The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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Passover "seder"

In the evening Jesus left his loved ones in Bethany (the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha) for the last time. The shadows of Gethsemane were gathering about him, the cross was already growing heavy on his shoulders, the sweat was forming on his brow. Mary watched him move slowly away over the shoulder of the hill. Her love would tell her much. Something of his burden was communicated to her as she bravely smiled her answer to his last farewell. She watched him go with an anguish too great for tears. But when he had gone, the smile would fade and her eyes would reveal something of the pain and loneliness that was in her heart. The cruelty and lust of man, which was so soon to be directed against the love of God revealed in Christ, pierced also the heart of the one who loved. And so it has done ever since. No true disciple of Jesus can pass through the coming hours without the sword piercing his own soul also.

It was probably as the sun was beginning to decline on the horizon that Jesus and the other 10 disciples descended once more over the Mount of Olives into the Holy City. Before them lay Jerusalem in her festive attire. All around, pilgrims were hastening toward it. White tents dotted the meadows, gay with the bright flowers of early spring, or peered out from the gardens and the darker foliage of the olive orchards.

From the gorgeous Temple buildings, dazzling in their snow-white marble and gold, on which the slanting rays of the sun were reflected, rose the smoke of the altar of burnt-offering. These courts would soon be crowded with eager worshipers, offering for the last time, in the real sense, their Passover lambs. The streets were thronged with strangers, and the flat roofs covered with eager sightseers.

And now they were within the city. Its temple, its splendid palaces, its busy markets, its streets filled with happy people, were well-known to them. They made they way to the house where the guestchamber had been prepared for them.

Luk 22:14: Outside, in the city, there was darkness and the sense of impending death. Already, men with swords and staves were seeking him. But, inside the house, there was... light and love and life and hope.

* The lighting of the candles... by the mothers.

And Jesus, the host, prepares to celebrate "this passover" -- his passover (Luk 22:15) with his disciples.

* Why no lamb at Jesus' passover? Because this was the "day of preparation", one day too early; everything was prepared, except that there was no lamb yet. Why? Jesus IS the Lamb!

THE ORDER (Heb Seder):

* First cup of wine is poured. This is the cup for Elijah: Mal 3:1; 4:5... Mar 1:2-4; Joh 1:29 (looking for Elijah).

* Giving of thanks (ie Luk 22:17,18): "Blessed art Thou, Yahweh our God, King of the Universe, who has chosen us from among all people, and exalted us from among all languages, and sanctified us with thy commandments. And thou hast given us, O Yahweh our God, in love, the solemn days for joy, and the festivals and appointed seasons for gladness, and this the day of the feast of unleavened bread, the season of our freedom, a holy convocation, the memorial of our departure from Egypt. For us has Thou chosen; and us thou has sanctified from among all nations, and Thy holy festivals with joy and with gladness hast Thou caused us to inherit. Blessed art Thou, O Yahweh, who sanctifiest Israel and the appointed seasons! Blessed art thou, Yahweh, King of the Universe, who hast preserved us alive and sustained us and brought us to this season!"

* The first cup is drunk, by everyone. (The wine/grape juice is warm, symbolizing blood poured out.)

* Ritual washing of hands. (Probably here Jesus also washes the disciples' feet: Joh 13:4,5,13-17, an example to quarrelsome, ambitious, selfish disciples.)

* Herbs, dipped in bitter water, are eaten by host and given to others. (Sym the bitterness, sweat of slavery in Egypt: Exo 2:23-25.)

* Haggadah ("setting forth, instruction"): Teaching, by the form of questions and answers, the true meanings of the Passover meal.

Question 1: "Why is this night different from all nights? On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but this night only unleavened bread."
A: We eat unleavened bread because our fathers had to leave Egypt in haste -- there was no time for the bread to rise.

Question 2: "On other nights, we may eat any herbs (vegetables), but tonight... only bitter herbs. Why?"
A: We eat bitter herbs because our fathers knew the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.

Question 3: "Why, tonight, must we eat charoseth?" (Mortar-like fruit and nut mixture.)
A: We must eat charoseth because our fathers made bricks as slaves in Egypt.

Question 4: "On other nights we may eat either sitting up or reclining? Why, tonight, do we all recline?"
A: We must recline, at peace and rest, because we are no longer slaves in Egypt.

* Exo 12:8: Rabbi Gamaliel (apostle Paul's teacher) said regarding the Passover: "Whosoever does not explain three things in the Passover has not fulfilled the duty incumbent on him. These three things are: the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs. The lamb means that God passed over (to overshadow and protect) the blood-sprinkled places on the houses of our fathers in Egypt. The unleavened bread means that our fathers were delivered out of Egypt in haste. and the bitter herbs mean that the Egyptians made bitter the lives of our fathers in Egypt."

* Psa 136: Great Hallel: responsive reading: "His love endures forever!"

Thus, one by one, the dishes were explained.

* Matzah: "Behold the matzah, unleavened bread of poverty, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; all who are needy, come and celebrate the Passover with us. Now we are here; next year may we observe the Passover in the Land of Israel. Now many are still enslaved; next year may all men be free."

* Game: Who Knows One?

* Hymn: 47.

* Psa 113; 114: The first part of the Hallel is now sung. (Cp Rev 14:1,3; 15:3: Here is likely the "new song", the song of Moses and the Lamb.)

* A brief prayer is now offered: "Blessed art thou, Yahweh our god, King of the Universe, who hast redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt."

* Finally, the second cup is drunk. (The "cup of plagues"... for everyone.)

* Hands are washed again.

* The unleavened bread is broken. (The aphikomen -- the one who comes after!: one matzah, broken, wrapped in white cloth, to be saved for later.)

* Then thanks is given: "Blessed are you, O Lord..." (Bread may now be eaten.)

* Unleavened bread is dipped in charoseth (a mixture of vinegar, apples, dates, raisins, nuts, and other fruits -- sym the thick mortar or mud used to make bricks in Egypt). This is the "sop" which Christ gives to Judas, as an unspoken signal to John. "Is it I?": the purging of the leaven. Judas now departs... the irony of Joh 13:30.

* Further, on the Haggadah, the Torah speaks of four types of children:

(1) The wise child asks: "What is the meaning of the laws, regulations, and ordinances which the Lord our God has commanded us?" To him you shall explain all the laws of Passover even to the last detail.

(2) The rebellious child asks: "What does this service mean to YOU?" By using the expression "to you", it is evident that this service has no significance for HIM. He has thus excluded himself from his people and denied God; therefore give him a caustic answer and say: "It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." "For me," not for HIM, for had HE been there in Egypt, he would not have deserved to be liberated!

(3) The simple child asks: "What does it all mean?" Tell him simply, "With a mighty hand, the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."

(4) As for the young child, who does not know yet how to ask, begin by explaining, as we are told: "I do this because of what the LORD did for me."

* Haggadah: setting forth. At this point the Passover Lamb would normally be "set forth" and eaten. There is no lamb except Christ. So he "sets forth" himself: "I am the good shepherd... I am the true vine... Behold the lamb of God..." (Significance of Rom 3:23-25 and 1Co 11:26.)

* Joh 13:31-34: A "new" commandment. Not really new (remember: "Love your neighbor as yourself") except that Christ was now to give it the perfect interpretation (Joh 15:10-13: "AS I have loved you"). Joh 13:35: our greatest challenge.

There was a solemnity about these moments which must have kept the disciples silent. They would sense the sanctity of something too great to understand, but they would feel a sudden sense of new fellowship with their Lord. Their hearts were bursting with a new emotion, and they must have kept their eyes lowered as Jesus looked from one to another. He knew their hearts and his spirit flowed out to them with a love he had not hitherto revealed.

His little children... What the disciples could not know was that even while his love encompassed them in this simple memorial, his eyes were lifted beyond them down the years that were yet to be: towards disciples gathered in caves with Roman soldiers dogging their steps; towards men and women dying in the mountains with his Name upon their lips; towards a faithful remnant struggling to keep the faith in a closing age of folly and darkness.

He saw countless disciples down the years and over the world, humble disciples who lived and died unknown. He saw them living out their little lives with their hopes and their fears, their struggles and their failures, their prayers and their victories. He came quietly to them with his invitation, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer."

And in humble earnestness comes their answer, "With desire we desire to meet at your table, Lord." And so obediently they come, they remember, they love, and they go back to their tasks inspired by his presence and his example.

* The aphikomen: the special set-aside bread. (Only for the baptized members.)

* Hymn: 175.

* Luk 22:19: After this, Christ took the unleavened bread, blessed it, and broke it.

The grain of wheat must fall into the ground, and die, so that it may bring forth much fruit -- fruit which must be harvested, winnowed, ground, and baked.

The first step must be taken in faith, or the promised bread will never become a reality: Psa 126:5,6.

And so the Savior was to go forth, for the joy set before him, enduring the cross, and despising the shame: 1Co 11:24; Psa 104:15; 1Co 10:16a,17.

* Prayer: "Blessed art Thou, O God, who gives us the bread of life..." (The bread was broken and passed by Christ to each individual.)

* The special cup... only to baptized members...

* The third cup, traditionally known as "the cup of blessing" (or "cup of redemption") (as in 1Co 10:16). This was the cup "after supper" (Luk 22:20). The fruit of the vine must be gathered, and trodden under foot, its "blood" shed. The red liquid must be left a little time, to be resurrected in the fermentation process, with a new life: 1Co 11:25; Psa 104:15; 1Co 10:16b.

* Prayer: "Blessed art Thou, O God, who gives us the fruit of the vine..." (The cup is passed from hand to hand among the baptized believers, as symbol of the love and joy shared among themselves.)

* Hymn: 243.

* Singing/reading of last part of the Hallel: Psa 115-118. (Consider Psa 116:1-9,12-14; 117:1,2; 118:22-26.)

* The fourth cup of wine is drunk (the "cup of praise").

* Blessing: "All thy works shall praise thee, Yahweh our God. And thy saints, the righteous, who do thy good pleasure, and all thy people, the house of Israel, with joyful song let them praise and bless and magnify and glorify and exalt and reverence and sanctify and ascribe the kingdom to thy name, O our King! For it is good to praise thee, and pleasure to sing praises unto thy name, for from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. The breath of all that lives shall praise thy name, Yahweh our God. And the spirit of all flesh shall continually glorify and exalt thy memorial, O our King! For from everlasting to everlasting thou art God, and besides thee we have no King, Redeemer, or Savior..."

* Mat 26:30... Hymn 194.

* We close with the traditional Passover benediction, in words uttered by the children of Israel for thousands of years:

"Our God and the God of our fathers, as we bring to a close this Passover, commemorating the exodus of our people from Egyptian bondage, we pray that we may carry with us into daily life the message of freedom emphasized in its symbols and rituals. May the memories of this day inspire us to cast off our own shackles of intolerance, greed and hatred. May we here resolve to break the chains that fetter our minds and blind us to the glory, beauty and goodness which life offers in such abundance.

"Help us to realize that we cannot have freedom for ourselves unless we are willing to share it with others. Through our daily deeds and devotion may each of us in some way help to liberate those who live in fear, poverty, and ignorance. Hasten the day of Jubilee, when the light of true freedom will penetrate into all corners of the world, and lift the darkness of tyranny until tyranny is no more, so that all men may be free. Amen."
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