Why Passover? Part I

I think our kids may end up a tad confused.

Our family Seder plate
Our family Seder plate

Having roundly nixed Pigwig’s suggestion last October that we celebrate Divali at home (her request was mainly because she liked the pretty henna hand decorations it turns out rather than for any deeper reason), why would I now be suggesting we celebrate Passover as a family this Maundy Thursday?

If you’ve celebrated Passover as part of your preparation for Easter before, you can probably skim across the next few paragraphs but if it seems a bit odd to you that a Christian parenting blog should be all gungho about the idea of (loosely) following the rites of another religion, please bear with me! Understanding the Passover has honestly transformed my experience of Easter and made sense of so many aspects of the Gospel narratives. Are you ready to be excited?

So, I’m guessing you know that the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples was a Passover meal. This last meal with his friends became the basis for Communion, The Lords Supper, Mass or whatever you call it in your tradition. Either way Bread, Wine and “Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me” all come from that Passover meal Jesus ate with his friends.

This remembrance bit is really crucial. If you have any familiarity with either the Old Testament or Judaism, you’ll probably know that there are many occasions where the Almighty ordains remembrance of events in the history of His chosen people. Sukkoth (or Booths) for example, is a remembrance of God’s provision for a people wandering in the wilderness, and Jews are instructed to construct booths in which to spend at least parts of the festival, with the explicit decree that the sky must be visible through the roof of the shelter The festival commemorates the time the Children of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness, hence the annual instruction to effectively go camping in the back garden! Remembering is BIG in the Old Testament and the tangible ways in which the Jews were to partake in remembering that event are often laid out, just to make it really clear that this is a community and family event and not just a brief nod and quick read over the story in the synagogue of a Sabbath. The Jews were doing interactive worship and home-based learning experiences centuries before we suddenly realised their usefulness!

Passover is the biggest festival of all. It remembers the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt and slavery to Pharaoh. The Passover meal (known as the Seder) is ordained in the Bible and contains several symbolic foods, some prescribed in the Bible and some added later. Each food reminds the diners of some aspect of slavery or of God’s provision. As the meal is eaten (always in the home, not at the synagogue), the story of the Exodus is related with plenty of enthusiastic audience participation, accompanied with tastings and/or consumption of the symbolic foods. Some are none too pleasant, such as the salt water which represents the tears of the slaves in Egypt and some are super-tasty, such as the fruity hash called Harosset which stands in for the mortar the slaves used to build Pharoah’s pyramids..

So let’s return to the question: Why would we want to be telling any other story during Holy Week than that of Jesus himself, even if Passover is interesting and, maybe to be honest, a lot more joyful than the sad events of Holy Week? Sure, maybe a re-enactment of that last meal with His disciples might be nice as an activity for children, maybe with some foot washing to emphasise the servant heart of Jesus, but why make any more of it than that?

But, here’s the thing. It was no accident that Jesus’ death occurred at Passover. It wasn’t like on Eastenders where they always seem to have a murder at Christmas. The Crucifixion didn’t just happen to coincide with this feast and both Jesus’ disciples would have been fully aware of this, at least after the Resurrection. There is a far bigger narrative going on here and it’s exciting because it shows that God’s plan for the redemption of humanity was always planned and was already in train hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. It also points to His complete control over the cruel events of Holy Week. As we look at the events of Passover and Easter, they are inextricably interwoven. It’s almost like a story within a story.

Much of what I have learned about Passover has come from either an amazing talk I attended about 20 years ago but a local Messianic Jewish lady or from the writings of Michelle Guiness who grew up in a Jewish home and converted to Christianity aged 17. She then went back later in life to explore her Jewish heritage and festivals and how they relate to each of the Christian festivals. And relate they do – incredibly powerfully! Each one is a foreshadowing of what God had planned through Jesus. I thoroughly recommend her book “The Heavenly Party” if you are at all intrigued by this subject. It gives a much more detailed explanation of all these things.

So, back to Passover. On the Seder plate are a set of symbolic foods (other foods are also served to make up the main portion of the meal but they are not discussed). Each food is tasted at the relevant point in the story which is usually told by the most senior male present.

The foods are as follows:

Roasted lamb shank bone – represents the lambs slaughtered in Egypt whose blood was smeared on the door posts of the Jewish homes to protect the firstborns inside from the Angel of Death. Also represents the later lambs sacrificed at the Temple at Passover

Hard boiled egg – a traditional food of mourning, representing grief for the destruction of the Temple

Bitter herbs (usually horseradish) – represents the bitterness of suffering in Egypt

Harosset –  a mixture of fruit, fresh apple, dried fruits, wine, honey and spices, depending on your family’s tradition, representing the mortar used by the slaves in Egypt and how hard they had to work

Slice of onion or boiled potato or parsley – this is dipped in a bowl of salty water and tasted to represent the tears of the slaves in Egypt

Lettuce – (such as Cos) – also chosen to represent the bitterness of slavery

Matzoh (unleavened bread) – this isn’t actually put on the Seder plate but three unbroken Matzoh crackers are placed in a special cover on the table.

Not every one of these items would have been part of Jesus’ Seder. The egg, for instance, wouldn’t have been needed and some of the foods are later cultural additions, although carefully thought through by rabbis. However, central to Passover were the lamb, the unleavened bread, and the salt water and bitter herbs.

Here they are again, with the symbolism they took on after Jesus’ death.

Lamb – God decreed that the Passover lamb had to be perfect. Jesus led a perfect life and became the final sacrifice, the only one one necessary for the forgiveness of our  sins. The lamb bone therefore represents Him.

Bitter herbs and salt water – both represent the hardship of slavery. Just as the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, we have all been slaves to sin and Jesus frees us from that bitter slavery and leads us into a new life of abundance.

Unleavened bread – if you’ve never seen a matzoh (my kids love them with Marmite!), they look a little like a huge cream cracker with tiny holes in. They have slight scorch marks on one side. This bread reminds us of Jesus who was bruised, pierced and, as happens during the Passover meal, broken. One of the Matzohs is also wrapped in a white cloth (like grave clothes) and hidden (just as Jesus was put in a tomb for 3 days). The Matzoh is then found by one of the children present and returned to the table to finish the celebration, just as Jesus came back to life to the jubilation of his disciples.

Do you start to see what was going on as Jesus celebrated that Passover with His friends? The old story of freedom from slavery was taking on a whole new layer of meaning and it was the perfect way to explain His coming death to His disciples, steeped as they were in Jewish tradition. It was like the ultimate interactive parable.

So, I’ll come back and suggest some ways you could celebrate Passover either in your church, home group or home next week but, for now, this link contains a full and very well thought out Order of Service for a Christianised Passover meal . Although probably unsuitable for kids at primary school or younger, it will give you a great explanation and illustration of how a Passover meal can be set up in a church or domestic setting, We’ve used this order of service at church and it worked really well and was a very moving experience.

I’ve also got several links to other resources for Passover here, ,any of which can be used with younger children.

Do let me know what you think. Does Passover intrigue you? Have you attended any Passover meals, whether Jewish or Christian? (We’ve been to both as my husband has Jewish relatives). What was your experience like?

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  1. […] last week, I wrote about why we might consider celebrating a Passover meal with our children and the extra depth of meaning it can add to […]

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