Easter season: A family gathers around the holiday table, three generations happily chattering over a festive meal. Mom disappears into the kitchen for more food. Grandma fusses with Junior's bib, as Grandpa winks affectionately at the older kids.
But take a closer look: no holiday ham or leg of lamb on this table, no rolls. No bread at all. Grandpa, as head of the family, is wearing a long white robe and a four-cornered white silk hat. Everyone is leaning against pillows; at the far end of the table a place is set before an empty chair. This is an orthodox Jewish family. They are celebrating Passover, not Easter.
The early Christians commemorated the Resurrection at Passover time because the Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Resurrection all happened then. In the fourth century, Constantine deliberately separated Easter and Passover; nevertheless, they remain interwoven by Divine intent. Their common denominator is the Lamb of God.
As Passover commemorated Israel's physical redemption, it pointed to the spiritual redemption that Christians celebrate at Easter. The Passover observance, handed down from ancient times, teems with symbolism. Some contemporary Passover customs stem directly from rituals incorporated by the early Jewish Christians, as they saw in the risen Christ the prophetic fulfillment of Israel's Passover redemption.
The modern Passover observance takes place in the home, rather than the synagogue. It centers around a ritual meal called a seder, meaning "set order."
A special book, the haggadah, carefully details every aspect of the seder, its ceremonial foods, special songs, and prayers. It even outlines four specific questions to be asked by the youngest child: "Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we eat leavened bread and unleavened bread; on this night, we eat only unleavened bread.
"On all other nights, we eat all kind
Ceil Rosen and her husband Moishe have written Christ in the Passover (Moody).
of herbs; on this night, we eat only bitters.
"On all other nights, we do not dip even once; on this night, we dip twice.
"On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining; on this night, we all recline."
The ritual answer includes the whole joyful saga of the first Passover.
Just as that original Passover was an object lesson to Israel, Jewish authorities formulated the seder to teach through the five senses: the housewife lights candles to bring awareness that this time is set apart for worship. She sets the table with dinnerware used only at Passover, evidence that she has obeyed God's command to purge all leaven from her home. Each prayer, each melody, bears a special message; each ceremonial food — sweet or salty, bland or bitter, teaches its own lesson. The visual aids for these lessons are displayed in two prominent items on the seder table—the seder plate and the matzo tash.
GOD COMMANDED three Passover symbols: the sacrifice lamb, the bitter herbs, and the unleavened bread. Now that there is no Temple and no sacrifice, emphasis centers on the unleavened bread, called matzo. The matzo occupies a place of honor inside the matzo tash ("pocket for matzo"). This ornate bag contains three compartments for three wafers of matzo.
Matzo is a striped, cracker-like wafer about seven inches square, perforated with tiny holes to reduce bubbling. Passover matzo tastes very bland, for not even salt is added to the simple flour and water dough. Ask anyone at the Passover table about the meaning of the matzo, and he will probably reply "We eat matzo at Passover to remember that our ancestors fled Egypt so fast, they didn't have time to bake bread." But that simple wafer represents much more.
Early Jewish sages saw the matzo as
a symbol of the Paschal sacrifice. In
Temple times, the Passover lamb was
the last morsel eaten at the seder, that
the memory of redemption might
linger. After the destruction of the
Temple, a piece of matzo was eaten at
the end of the meal. ►►►
Moody / March 1978 37
The New Testament sheds more light on the meaning of the matzo in teaching that leaven symbolizes sin. To understand this better, examine the ancient method of breadmaking. They used the sourdough method, letting the dough ferment naturally by exposure to the yeast spores in the air. Then, before baking the bread, they set aside a chunk of this leavened dough. When they needed to bake bread again, they brought out the old leavened lump and mixed it into the new dough. Each batch of bread was organically linked to the batch before.
At Passover, the chain of leavening was broken, making a fresh start. All humanity is linked to Adam's sin. When Jesus died, the chain of sin was broken, so that all who believe might have a new beginning in Him.
The picture becomes clearer still as we envision the Upper Room. Jesus, reclining with the twelve at the Passover meal, takes up the matzo and says,' 'This is my body which is broken for you." The passover bread: two pure, basic elements, untainted by leaven. The Bread of heaven: the God/Man, untainted by sin. The Passover bread: striped and pierced. The suffering Messiah: striped by the Roman lash, hands and feet pierced by nails, side thrust through by the centurion's spear.
The Passover bread: three wafers within the three-in-one matzo tash. And now a mystifying seder ritual: the leader of the feast bypasses the upper wafer and removes the middle wafer. He breaks it. He puts half of it back into the matzo tash, wraps the remaining half in a napkin or silk bag and "buries" it under a cushion. This hidden piece, called aphikomen, will be brought out and distributed to everyone at the end of the meal, in commemoration of the Paschal lamb. Why three wafers of matzo? Why break the middle one? Why bury it? Judaism cannot say, but the Christian faith has the answer!
The SEDER PLATE, a round, com-partmented platter, holds six ceremonial foods. First, the greens—a lettuce leaf, a celery stalk, or sprig of parsley. In New Testament times the lettuce was used as a bitter herb appetizer. About this the sages
commented: "Lettuce is sweet to the taste and then becomes bitter; so the Egyptians at first gave our ancestors the best part of the land, and later embittered their lives." The greens, dipped in salt water, show that life is often immersed in tears, as it was for the Israelites in Egypt.
Next, we see a hard-boiled egg, roasted brown. Called Haggigah, it represents the holiday offering of Temple times. Before the regular meal, everyone at the table will eat a slice of hard-boiled egg, dipped in salt water, to portray mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Also on the seder plate are the two bitter herbs, commemorating the bitterness of Egyptian bondage. One is either a piece of whole horseradish, or an onion, or radish. The other is freshly ground horseradish. At a given point in the seder, everyone will dip matzo into the ground horseradish.
Closely connected with eating the bitters is the charoseth. This reddish-brown mixture of chopped apples, nuts, and spices, represents the clay from which the Israelite slaves made bricks for Pharoah. Some people eat charoseth together with the bitters, while others spoon it with a separate piece of matzo. One might wonder why, if the labor was bitter, do we eat the sweet mixture with the bitter herbs? One sage explained: "When we knew our redemption was near, even the bitterest labor was sweet!"
The last item on the seder plate, a roasted lamb shank or chicken neck, symbolizes the Paschal sacrifice. The shankbone is a sad reminder that Israel has no Temple, no priesthood, no sacrifice. Its Hebrew name is z'roah, meaning "arm." This same word describes the Messiah as the Arm of the Lord in Isaiah 53. The Pentateuch also uses z'roah to describe redemption being accomplished by God's outstretched arm. Most Jewish people know that thez'roah on the seder plate represents the Paschal lamb, but few realize that it depicts Jesus, the Arm of the Lord, the Lamb of God, the fulfillment of the Passover Iamb.
DESPITE MOMENTARY sadness over the Temple and the hardships in Egypt, a joyful mood prevails at the seder as Jews remember God's deliverance
and provision. Since wine represents joy, no seder is complete without the fruit of the vine. The assembled company will raise their goblets four times during the ceremonial meal in praise to the Creator.
While the drinking of the four cups portrays joy, early rabbinic tradition taught that the red wine also represented the blood of the Paschal lamb. At the Last Supper Jesus lifted the third seder cup after the meal, saying, "This is my blood of the new covenant." He identified Himself with the Passover lamb, the Messiah.
Those who do not recognize Him as the Lamb of God are still looking for the Messiah. Jewish tradition teaches that Elijah will herald His coming at Passover. Therefore, Elijah is the hoped-for guest at every Passover table. His special cup stands untouched before the empty chair at the far end of the table. A little child is sent to the door to see if Elijah is coming. Everyone proclaims: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" But no one is there. The door is shut, and the service continues.
More than 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah. He preached: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Many at the riverside did receive John's message, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" But many are blind and deaf to that message.
The theme of Messiah's coming occurs many times during the seder. The service closes with the words, Next year in Jerusalem, meaning next year may the Messiah already have come and set up His kingdom.
In the seder service, we see the Passover lamb and the Lamb of God. We see the Passover bread and the Bread of Life; we see the bondage of Egypt and the bondage of sin. We see physical freedom for the Israelites, and spiritual freedom for all God's redeemed.
This year, on the evening of April
21, Jews around the world will be
celebrating the physical redemption
expressed in the Passover seder,
without knowing true redemption.
This Easter, as you contemplate our
great redemption in Christ for
His brethren who do not yet know
38 Moody / March 1978