Week 7: Holy Week “The Way of the Servant”: The Passover

Maundy Thursday, April 13

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:  This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.  Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.  If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.  They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.  You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.  This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.  For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord.  The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance” (Exod 12:1-14)    

All four Gospels connect Jesus’ last week on earth with Passover. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’ last supper with his followers is a Passover meal (Matt 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). In John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified on “the day of Preparation,” when the Passover lamb was slain (John 19:14). Pesach (the Jewish term for Passover) recalls the Exodus from Egypt; however, this meal is more than a memorial of Israel’s deliverance. As Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim understood (Emil Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History: Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections [New York: Harper and Row, 1972]), Pesach reenacts and reaffirms Israel’s root experience: the deliverance from bondage at the Red Sea that made them a people.

So too, when we Christians break the bread and share the cup, we reenact and reaffirm our root experience in Christ: it is as though we are there, with Jesus, at his final meal. We not only remember his death, we experience it—and the resurrection life that follows. Jesus’ last meal with his followers becomes a foretaste of the messianic banquet in the new age, to which we are also invited. But, as Jesus grimly warns, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:11-12). As we saw in our first week, in Joel 2:28-29, the body of Christ is larger than the small circle of those like us. Moreover, the table is Christ’s, not ours; we should be leery of presuming to bar from it those whom Jesus invites. May the Lord’s Supper truly be for us the Lord’s Supper, and not ours, where we can meet sisters and brothers we did not know that we had!

Prayer: “Eternal God, in the sharing of a meal
your son established a new covenant for all people,
and in the washing of feet
he showed us the dignity of service.
Grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit
these signs of our life in faith
may speak again to our hearts,
feed our spirits, and refresh our bodies.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.(Reprinted from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers, copyright © 2002 Consultation on Common Texts).


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