Passover Meditation by Rev Fr K. K. John
- Passover Meditation
Jesus celebrated Passover feast prescribed in the Mosaic Law to fulfill all that had been prophesied about Messiah. It is popularly known as �Last Supper� because Jesus did not eat or drink anything after, until dying on the Cross. It was a highly charged emotional evening: Institution of Holy Eucharist, Announcing the betrayal, Command to love one another as he loved them, Dispute among the disciples as to who was the greatest, Prediction of Peter�s denial, Final admonition to disciples and above all, Showing the greatest example of humility by washing the feet of the disciples, Vicariate Prayer, Extreme agony, betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Fateful arrest and Unfair trials in the house of High priest Annas and Caiaphas, Peter�s denial, etc are the highlights of Passover Thursday. In this brief discourse I deal with only one aspect that is the meaning of Passover and its relations with the Holy Eucharist-�the medicine of immortality.�
Thursday before Resurrection (Quomtho) is known in Syriac tradition as �Thursday of Mysteries.� On this day Jesus Christ instituted the greatest Mystery (Roso); that was transforming the ordinary staple bread into his flesh and the mixture of wine and water (1:3) into his blood and giving them to his 12 apostles, saying, �This is my body,� Luke 22:19, �This is the new covenant in my blood,� v20. Jesus established the Holy Qurbono (Eucharist) accompanied by a great command to love one another. Love is the forging factor that makes Eucharist meaningful. How an ordinary bread and wine change into human flesh and blood; it is extremely difficult to discern with a skeptical eye. The disciples least doubted what Jesus said because they witnessed how ordinary water turned into first quality wine at the wedding of Cana by which his glory as �God of nature� was manifest, John 2:7-11. In fact, human senses and intelligence are too finite to fully comprehend how the universe evolved, how life began, the purpose of life, its functions, its changes and destiny, etc. Mystery is that which we are unable to fully understand with our human intellect; where logic fails faith triumphs. �Holy Thursday� or Thursday of Mysteries is known in the western world as �Maundy Thursday.� There are several allusions concerning the origin of this name. The best explanation is that the word �Maundy� is derived from the Latin root word, �Mondatum� which means command. Jesus said, �A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.� Its Latin version is, �Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, John 13:34.� Thus Maundy Thursday means, Thursday of the New Commandment, �Love one another as I loved you.�
Passover was protection or salvation to the believers but to the defiant sinners it was judgment. Exodus 12 explains the history and meaning of the Passover. 70 members headed by Israel (Jacob) migrated to Egypt, Gen 46:26, during the time of Joseph. They increased to more than 600,000 strong men alone in about 400 years. Egyptians grew envious and feared that the Israelites would ultimately subdue and overthrow the Egyptian dynasty. To prevent it they enslaved the Israelites imposing hard labor. Israelites cried unto Yahweh. Yahweh commissioned Moses and sent to Pharaoh. Moses sought Pharaoh to deliver the Israelites from his bondage. But Pharaoh refused to heed. God punished him and the whole Egyptians; the lesson being when the leader err the whole nation/house falters and suffers. The ten plagues were:
1. Blood - The waters of Egypt turned to blood. All the fish died and water became unusable, Ex 7:17.
2. Frogs - Hordes of frogs swarmed on the land, Ex 8:10.
3. Lice � Multitude of lice invaded and plagued the Egyptian people, Ex 8:12.
4. Dog-flies � dog-flies infested Egyptian land in abundance, causing destruction, Ex 8:20.
5. Cattle Pestilence - Egyptian livestock died with disease, Ex 9:6.
6. Boils - The Egyptian people were plagued by painful boils all over the body, Ex 9:10.
7. Hail storm - Severe thunder, fire and hail rained and destroyed Egyptian crops, Ex 9:23.
8. Locusts - Locusts swarmed the whole land of Egypt and ate all remaining plants and crops, Ex 10:13.
9. Darkness - Darkness covered the land of Egypt for three days, Ex 10:22.
Pharaoh repented at least twice, implored Moses to pray for him and agreed to free the Jews, Ex 9:27, 10:16. But when the plague was over again he hardened his heart and went back from his promise. Lord warned Pharaoh that the firstborn of every Egyptian from king to cattle would be killed. Pharaoh persisted in defiance to the Lord and Yahweh was compelled to inflict the hardest punishment and that was the 10th plague: Death of the Firstborn. So Pharaoh invited the plagues. Imagine the fate of those who take God�s warnings lightly, like in the time of Noah-great deluge, Lot- Sodom Gomorrah and those who repent and confess their follies and then return to still worse sinful state! What else if not the slender thread of Lord�s mercy hangs the sinner where beneath there is bottomless pit! Israelites and Egyptians were living together in the land and so it became necessary to distinguish the Egyptians firstborns who were destined to die and the Israelites to be saved from the hands of the angel of death.
God dictated through Moses: Nissan shall be the first month of the year when they were freed from the hard yoke of Egypt; on the tenth day each family shall take a lamb; male, one year old and without blemish. The lamb shall be kept until 14th evening; kill the lamb on 14th at twilight; smear the blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house they were in, roast the flesh in fire -not boiled in water; bones shall not be broken and eat with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They should do it with haste: belt on the waste and sandals on the feet and the staff in the hand; which are the signs of readiness to start the journey. Balance if any, must be burnt in fire before the day break. The Lord shall pass through in the night and strike all firstborns of the Egypt both man and beast. The blood on the doorposts and lintels shall be a sign. The Angel of death on seeing the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels shall pass the house without smiting the firstborn. Thus Passover was death to Egyptians and protection to the people of God at the same time. The feast of unleavened bread or Passover shall be observed for seven days every year as memorial of the great salvation God brought upon the Israelites. Rituals were prescribed to make the memorial a great event. It was mandatory for the head of the household to explain to the next generation how with mighty hands God delivered them from Egyptian bondage. The first major Jewish feast was �memorial� of a great event? Thus rituals in the Church are authentic.
Meaning: �Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,� John 1:29. St Paul says, �Indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us,� 1Cor 5:7. The first ten days of the month was marked for preparations, both spiritual and physical, nothing in particular to do. The lamb sacrifice was a shadow of which the one and only Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Calvary was the reality. It was not a mere co-incidence that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the tenth day -the exact day when the Jews chose their sacrificial lamb. On the 14th day when Jews were holding Passover feast Jesus after fulfilling the Mosaic Law of Passover, instituted the �New Covenant of Body and Blood� which was the Holy Eucharist with leavened bread (Lahmo, instead of dumb lamb) and wine (more specifically grape juice). Jesus died on the cross at the exact time when the Jews sacrificed the Passover Lamb for the whole nation in the Temple. His own sacrifice put an end to the animal sacrifice. A male lamb without blemish signifies that Jesus Christ was the sinless sacrifice. Why a male; because male was considered superior sex. Male lamb without blemish was costly in comparison to ordinary lamb. Offering to God must be selective, without defect, that is, the best possible. No one shall offer a defective sacrifice and attract God�s wrath like Cain. Today we need not choose a lamb or sacrifice it; but a half-hearted, careless, inattentive, irregular and unprepared attendance in the liturgy, aversion to eat and drink the Holy Body and atoning Blood of Christ, the Savior-consecrated holy elements-(G�murtho-fire coal) regularly or without spiritual preparation tantamount to sacrificing a lamb with blemishes attracting God�s wrath. A sinner cannot redeem another sinner, for; �All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,� Rom 3:23, Psalm 53:3. A sinless one was necessary to redeem sinners. Love of God remedied the man�s inability by sending His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ free from sin, John, 3:16, 8:46. One year old lamb signified its full youth. Jesus died on the cross in his full youth, 33+ years. Keeping the lamb for five days was to make sure the lamb was free from diseases, which they inspected daily. Alternatively, God was affording another chance for Pharaoh to repent so to avert the pestilence. The lamb was then killed. Passover came into existence as a plague or a judgment against defiance, social injustice and resisting God. By each plague God was teaching a lesson destroying the Egyptian culture of idol worship. Ram-head was an important Egyptian idol. �Historically, Passover was an upfront departure from the �mother culture.� The Egyptian culture was obsessed with death, rife with child sacrifice, the worship of animal-gods and building monuments to the dead. The events leading up to the first Passover were an in-their-face way of saying: we are differentiating from your way of thinking. Enough with the death fetishes, we are choosing a life affirming deity,� says a Jewish Rabbi.
The lamb slaughter prefigured Jesus Christ�s sacrifice on the cross. The time of slaughter was twilight. During twilight the Egyptians would be inside of their houses. Lamb slaughter and smearing of blood was kept a secret within Israelites so that Egyptians were unaware of, for, salvation was destined only to Israelites. The blood smearing on the lintels was a sign of God�s forgiveness and people�s obedience pointing to salvation. God instructed Israelites to observe a night vigil; none was permitted to go out but to stay inside the house, v22, 42. A believer is expected not to be lazy and lethargic to the calling but rather agile and diligent at all times. Believer is safe only so long as he/she is under the shelter of the blood of the Lamb. The believer also must be in the company of brethren and stay connected with the fellowship; here comes the relevance of corporate worship, to attend the church regularly, as an obligation to every believer, Heb 10:24. No foreigner shall eat the sacrificial lamb which means the holy Eucharist is a closed-door worship and no unbeliever is permitted to participate because it might open the doorway of vilification of the sanctity of the service. In the present culture, people are more socially oriented than spiritual and thus this condition is neglected. Bones of the sacrificial lamb shall not be broken. This was a prophetic statement as to the kind of death Christ would meet. This prophecy was fulfilled when the soldiers found that Jesus was dead and they did not break his bones, John 19:26.
They should eat the roasted lamb together with bitter herb and unleavened bread, v8. Roasting and unleavened bread indicate the haste. Bitter herb was to remind the bitter experience they had in Egypt. Eating the Holy Body and drinking the Atoning Blood of Christ is the centrality of Christian life. Those who abstain from this have no spiritual life; such are indubitably under the spell of devil. The blood that was smeared on the doorposts and lintel was a forerunner of the Baptismal seal. The baptismal seal is the sign of cross signed in the name of Triune God on the forehead of the believer, which is the protection from the devil and a promise of salvation, Rev 7:3, 14:1, 22:4. �Blood that was sprinkled on the doorpost saved the Israelites, likewise, let the sign of grace protect us the faithful who hope by the grace of the divine and life-giving baptism of rebirth. By this eternal light we discern the Holy Trinity,� Liturgy of Baptism. Consume the whole flesh, should not keep for the next day but should be burned leftover, if any, v10. Reason was that after the death of the firstborns the fear-stricken Egyptians would let the Israelites leave. They had to leave in haste before Pharaoh changed his mind again. If a portion of the lamb was left out, the Egyptians might dishonor it and they will lack the sense of wholeness. This is a stern warning concerning the handling of holy elements; holy things must be handled with utmost care and reverence, with awe and trembling. No one shall approach Holy of Holies, Holy Altar, Holy Vessels, Holy Vestments and Consecrated Elements in a casual manner, without due cleanliness, prayer and spiritual preparation and inherit the fate of Belshazzar, Dan 5:2-30. The lamb, the blood and the Passover feast are shadows of the salvation through Jesus Christ. The blood of Christ sanctified us from all the impurities of sin and gained bold entry into the holy of holies, Heb 10: 10, 19. Jesus Christ became the sacrifice-victim and the High priest at the same time, Heb 7:17. Our Eucharistic feast-liturgy is the replica of the worship incessantly going on in heaven. By our participation in the holy Eucharist-liturgy we are joining together and becoming one with heavenly hosts and their worship-four living creatures, twenty-four elders, the golden bowl full of incense, which is the prayers of the saints, where Christ is both High priest and the offering, Rev 5:8, accompanied by singing hymns of praise; �Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing,� Rev 5:12.