This time of year, in most churches, we have been celebrating the Easter season. In just a few weeks, Greek & Russian churches will also celebrate Easter (they use a slightly different calendar), and Jewish people around the world will be celebrating Passover.
Many people are at least somewhat aware that, way back in the mists of history, these two holidays are somehow related. Specifically, they’re related in one very important way- remembering what God has done in the past for those who love Him, and, as we remember, taking heart in His comfort for the present & future.
Passover is the festival when Jewish people remember their freedom from slavery in Egypt. In the Biblical book of Exodus, the descendants of Jacob (called Israelites), were slaves in Egypt. God called to a man named Moses to tell the Egyptian king to free the Israelites. The king refused, with the words , “Who is the Lord, that I should let Israel go free?” God proceeded to answer the king’s question with a series of plagues that drove Egypt to the brink of disaster. The last, and most terrible of these, was the death of the first-born sons of Egypt.
On the night of the last plague, God gave instructions to the people of Israel (Ex. 12). They were told to kill a lamb (a one year old male without blemish) and paint its blood on their door. When God got to a door covered in the lamb’s blood, He would “pass over” that house. If there was no blood on the door, the house would be visited by death. Through this terrible night of sacrifice and death, God brought freedom to the Israelite people-the king of Egypt chased them into the water of the Red Sea, which God parted before them to let them pass, and they came through the other side as a free people-redeemed at a terrible price-but no longer slaves. God instructed the people to remember every year that they’d been brought out of Egypt & slavery (Exodus 12:14: And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Exodus 13:3: Remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength the hand of the LORD brought you out from this place.) Passover is a day (actually a whole series of days) set aside each year to remember what God has done for His people in giving them freedom from slavery. It’s the day of remembering God freeing and saving His people, and what marked, in many ways, the beginning of the Jewish people as a distinct community, and the beginning of God fulfilling His promise to bring them to the promised land.
Many years later, another generation gathered to observe the Passover in Jerusalem, which was occupied by ancient Rome. Among this generation were Jesus and His followers (Luke 22:7-13). On Passover night, Jesus and His disciples remembered that in ancient times, those marked with the lamb’s blood had been spared destruction, and had instead been set free from slavery and filled with God’s promise. On that same night, Jesus infused the meal with the meaning we remember at Communion in our churches- He took the unleavened bread, gave some to His disciples, and told them to “eat, this is my body, broken for you.” He took the third cup of wine at the meal, and had them each drink some, telling them, “this is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” That night, and into the next day, Jesus was betrayed and executed by the authorities. He was killed because He represented a threat to those in authority, and, then as now, people with power tend to do whatever they can to keep it, even if it means killing an innocent Man. But God can take even those things we mean for evil and use it for good (Gen. 50:20). Jesus willingly offered Himself up, and went to the cross bearing the weight of the sin and evil not just of those who killed Him, but of the whole world. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). This Passover has a new meaning for us as Christians- on Easter, we remember what God has done yet again. He has sent His Son, a Male free from the blemish of sin, to give Himself as a sacrifice for us (Heb. 10:11-22). By marking our identity with His blood, we are set free from sin & death, and made into a new people, the Church. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God declares that we are a new, free people, set apart for Him, and beginning to enter into the light of His promises to us through Scripture.
Some years, the two holidays, Passover & Easter, overlap in dates. Always, they overlap in significance and meaning. In both, there is the invitation to remember. Remember what God has accomplished in the Exodus. Remember what He has done for us in the death & resurrection of Jesus. As Christians, Jesus is our Passover lamb- sacrificed so we could be free, and risen again to show the way to new life as a new, redeemed people. We remember what God has done, as we trust Him with our lives today. And, generation after generation, we seek to do the same. “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever”.