The Passover is celebrated by Jewish people all over the world. The table meal at the Passover is called the Seder, which is a very solemn religious celebration. It is a time of reflection, remembering when the Lord led His people out of slavery into the land that God had prepared to fulfil the coming of the messianic age – His redemptive plan for humanity through the Messiah.
I have fond memories of when my family celebrated Passover. Every year it was a very exciting time for us children. We looked forward to having cousins and the children of the friends whom my parents invited to celebrate Passover. The house was filled with laughter and wonderful smells, and lots and lots of wonderful foods and gifts. We children looked forward especially to the gifts that we received at the celebration of the finding of the matzah (unleavened bread). I remember my mother spending a week beforehand cleaning the house with a helper and then hiding a few crumbs from the matzah for my father to find on the Passover day.
Leaven & Light
All leaven was removed from the house. My mother taught us that it was never to be forgotten that the Israelites left Egypt so quickly that they did not have time to make bread with yeast. However, year after year she left one small piece of leaven for my father to find. My father would wear a white overall, wash his hands and recite prayers before the search for leaven. He took a feather, a napkin and a candle and searched for the leaven. On the eve of the Passover, there followed the lighting of the candles, which represent the light of God, the temple light. But to a Jewish person believing in Jesus, the light from the candles represents the Light of Christ.
The Four Cups
Before the Seder meal started we all had to wash our hands and then the meal followed with a blessing. On the table my mother placed four ornate crystal cups:
- the cup of sanctification – ‘Therefore, say to the Israelites: “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians”’ (Ex. 6:6).
- the cup of judgment – the plagues that God sent over Egypt.
- the cup of redemption – this would have been the cup that Jesus took in the Gospels, ‘In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”’ (Lk. 22:20).
- the cup of praise – this is followed by the psalms of praise. ‘After singing psalms, they went out to the Mount of Olives’ (Mk 14:26).
The Cup of Elijah – there is also another cup, one that is not drunk but left with an empty chair. At the end of the Seder meal the head of the household, my father, would open the door to wait for Elijah.
Both the cup and the chair were left untouched in honour of Elijah. My father would tell us that according to tradition, Elijah will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. As believers we know that the Messiah has come already and will return.
In our outreach to Jewish people we use apologetics and show how Christ is revealed in the various Jewish festivals
Symbols of Suffering
On the Passover table there was the karpas (parsley) that is dipped into salt water and the matzah. The leader of the Seder takes the matzah and breaks it into three pieces, the middle piece is broken and half is wrapped in a linen cloth for the afikomen (a piece broken off from the matzah). Traditionally, being the younger son I would ask four questions:
- Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat either bread or matzah; on this night, why only matzah?
- On all other nights we eat herbs or vegetables of any kind; on this night why bitter herbs?
- On all other nights we do not dip even once; on this night why do we dip twice?
- On all other nights we eat our meals in any manner; on this night why do we sit around the table together in a reclining position?
The rest of my family at the Seder would answer: ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And if God had not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would still be subjugated to Pharaoh in Egypt. On all other nights we may eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night, we all recline.’
My father then proceeded to recite the blessing of the maror (bitter herbs). The bitter herbs speak of sorrow, the persecution and the suffering of the people under the hand of Pharaoh. On our Seder table we also had the Paschal Lamb shank bone, horseradish and the charosets.1 The Paschal Lamb shank bone represents the lamb that our forefathers ate during the temple times – ‘Does not the Scripture say: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth’ (Isa 53:7). Horseradish brings tears to the eyes in remembrance of the tears that the Israelites suffered under Pharaoh and the charosets, which is made up of raisins, cinnamon, apple and honey, represent the mortar used to make bricks under harsh conditions. My father would break olive-sized pieces of the herbs. I remember how excited we were as children when we were told to search for the afikomen. My father would redeem it by giving the child who found it a coin or a gift.
The matzah is unleavened, it is striped and it is pierced. My family were not believers but I now know that the Messiah was unleavened, that is, sinless. The Messiah was marked by way of the Roman whip, He was pierced by the nails in His hands and His feet, and speared in His side. As a believer in the Messiah, we can eat this piece in a communion service, remembering what happened in the upper room at the Last Supper. In the same way, a believer eating matzah can be reminded of what the Messiah did for humanity in that He came and gave Himself for our sins. After the supper in the upper room, Jesus raised the cup and stated: ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is poured out for you’ (Lk 22:20). This cup that represents the New Covenant is the Cup of Redemption, His death and resurrection. The Scriptures tell us that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin (Heb. 9:22). In Messiah’s death God did not just cover sin, He took sin away. Our Messiah came, He died, shedding His blood, even as the Passover Lamb of old, to provide for all who will place their faith and trust in Him.
Sadly, as many Jewish people have not accepted their Messiah, year after year at the Passover Seder they open the door to expect the long-awaited coming of the Anointed. In our outreach to Jewish people we use apologetics and show how Christ is revealed in the various Jewish festivals by inviting them to attend talks and demonstrations. We also invite churches and individuals to similar events, to help them understand the festivals and how to reach out to Jewish people.
As believers in the Messiah, we recognise that sacrifice is no longer necessary, because the death of our Saviour satisfied the need for sacrifice. In His death there is life. In the shedding of His blood there is remission of sin. Those in Christ will rise first. ‘After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever’ (1 Thess. 4:17).
Seder ends with the statement: ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ because the Jewish people hope that the Messiah will come and will draw His people to the land of promise. We, as Messianic Jews and believers in Yeshua, can already rejoice as we know if we have Yeshua as our Saviour that He is the promised Messiah, the fulfilment of the Law, the redeemer of both Jew and gentile. He is the true vine. So this teaching on the Lord’s Passover is now complete, even as our salvation and redemption are complete. Just as we are privileged and blessed to celebrate it this year and in the future until He returns.