Wine and matzohTonight we celebrate Passover, God’s deliverance of a people in bondage, unable to free themselves.

Tonight we celebrate God stepping down into time with an act of might to demonstrate His love.

Tonight we wait in expectation for the King of the universe to reign fully, bringing an end to oppression and pain everywhere.

Why Passover?

Passover begins at sunset on Monday.  What better way to prepare for Easter than the way Jesus did, by celebrating a Passover Seder, the traditional dinner of Passover.

It was at this Seder that Jesus washed His disciples’ feet.  It was at this Seder that Jesus broke the piece of matzah, or unleavened bread, that came to be known as the afikomen, which means “that which is to come”.  It was at this Seder that Jesus lifted each of the four glasses of wine, and when He got to the third glass, the Cup of Redemption, that He said, “This is Me.  This is My blood.”

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
—Leviticus 17:11

“A life for a life.  My blood for yours.”

“Do this in remembrance of Me.  When you break this bread, which symbolizes the hope that is yet to come, do this in remembrance of Me.  When you drink the Cup of Redemption, do this in remembrance of Me.  The Passover is a time of remembrance of what God has done.  Do this in remembrance of Me.

The Passover Pardon

As dawn breaks, the faintest hint of sunlight creeps into my cell.  Passover begins at twilight.  How I’ve longed for this day!  This celebration commemorates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.  And yet, it offers me the same freedom, the same life, that it offered my fathers thousands of years ago.

All the charges are true.  I was involved in that insurrection.  I got caught up in the fervor of the rebellion.  It was my hand that took that life.  But I never planned to be here.  I never saw past the passion of that night.  I never thought it would lead me here, sitting in this jail cell, waiting for the consequences of my actions.  An eye for an eye.  A tooth for a tooth. A life…

This morning holds my only hope.  The Passover Pardon.  If not, I’ve come to the end.

I know my family, my friends, will champion my cause.  They must be assembling now, outside Pilot’s court.  I must believe they can convince him to let me walk free.  I must cling to hope.

But who else might be clinging to the same hope?  Surely they are not as wretched as I.  Surely their crimes are lesser, their list of offenses shorter.  Surely they deserve freedom more than I…

If only my name is put forth.  If only my case is well fought.  How I long to celebrate God’s deliverance tonight at the Passover table!

I can hear the crowd gathering. And now murmurings; it must be Pilot.

“Barabbas!  Barabbas!”

The crowd is chanting my name, but what does it mean?

“Barabbas!  Barabbas!”

Is this good or bad?  I don’t know whether to dance for joy or to faint from fear.  What does it mean?!

“Crucify him!  Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

That’s it; it’s over.  I am a dead man.  I will hang on the tree at dawn.  O Lord, forgive me!  Save me!  Deliver me!

Why do I hear jailers’ footsteps already?  Surely I have another day.  Just one more day!  Give me one more day before I hang on that cross!

Jailers bursting into my cell – this is the end.  How did it come to this, being dragged through these halls to my execution?  They throw open the door; the sunlight is blinding as I’m thrown to the ground.

“Go home.”

What!?!  I know my charges.  I heard the crowd.  I am to be crucified.  “Why?”

“You’re free Barabbas.  They’re crucifying Jesus instead.”

Do This in Remembrance of Me

“Do this in remembrance of Me,” Jesus instructed those fortunate enough to be chosen to celebrate the final Passover with Him before He went to Calvary.

So today, be it weekly, monthly, or at other chosen intervals, we pass around a plate of wafers and tiny glasses of wine or juice, and we remember Jesus and the sacrifice He made to atone for our offenses.  This is often a beautiful time of reflection and worship, and God seems to use those celebrations to draw people closer to Him.

But is that what Jesus intended with these instructions?:  “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Do what in remembrance?

It appears that for nearly two thousand years, most who read those words dutifully reach for a glass and a loaf to mimic the actions of Jesus and His followers as these words were being spoken.  However, I think there’s a much bigger picture here.  As seems to be the case more often than not, it appears that Jesus’s view and intent with this were far bigger than that which was understood by those with Him, and by those in subsequent generations.

When these words were spoken, Jesus and a small group of His followers were gathered together to celebrate the Passover.  It was a time of celebration and storytelling, recounting the power and might God displayed as He rescued His people from oppression in Egypt.

“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.”
Exodus 6:6

“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants.  When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as He promised, observe this ceremony.  And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’  then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
Exodus 12:24-27

Yet concurrently, it was also a time of looking ahead with hope for the ultimate deliverance, the coming of the promised Messiah.  Traditionally, there is even an extra place-setting at the table that is reserved for Elijah, since it is believed that Elijah will return to usher in the coming Messiah.  This open seat for Elijah is a demonstration of the people’s faith in God, that He will provide the promised deliverance.

Traditionally, there are three pieces of unleavened bread.  The middle piece is taken out from between the other two, wrapped in a cloth, and hidden for the children to search out.  This middle piece of bread now is called the afikomen, which in Greek means “that which is coming”.  Yet instead of hiding the middle of this trio of bread, Jesus broke it and passed it around to His followers.  “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Throughout the meal, four glasses of wine are passed, each with specific symbolic meaning.  The third glass, toward the end of the meal, is the Cup of Redemption.  “Drink from it, all of you.  This is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

There is definite value in meditating on the immense sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, including meditating on it over wafers and tiny glasses of wine or juice.  But I do not believe this was to what Jesus was referring.

Those six simple words carried a depth of meaning:  “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  In celebrating the Passover, a time of remembering the deliverance of Israel from Egypt by the mighty hand of God and a time of looking ahead to the coming of the promised Messiah, it appears Jesus was actually saying:

“This all has been pointing to Me.  The deliverance from Egypt was worthy of celebration and remembrance, but that pales in comparison to the deliverance I am bringing you.  Tomorrow it will be completed.  You no longer need to look for the coming of the promised Messiah.  I have come.  From this point on, do this, celebrate the Passover, in remembrance of Me.  In remembrance of the ultimate deliverance I have provided for you.”

The Story of Passover

I’m so excited to celebrate Passover this year!  Passover has become a cherished component of our celebration of Easter.  Last year we hosted a Seder for the first time, and it was such an incredible time of worship.  I spent weeks writing and revising our Seder script, using as a guide a half-dozen scripts I found on various sites online, while Jason planned an exquisite Passover meal.  The final result was a time of worship that I have scarcely experienced elsewhere.  As soon as we began, we felt the Spirit of God descend on us, and the air was heavy with His holiness for the entire evening.  We were overwhelmed by an overwhelming God.

It seems we are so often told, and so quick to agree, that the Old Testament was superseded by the New, and therefore, we do not need to look to the Old Testament at all, but rely solely on the teachings of Jesus and the apostles’ letters.  And yet, I don’t think anyone would dispute that we are to follow the example set by Jesus and people like Peter, John and Paul.  And all of them relied heavily upon what we refer to as the Old Testament.

The story of the Old Testament is of God’s relationship with a people, and of His laying the groundwork for the redemptive act of Jesus.  If we discard the Old Testament, we not only lose that groundwork, the “why” and “what” of the person of Jesus; we also lose much of the meaning in Jesus’s words and actions.  God is very gracious to allow us to garner some understanding, but there is much we miss when we don’t have the background of the Old Testament to lend meaning and understanding to the New.

On the surface, the Passover is a time of remembrance of a moment in history, when God led His people to freedom from Egypt. 

However, the true story of the Passover is of a mighty, merciful God who provides deliverance to a people who cannot free themselves from the chains and oppression in which they are enslaved.  It’s a story that speaks to all people throughout history.  It’s the story of Easter, which was being told for thousands of years before Jesus walked this earth.  It’s the ultimate reason to celebrate.