Based on Exodus 12:1-14, 1Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17
Passover began last night at sundown and it continues on for seven more days. Passover, as you all are probably aware, is the celebration instituted by God which commemorates the “passing over” of the Hebrew people by the final plague visited upon the Egyptians. The blood of an unblemished year-old lamb was used to mark the lintel and doorposts as a sign of belonging to God. The spirit of death then passed over that house and did not claim the first born as it did across the rest of Egypt. This was the tenth and final plague that caused Pharaoh to release the Hebrews from their bondage and allow them to leave Egypt to go and worship God in the wilderness. The initial Passover meal was eaten in haste as God knew that Pharaoh would release the slaves and then change his mind. The people had to be ready to leave immediately once the order was given.
The celebratory meal (the Seder) that is now eaten on one or both of the first two nights of Passover, is a leisurely affair with many prayers and at least four cups of wine. There are seven different items that are consumed during the meal; they are unleavened bread (matzot), bitter herbs to denote the bitterness of slavery, salt water to denote tears that were shed, an egg to represent the pre-Passover offering that was given to the Temple, a paste of apples, pears, nuts and wine that symbolize the mortar in bricks, the shank bone of a lamb, and the parsley (or vegetable) which symbolizes the backbreaking work of the enslaved Hebrews. All of these items are more recent additions to the initial three items in Exodus of a lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Seder meals are family affairs and can last many hours. A scaled down and hastily eaten version of the Seder was the last meal that Jesus shared with His Disciples.
Jesus was well known for taking everyday activities or understandings of His audience and turning them on their head. In Chapter five of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says numerous times to those gathered, “…You have heard that it was said…”. He then goes on to state what was commonly heard and then shows how that common understanding was flawed from the way that God intended the saying to be understood. Similarly, at this last meal with his friends, Jesus took the sacred Seder meal and made it into a true communion where he ritually gave of his very flesh and blood that all who believed in Him might be with Him until He comes again in glory. On this holy night, let us give thanks to God for this great act of love through Jesus…
Psalm 116 is a song of thanksgiving for recovery from an illness – quite fitting in this current time! The writer has been saved by our gracious, righteous and merciful God. The Psalmist “lifts the cup of salvation” to the LORD and pledges his life-long service as a thanksgiving for the deliverance from death.
The story from Exodus, the Gospel reading from John and the short passage from 1Corinthians all give us a slightly different view of the Passover and its reimagining into Holy Communion shared by Christians. The Exodus account is the story of the first Passover which marked the house of Israel (literally in blood) as God’s chosen people. God had heard their cries from bondage and was about to release them following one last terrible plague on Egypt. Nothing could be left over, no time to allow the yeast to leaven the bread, packed up and ready to travel – all had to be ready to depart at a moment’s notice. This story has been told every year since that night to recognize God’s salvation given to God’s people.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus reimagines the ritual handwashing from the Passover meal and turns it into an act of servanthood. The hands of the Disciples were ritually cleaned during the Seder meal and usually the servant of the house where the meal was shared would wash the feet of the arriving guests. Jesus acted as both host and servant and therefore showed his love by washing the feet of the Disciples to show how God wished them to be in relationship characterized by servanthood with one another.
There are action statements contained in the Passover meal. These statements of God to God’s people are (in order of occurrence during the meal): I am the LORD and I will bring you out of bondage, I will deliver you from Egypt, I will redeem you, I will take you as my people. Paul tells us that Jesus reimagines these statements in His actions with the bread and wine. Jesus takes the bread and breaks it and gives thanks to God who breaks our bondage to sin and death. Jesus then says that eating the blessed bread will redeem all who believe. The cup that Jesus blessed and shared is the cup of a new covenant between God and God’s people, which reinvigorates the bond that was made on the original Passover night.
Jesus reimagined the sacred Passover Seder meal and brought new meaning to it. No longer was it just about a one-time release from slavery. It was now a meal that was to be shared by all who believed in Christ and sought to be in right relationship with God and with one another. The meaning of the meal was reimagined and expanded to not only restore our relationships but to also release us from our bondage to sin and to death. It now became a meal that could be celebrated more than just once each year as a memorial – it became a sacrament that keeps our connection to God and each other constantly renewed. John Wesley felt that one really could not partake of Holy Communion too often – he partook daily at times in his life. However, when it was impractical to have Holy Communion, the believer would still be in the graces of God as long as that believer was doing like Christ and giving of themselves as a servant to others.
Thus, in this time of fasting from our Holy Communion, let us maintain our right relationships with God and one another by confessing our sins and seeking God’s pardon. If you have your Hymnals, please open to page #12 and say with me the prayer of “Confession and Pardon”; “…Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen….”
Won’t you now reach out to each other and extend the peace of Christ – as He extended it that night so long ago when He served His Disciples one last time? This is the way that Jesus reimagined the people of God – as parts of a whole body of believers who were in right relationship to God and to each other. On this holy night we remember how Jesus reimagined our lives together and how He will bring believers together from now until He returns. May the love of Almighty God and the peace of Christ be with you now and always. Amen!