Sunday, April 12, 2009

Passover and Communion

I had the opportunity to participate in a Passover Seder last week. It was a very eye-opening experience. It is one thing to grow up understanding the bread represents Jesus body, and the wine/grape juice/"fruit of the vine" His blood. The Bible says that Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples, then they sang a hymn and went to the Mount of Olives.

But there's so much more to it than that! To explain, we have to get a little Jewish.

Passover or the feast of unleavened bread was a yearly celebration to remind the Hebrews of their slavery and their redemption by God. The Seder has probably changed a little bit since Jesus' day, but my understanding was it went something like this:

The Seder requires the participant to (throughout the meal) have four cups of wine. The four cups are based upon Exodus 6:6-7 ("bring out", "deliver", "redeem", "praise"). Between the first and second cup, Jews eat some ceremonial items, such as bitter herbs, parsley dipped in salt water (to remind them of the tears that were shed), a sweet mixture reminding them of the mortar for bricks, a roasted egg dipped in salt water.

Traditionally, Jews have three large pieces of matzo (unleavened) bread. By definition, unleavened matzo dough is pierced before cooked at a high temperature. The three matzos are separated and placed in a cloth, with each of the matzo in a separate compartment. At one point in the Seder, the middle matzo is removed from the cloth, and broken in two. One half of the matzo is returned to the cloth, and the other half, called the afikoman is hidden by the father for the kids to find and eat after the dinner meal, almost as a dessert (remember this for later!).

The youngest asks the ritual questions about what the night is about, etc. They also retell the story of coming out of slavery. Then, after the second cup of wine, the actual Passover meal is served. During the time of the temple, a lamb would be eaten. Since there is no temple (and thus no sacrifice), matzo soup or brisket (mmmmm) is served.

At this point, the children hunt for that afikoman. When it is found, each person breaks off a piece about the size of an olive (a large Mediterranean olive) and eats it. The third cup of wine is poured, and a blessing is recited over the cup of redemption.

Songs are sung, and a last cup of wine is poured and drunk for Hallel, or praise (you know Hallel, one transliteration from Hebrew is Hallelujah, or "praise the Lord").

Okay, so what does all that mean? I'd like to piece what the Bible tells us along with Jewish tradition to gain a better understanding of what happened.

Jesus celebrated the last Passover meal (and his last meal) with his disciples on that Thursday night. The gospels tell us that at supper, Jesus took the bread and blessed it, and said, "Take, eat, this is My body."

Allow me to digress for just a moment. If you remember, the afikoman was broken from the middle or 2nd matzo in the cloth. What do the three matzos represent? Some say the patriarchs, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. So why take the middle/second one and break it, why not the first or third? I don't think anyone knows exactly what the matzos represent. But let me take a stab at it. What if the matzos represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the trinity? The middle matzo is broken and hidden from view, but is then shared with all.

Wouldn't it be fitting if the bread Jesus broke was the afikoman? Jesus passes it to his disciples and says, "This is my body, broken for you." Have you ever noticed that matzo is pierced? Pierced just like Jesus' body. In fact, you can shine a light through matzo. Jesus could tell his disciples that the bread they were eating represented him, the Bread of Life.

After the blessing and pouring the third cup of wine (which represented the Israelites redemption from slavery), Jesus said that the wine represented his blood, the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Jesus is redemption from our slavery of sin, which is the new covenant.

The next time you remember Jesus' death through the bread and wine, think of the shared afikoman, and the cup of redemption which through his shed blood frees us from our slavery!

Happy Easter!