal. This is to symbolize the 4 redemption promises of God in the Exodus Story (He promised to take them out of Egypt, deliver them from bondage, redeem them, and make them His chosen people).
At this point, everyone washes their hands (rinses them really) using a pitcher of water and bowl that is passed around the table. This can represent a sort of baptism, washing away the old self, and making one clean.
Now, the karpas (parsley) is dipped in the salt water. This represents the rebirth of the Jewish people. For Christians, this represent the rebirth that happens the moment you become a saved believer. A blessing is recited that corresponds to this step, and you eat the dipped herb.
Next, the middle matzo is broken in two, and the smaller half goes back in clean cloth. The other half of the broken matzo is wrapped and hidden, just as Jesus was wrapped in a shroud and buried.
The next step is to pour second cup of wine. With this, the youngest person asks the four question put forth in the Haggadah (“Why is this night different than other nights”). Then the Passover story is read from the Haggadah, and the second cup of wine is drunk.
At this point hands are washed again, with a blessing being recited over the remaining matzo on the table. Each person now eats part of the top matzo and middle broken matzo that has been left in the cloth.
Now is the time to dip bitter herb (The horseradish, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery) into the charoset (This represents the bricks and mortar used in slavery). Of course, a blessing is recited that corresponds to this portion, blessing, and the bitter herb is eaten. It is customary to use pieces from the bottom matzo that was in the cloth to make a sandwich a sort of sandwich with the mixture.
Next, you eat dinner!! Make sure it’s kosher. Only completely kosher meals are to be served on this evening. You begin with the egg dipped in salt water. Not everyone uses the egg. It is thought to be a pagan symbol that was implemented later in history. However, the salt water represents mourning for the lost temple, and the egg represents the beginning of new life (Hence the eggs used in Easter).
At this point, the children hunt for afikomen (the hidden matzo). Tradition dictates that the winner gets candy or small toy as a prize. For Christians, this afikomen is symbolic of Jesus, who’s body was broken and hidden in a tomb, coming back from death to life.
We now fill the cups with the third glass of wine, and say a blessing over it. Again 3 is important to Christians, because it represents the trinity. It also represents the 3 days Jesus was dead and buried before He rose again.
At last the fourth cup is poured. This is traditionally known as the “Lamb’s Cup.” It represents Jesus, the spotless lamb of Passover. Notice, the lamb shank was present on the Seder plate, but it was never eaten. Don’t forget to set an extra cup of wine for prophet Elijah (Elijah will precede the Messiah before He brings in the Kingdom).
Now, the youngest child opens the door to check for Elijah.
Next comes a time of singing and rejoicing.
Finally, we drink the last cup of wine and eat a piece of the “resurrected” afikomen. “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-20).
Nothing may be eaten or drunk for rest of night after this takes place.
Thus ends the Passover Seder. I hope you have enjoyed this look into this Jewish feast with such symbolism and promise for both the Jewish person and the believer. If you have any questions, here are some more references for you:
This is not from a Christian perspective, but it gives a quick look into the Seder feast.
Chag Sameach!! Which means to wish one a happy and kosher holiday.
(Video credit: How Cast)