April 8, 2009

The Holy Week: Part III - Passover


As the disciples sat on the ground surrounding the Master, they listened to him as he told the story of the first Passover night that took place almost 1500 years before. He told them of how Israel had been in bondage by the Egyptians and that on that night, because of the death of the first born son of Pharaoh, and the sacrifice of the lamb, that Israel would now be freed. He told them of how that after having sacrificed the lamb, they took of its blood and spread it upon the doorposts of each home as a token of protection. Then Jesus took the unleavened bread that had been prepared for the feast and broke it into pieces. “Take, eat; this is my body.” The disciples each stared in wonder as they each partook of the broken bread. Then Jesus took the cup of wine and said: “Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” As Peter stared on in amazement he asked within himself “what is the meaning of this?” “What did the Master mean by saying this was his body and bread?” (see Matthew 26:26-28)

The day was Thursday, the first day of the Passover feast. As the evening approached Jesus and His disciples gathered in a large upper room on Mount Zion. The home most likely belonged to the mother of Mark (the gospel writer) who would be only a young man at this time. The gathering most likely consisted of not only the twelve disciples, but also other men and woman who had become followers of Christ as Passover was a time for the entire family. All of the preparations would have been made before hand and the table (most likely a triclinium, a low "U" shaped table) was set with all of the necessary elements for the Passover. It would include the sacrificed lamb, the maror (a combination of highly bitter herbs), the haroset (an apple mixture much like chunky apple sauce), the wine, and the unleavened bread.

The meal would start with a prayer after which the guests of the feast would partake of the first cup of wine called the “cup of blessing” (see Luke 22:15-18). The leader would then break a piece of the unleavened bread and hide it within a white cloth that would be passed around, later to be “redeemed” by the host (in this case Jesus). The story of the Passover would then be recounted as the participants would remember that night long ago when the Israelites were freed from their Egyptian captors. As a critical part of this recitation was the question that was asked by the youngest member of the group (possibly John the beloved): “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Whereupon the head of the home would tell the son that they were slaves in Egypt, but the Eternal Father brought them out by His outstretched arm. Jesus must have been filled with emotion beyond compare as He responded to this question; for truly on this night the true deliverance of all mankind would be accomplished.

Next, Jesus would explain the symbolism of each of the items found on the table. The lamb represented the unblemished lamb that had been slaughtered that they might be freed from the angel of death. The unleavened bread represented the swiftness of the flight for the Israelites, for they would not have time to use leaven or yeast in their bread as they left Egypt in haste. The bitter herbs were to represent the bitterness of bondage in Egypt. The apple mixture was to represent the mud made by the Israelites to create the wonders of Egypt.

Upon completing this explanation, the celebrants raised the second cup of wine (the “cup of remembrance”), blessed it and then drank of it. Then each partook of a piece of unleavened bread, bitter herbs and the apple mixture (if you have never eaten bitter herbs as part of a Passover, words cannot describe how horrendous this moment is). With the fumes of the bitter herbs in their mouth, the participants now would partake of the Passover dinner. It is significant that that which takes away the terrible aftertaste of the bitter herbs is that of partaking of the sacrificed lamb.

After the meal was complete the master of the table would then ask for the piece of bread to come forth that had been hidden. He would then “redeem” the piece by bargaining or purchasing it from the holder that all might partake of it. At this point Jesus then took of this piece of bread and said “Take, eat; this is my body” (see Matthew 26:26). It is highly significant that He would use the piece that was to be redeemed or purchased, for He who was the “bread of life” would redeem all that they might be able to partake of life eternal. The company then would bless and partake of the third cup of wine, called the “cup of redemption.” At this point, Jesus would take of the cup and say “this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (see Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20). Again, it is considerable that this third cup was called the “cup of redemption,” for truly it was through His blood that all would be redeemed.

The last part of the Passover meal was the partaking of the fourth and last cup of wine called the “cup of hope and freedom.” Jesus concluded the Passover meal by stating: “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (see Matthew 26:29). Thus, Jesus tells his disciples that He will not partake of this last cup of “hope and freedom” until the second coming when the millennium will be ushered in and true hope and freedom will reign on earth.*

Each week as we partake of the sacrament we have the opportunity to participate in this symbolic ritual; a ritual that can teach us of true deliverance and of true hope. Each of us has sinned and has thus come short of the glory of God. We all are in spiritual bondage and are unable to free ourselves from these eternal chains. The only way we can be released is if we have the power of another who can reach down to us and raise us from our depths of sin and despair. Jesus Christ has come to earth to pull us from the depths of this captivity. He has given His life, being the firstborn of the Father, that we may each be freed. As we partake of the sacrament we remember the atonement of Christ, just as Jews remember, by the Passover meal, the captivity and the redemption of the early Israelites from Egypt. We remember that it was because Christ’s body was bruised and broken for our sakes that we are freed. Just as His body was broken, so is the bread broken and torn to represent His suffering. We remember His shed blood in Gethsemane and on Golgotha by partaking of the water or wine. As we partake of these emblems we literally make these elements a part of our body. Likewise, for the atonement to have full effect in our lives, we must make it part of us; we must allow the atonement to nourish and strengthen our very souls. As we learn to make His atonement a part of our soul and become at-one with Him, we will be freed from our spiritual and physical captors that hold us captive. I pray that on this holy day we may ponder and think of the sacrifice the Savior offered on our part that we might be freed. I pray that we each may become at-one with Christ through this supernal ordinance of the gospel.

*The above description is only a possible depiction of the Last Supper according to current Jewish Tradition on how the Passover is to be performed and the use of the four Gospels to fill in other missing information.

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