ANNUAL PASSOVER SEDER

 

(RECAP PALM SUNDAY w/HOSANNAH)

 

The Jewish Passover seder is linked inseparably to the beginnings of the Christian faith.  When Jesus established the communion ordinance , it was at the Passover seder.  Communion is based on the Jewish custom during the Second Commonwealth era of giving thanks to God on the first night of Passover for their redemption, over bread and wine. 

 

          The bread Jesus ate with the apostles was matzoh, the unleavened bread required by Exodus 12:14-19.  the hebrew word seder means the “re-telling” of the exodus history.  The  festival's name--Pesach or Passover--comes from the night the Angel of Death "passed over" any house whose doorposts and lintels were smeared with the blood of the Passover lamb.  The connection between the red Passover wine and the redemptive blood of the Pascha lamb was well understood in ancient times. 

         

          The 2nd century Jewish Christian Justin Martyr  wrote, "The blood of the Pascha (lamb), sprinkled on each man's doorposts and lintel, delivered those who were saved in Egypt, when the first-born of the Egyptians were destroyed.  For the Pascha was Christ who was afterwards sacrificed.  And as the blood of the Passover saved us who were in Egypt, so also the blood of Christ will deliver from death those who have believed."

 

          let’s now read together how almost 2000 years ago, Jesus led the disciples in observing the passover seder in jerusalem.  we find that report in mark 12: 12-26—

 

The hymns sung by Jesus and the apostles was called the Hallel, which means “praise.”  the levites sang these hymns as they marched up to jerusalem on the feast days.  these same hymns are still sung today at Jewish seders, taken from psalms 111 through psalm 117.  

 

          For their first 300 years, Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus under the name Pascha, observed on the very same time as the Jewish Passover.  Church historian Epiphanius wrote, "So long at least as the first fifteen (Jewish) bishops of Jerusalem continued, the Pascha was celebrated by all Christians.. according to the lunar computation and method of the Jews."

 

          The bishops sent out  Pascha Epistles to notify Christians everywhere when Pascha would fall.  It was only at the Council of Nicea, in 325 A.D., when the Roman Emperor Constantine, changed the name from Pascha to the Latin Aurora (Goddess of Fertility), thence to Old English Oestre, at which time the celebration came to be known as  "Easter." 

         

          at the conclusion of this seder, jesus foretold who it was that would enable the conspiring jewish leaders and roman authorities to identify him and arrest him.  this poignant scene was played out before his twelve disciples, and we find it recounted in john 13: 18-38—this is another fulfillment of prophecy, as we find written in psalm 41:9:  “even my close friend, in whom i trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”   

 

          from that point on, events moved swiftly even as the torment must have made each minute seem like an hour.   jesus went out to the garden of gethsemane with the disciples and asked peter, james and john to come with him while he prayed.  this was the lord’s dark moment of the soul, as the son of man asked to be exempted from the task at hand, when he must suffer, pour out his blood and be crucified as the true lamb of god, sacrificed for remission of sins to all who would believe in him.  when he finally came to peace in his spirit, he found the three he had brought with him had escaped sharing his torment by falling asleep.  do you recall his comment at this point?  (“spirit willing, flesh is weak”)

 

          then came the time of his final testing.  let’s read that, starting with mark 14: 14-72—

 

          after being led back and forth between herod and pontius pilate, jesus was brought back to herod to be scourged.  to be scourged means to be whipped by a whip made of leather thongs with strips of metal fixed to the tips, so that the person being beaten literally had his skin and muscle flayed away from his ribs and bones.  the apostle john reports that in chapter 19 of his gospel, verses 1 – 20—

 

          the roman soldiers tore his outer robe into four parts and divided it among them.  but his tunic was woven as one piece, and so they cast lots to see which of them would have it.  by so doing, they fulfilled the prophecy contained in one of the psalms.  remember when jesus cried out “eli eli lamach sabachtani?”  that is aramaic for “my god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?”  i believe jesus recited the entire psalm 22 from the cross.  read verses: 1-18—

          but even at the height of his agony, his loving heart was looking at those nearby with compassion.  we see his concern for others in john 19: 25-27—

 

there was still one more prophecy he had to fulfill.  this is found also in john 19, verses 28 and 29 (read)—

 

then came the gasp of triumph in verse 30—“when jesus therefore had received the sour wine, he said ‘it is finished’.  and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

actually, what he really said was rendered in the greek scriptures as tel-eh-ho, which is a legal term meaning “it is paid for,” as in paying out a debt or obligation.  in this case, jesus had completed paying for the sin debt for all those who would accept his sacrificial atonement.  at one hour in time, god’s justice and god’s mercy was reconciled on a crude old wooden cross.

                  

            Calling the day of the Crucifixion ‘Good’ Friday is a designation peculiar to the English language.  In German, for example, it is called Karfreitag. The Kar part is an obsolete word, the ancestor of the English word care-- in the sense of cares and woes-- and it meant mourning. So in German, it is called “Mourning Friday”.  And that is what the disciples did on that day—they mourned. They thought all was lost.

possibly the term Good Friday is a contraction of God’s Friday, just as good-bye is a contraction of God be with ye.   But I think we call it Good Friday because  all that tragedy and pain brought about the greatest good to humankind there could ever be.  by calling it Mourning Friday, we are facing reality head on, fully conscious that the Christian walk is seldom a walk in the park.  But if we call it Good Friday, we are confessing the Christian hope that no tragedy—not even death—can overwhelm God’s providence, love, and grace. The cross is where God’s perfect justice and god’s perfect mercy was reconciled in His only begotten Son, who was then—and still is---the PRECIOUS Lamb of God. 

Some people wonder if the Crucifixion really took place on a Friday.  In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says that He will spend three days and three nights in the grave, just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish.  But if Jesus was crucified on Friday and rose on Sunday, He rose on the third day, but He  spent only two nights in the grave.

On the other hand, if we extend His stay in the tomb to include three nights, He would wind up rising on the fourth day.  The answer is found in the phrase ‘three days and three nights,’  which is an ancient Hebrew  idiom that does not require there to be three nights.  for example, Jonah was swallowed by the great fish during the day time and was vomited out during the day time (Jonah 1:17—2:10).  In order for that to take three days, only two nights could have been involved.  Yet it is called three days and three nights.  Similarly, in Esther 4:16—5:1, there is a fast for ‘three days and three nights’ that begins on the first day and ends on the third day--which means only two nights were involved.  So we can safely conclude that the Hebrews weren’t always  literal about such numerical phrases. 

just as the term “forty days and forty nights” means a period of time greater than the monthly cycle of the moon phases.  So Jesus spent three days and nights in the tomb in the same sense that Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights--which is what Jesus himself cited as the cycle of His own entombment.  the early church fathers everywhere accepted that Jesus was crucified on Friday and was laid in the tomb until Sunday, which constituted ‘three days and three nights.’

          but the greatest story ever told doesn’t end with a dead body in a tomb.  john finished the re-telling in JOHN chapter 20: 1-20—

 

but one disciple was not present when jesus showed himself to the disciples.  this was thomas, who was sent by god to take the gospel to india.  thomas was a skeptical fellow, as we read in john 20: 24-29—

 

jesus was talking about us here.  we like thomas have not seen but we believe.  WHEN we look ahead to EASTER sunday (PASCHA), let’s exalt together in that wonderful old hymn “christ the lord is risen today”—

 

          and the story hasn’t ended yet.  just before jesus went home to be with his father and our father in heaven, he left us with a great charge—let’s read that in acts 1:6-11—

 

          when we next see him, he will call us from that cloud up to himself, and so shall we ever be with the lord.  with that blessed hope ever in our hearts, let’s CONTINUE TO observe the communion ceremony he gave us at that last seder almost 2000 years ago—(read 1 cor. 11: 23-26).

 

          even so, come soon, lord jesus!  maranatha!  can you say that with me?  maranatha—have a blessed PASCHA PASSOVER sunday!