1. The Passover
In earlier days the Israelites' deliverance was kept at the feast of unleavened bread that celebrated the reaping of the first harvest, the barley harvest. For instance in Joshua we are told at Gilgal, the day after the 14th of Nissan, the Israelites 'did eat of the old corn of the land ... unleavened cakes, and parched corn' (Jos.5.11). The keeping of the Passover as we know it is based on the P. version in the 12th chapter, verses 1-20 in Exodus. The other account, the J. verses 21-27, is closer to what happened on that very first night, when the blood from the slaughtered lamb was used to sprinkle the door so that the angel of death would PASS OVER and not strike the Hebrews' first-borns. The Passover as it has been celebrated from at least post-exilic times is essentially one of remembrance and thanksgiving. It lasts for seven days, preceded by immaculate house cleaning to remove all traces of leavened bread. The day before is kept as the Fast of the Firstborn males to commemorate the sparing of the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt. The actual Passover meal, held on the eve of the 14th day of Nissan, is called Seder at which every family member is present. On each plate is roast lamb, symbolic of deliverance from Pharaoh; parsley dipped in salt water, symbolic of the tears shed by the Hebrew slaves in bondage; haroseth, a sweet paste made from apples, nuts, honey, wine and spice, symbolic of the bricks the Israelites were forced to make; bitter herbs, symbolic for the bitterness of slavery and a roast egg, symbolic of new life after the crossing of the Red Sea. After the ritual of hand washing, the Matzah, that is, the unleavened bread is blessed and broken but eaten later as dessert with the third cup of wine drunk after a blessing over it. At the meal the Hallel psalms are recited (Psalms 113 8). These are psalms of praise and thanksgiving to God for His wonder and help, evident in this extract from Psalm 114:
When Israel went out from Egypt
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became God's sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord.
At the presence of the God of Jacob,
Who turns the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a spring of water.
The climax of Seder is when the youngest member of the family asks, 'Why is this night different from all other nights?' To which the leader explains why this is so, for all Jews, past and present. The past events are given a present context. What is called amanesis, and we do the same thing in the Canon of the Mass when we recall the events of our Lord's death and passion in the actual context of the Canon. Hence the Jewish leader announces: In every generation, each person should feel as though he himself had gone forth from Egypt, as it is written: 'And you shall explain to your child on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me when I, myself, went forth from Egypt ...' not only our ancestors alone did the Holy One redeem but us as well, along with them, as it is written:
'And he freed us from Egypt so as to take us and give us the land which he had sworn to our fathers.'
When the Haggadah (i.e. service book) is read the most significant aspect of the Passover ritual is thanksgiving.
Therefore, let us rejoice
At the wonder of our deliverance
From bondage to freedom,
From agony to joy,
From mourning to festivity,
From darkness to light,
From servitude to redemption.
Before God let us ever sing a new song.
The thanksgiving prayer at the Sedar includes all the great acts of deliverance in Jewish history such as from the exile in Babylon and their return as prophesied by Jeremiah and Deutero Isaiah. Their narratives were clearly modelled on the Exodus narrative. So Jeremiah exclaimed:
Therefore, behold, the days come, says the Lord, that they shall say no more, the Lord lives, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord lives, who brought up and who led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they dwell in their own land. (Jer. 23:7 8)
Go you forth of Babylon, flee you from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare you, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say you, The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.
And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts; he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out (Isa. 48:20 1).
The Jewish thanksgiving was also eschatological, as the Israelites not only looked backwards but also forward in prayerful longing for a more final act of liberation. We know from the Gospels that there was always considerable excitement and unrest at the Passover in anticipation of the promised Messiah. At the Seder, even to day this eschatological note is strong, particularly as the meal draws to a close. The Cup of Elijah, which is set in the middle of the table, is filled with wine; the door is opened and the whole company rises, for, according to tradition, Elijah will come to announce and usher in the presence of the Messiah. At the closing proclamation, which brings the formal part of the meal to its conclusion, the Leader and the family respond antiphonally:
Leader: The Seder Service now concludes:
Its rites oberved in full, Its purposes revealed.
Group: This privilege we share will ever be renewed
Until God's plan is known in full.
His highest blessing is sealed.
Group: Peace for us! For everyone!
Leader: For all people, this is our hope:
Group: Next year in Jerusalem!
Next year, may all be free.
The evening meal closes with various stories and songs relating to their deliverance and God's favour to them as the chosen nation. How important the Passover is for the Jews can be gleaned from the Gospels. As a Jewish boy and man, Christ attended the Passover and other festivals. We know from the Lucan account that when Jesus was 12 years old he and his parents and relatives were in Jerusalem for the Passover. I think this passage is one of the more important ones in the Gospels as it acts a bridge between Christ's childhood and adulthood. He stayed behind in the temple to dialogue with the rabbi on aspects of the Jewish faith, where He manifests His extraordinary knowledge. But we are also made aware that Christ at twelve years old knows who is His true Father. In the Johannine account the feast of the Passover is mentioned at significant moments in our Lord's ministry. It is very significant that the first time the Passover is mentioned by John is in connection with the feeding of the Five Thousand followed by the discourse, "I am the bread of life" (Ch.6). When we go to our Holy Week, John mentions the Passover four times (Now 6 days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany 12.1, Before the festival of the Passover then he poured water into a basin 13.1, Jews before Pilate would not defile themselves as they would not be able to eat the Passover 18.28, I have a custom to release someone for you at the Passover 18.39). I think and many scholars also think that this is deliberate. Unlike the Synoptic writers, who set Christ's last meal with His disciples as the Passover meal, John does not. For him the Passover is the day that Christ died. He is indeed the unblemished Lamb, the Passover Lamb, who went willingly to His death and is slain for the sin of mankind. He is the sacrificial lamb, as for John the Cross is Christ's glory. It is this theme that Paul takes up in that first letter to the Corinthians, written long before John's gospel, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." And of course this fulfills the O. T. prophecy, "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (Is.53.5). For the synoptic writers (Mark, Matthew and Luke) when Our Lord celebrated His last meal with His disciples it is plain that He was following the Passover tradition of the Jews. He unmistakably touched on its essence to remember and to commemorate. "Do this in remembrance of me" clearly echoes the P. account in Exodus, "This day shall be unto you for a memorial; and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. (Exodus 12.14). This "remembrance" has precisely the same meaning as it has for the Jewish Passover Remember all God's saving acts, and that God is saving us to-night. However in Christ's sharing of the bread and the wine with His disciples "remembrance" takes on a new significance. The breaking of bread by our Lord has a further manifestation it is His body that will be offered for His people. He is the Paschal Lamb who is slain and whose "blood is poured out for many" (Mark 14.24). But it is Luke's account that is the most poignant. Not only is Our Lord the narrator but it is also put into an eschatological context, as the Jewish Pesach. With desired I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
For I say unto you, I will not eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
And He took the cup, and gave thanks and said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves:
For I say into you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God come (22.15-18)
Thus eating and drinking in joyful communion with the Lord ushers in the kingdom. This is manifested further by Luke in those meals that the Risen Lord has with His disciples at Emmaus (24.30) and on the lakeshore. This has a eucharistic significance which suggests that Luke is presenting the death and resurrection of Christ as inaugurating the kingdom. Taken to its logical conclusion this means that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the presence of God's kingdom within the Church, just as it is of ushering in the New Covenant.
Recall what I have done, Christ is also saying to us, which of course we do at each Eucharist.
Thus the Eucharist supplants the Jewish Seder and becomes the paschal meal of the Church. The new Passover banquet unites us with the sacrifice of Calvary, that sacrifice Christ made for all, i.e. the living, the dead and the unborn. Participation in the Mass and receiving the Sacrament are therefore the main focus in our Christian journey. If we do not understand the sacrificial meaning of the Mass, ponder on the significance of what our Lord said and did over the bread and wine on that first Holy or Maundy Thursday evening, we shall see that first of all he plainly declared His coming death to be a sacrifice. His body was given and His blood poured forth for the forgiveness of sins that initiated a new covenant between God and man. Christ's words and actions not only declared his death to be a sacrifice, but also He solemnly consecrated himself to that sacrifice as both Priest and Victim. By the continual to "do this" down the ages, Christians were and are not only communicating in the fruits of Christ's oblation but in the very act of oblation itself. In the words of St. Augustine the Eucharist "is the whole Christ: Christ united with the Church". We give our offering in the gifts of bread and wine to be offered, a symbol of giving our lives to Christ to have said over them, "This is my body This is my blood." Then in the fraction, communion and dismissal we give our lives to be broken, shared and given. So we see that both in consecration and in communion our lives are identified with the life of Christ and our offering of ourselves with Christ's offering of himself. Our physical death completes our participation and incorporation into Christ's death. This is clearly expressed in the new funeral rite where the emphasis is now on paschal joy and hope. Or as expressed in the Canon when we pray for the dead. "Remember N whom you have called from this life. In baptism he/she died with Christ: may he/she also share his resurrection." At the Requiem Mass the Paschal Candle is lit and placed at the head of the coffin to remind us of this. Of course there is a sense when it can be said that we are still waiting for the final and definitive Passover, (the Parouosia), the return of Christ in power and glory. If for the Jews the true reality of the Passover was in the future, it is not so for Christians. We look back on the central act of history, the true substance of our redemption, and we look forward to our resurrection not as something set totally in the future but as something begun in us at our baptism. The new life, the new age of the Spirit, has already begun. So as St. Paul's says, we must "throw out the old yeast" (1Cor 5.7) that we may celebrate the Passover of the Unleavened Bread in newness of life. That this new life has already begun is clear in probably one of the first accounts of the Christian Pascha in Colossians: If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. (Col. 3.1-4).
In those first couple of centuries after Christ's death, many Christians kept the same night of the Passover, the eve of the 14th Nissan as the Christian Passover. They fasted in memory of Jesus' death and read the Passover story in Exodus 12 by applying it to the suffering and death of Jesus. They engaged in prayers, singing, and exhortations until dawn, when they broke their fast by partaking of the Lord's Supper and an agape meal. The earliest account that has survived of this Christian Passover is in the Ethiopic version of the apocryphal Epistle of the Apostles, probably written in Asia Minor around A. D. 150. Chapter 15 contains the following address of the risen Christ to the apostles: "And you therefore celebrate the remembrance of my death, i. e. the Passover; then will one of you, who stands besides me, will be thrown into prison for my name's sake, and he will be very grieved and sorrowful, for while you celebrate the Passover he who is in custody did not celebrate it with you. And I will send my power in the form of my angel, and the door of the prison will be open, and he will come out and come to you to watch with you and rest. And when you complete my remembrance and my Agape at the crowing of the cock, he will again be taken and thrown in prison for a testimony, until he comes out to preach, as I have commanded you."
The deliverance of Peter alluded to in this passage makes for a real "Passover story." This "deliverance" of Peter took place in the Passover night, the night of watching. Here, Passover is kept as a night vigil in remembrance of the death of Jesus. The vigil extended to the early morning of the 15th day when the fast was broken with "my remembrance and my Agape," a clear reference to the Lord's Supper and the love feast.
The extension of the fasting to the early morning is mentioned in several other documents and seems to be a characteristic that distinguished the Christian observance from the Jewish. The reason for this extension of the fasting appears to be twofold. On the one hand, Christians chose to postpone their rejoicing until after the termination of the Passover feasting of the Jews, which ended at about midnight. On the other hand, the time prior to dawn had an eschatological meaning in relation to the expectation of the Return of Christ. While the Jews expected the coming of the Messiah on Passover night, the Christians awaited the Return of Christ before dawn. Jerome living in the 4th C. called it an apostolic tradition to extend the Passover vigil until past midnight because of "the expectation of the Advent of Christ (expectantes adventum Christi)." What emerges from these early observances is that the Old Testament Passover became a model or prophetic image of the freeing from slavery, and of redemption and how God deals with His people. Through Adam, the human predicament is one of servitude in sin, a servitude that leaves men weak, divided and incapable of any initiative as seen in the Hebrew children's predicament in Egypt. Deliverance from this state can only come from God's intervention. So the unblemished lamb that is offered as a paschal sacrifice and consumed at the paschal meal, whose blood is shed to spare the firstborn of God's people from death, points to the pure spotless Lamb in Christ who offers himself as the pure sacrifice to God in his death for the atonement of God's people. God's redeeming intervention is to bind the redeemed into a close unity as the people of God, and to establish a covenant based on God's calling by His grace and love for His people. Hence Paul spoke of 'God has not cast away his people ... for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance' (Rom. 11:2, 29).
3. The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Sukkot) As set out in Exodus, "You shall celebrate the festival of ingathering, at the end of the year, when you gather in your labours out of the field. (23:16)
Sukkot, like the Passover lasts for seven days and marks the end of a long harvest, when fruits and vegetables are gathered in during Autumn and stored for winter. Grapes are made into raisins or wine, olives are picked and pressed into oil. Sukkot is about joy and giving thanks. Indeed it was during Sukkot that King Solomon decided to dedicate the great Temple. When the children of Israel were wandering in the desert after leaving the slavery of Egypt, they had nothing with them except what they could carry. Their sole dependence was on God and their leaders. God brought them manna for food (Exodus 16:4-16) clouds for shelter (Exodus 33:14-17; Numbers 9:15-23) water to drink (Exodus 15:22-25; 17:5-7; Numbers 20:7-12) Once they settled in the land of Israel, the Jewish people planted their own crops, vineyards and trees and subsequently harvested the fruits from them. The Torah explained:
When you later have prosperity, be careful that you not say to yourself, It was my own strength and personal power that brought me all this. You must remember that it is God your Lord who gives you the power to become prosperous. (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).
In the earlier history of Israel this festival emphasised the ingathering of the fruits from the harvest during the autumn season in preparation for winter as well as thanksgiving for bounties received. This was known as hag-ha-asif. Later this festival emphasised how the Jews had lived during those forty years. As set out in Deuteronomy, "After the harvest from your threshing floor and your vineyards, you shall celebrate the Feast of Booths for seven days" (Deuteronomy 16:13)
You shall live in booths seven days in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43) So during this feast the Jews build booths or sukkots to remember how the children of Israel had lived in the desert. These were like little huts and provided temporary shelter for the wanderers. Like the other two major festivals Jews went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and erected their sukkots in which they lived for a week. The instructions on how these were to be built were again laid down in the Torah. "You shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook" (Lev. 23.39) for your booth. Here they participated in praying, singing and joining in the religious processions, but the first and last days were kept as days of rest. It was also the occasion every seven years for the ceremony hak'heil, the public reading of the Torah before the whole people (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). Like the Passover it also had an eschatological aspect as it looked ahead to the messianic period when all nations will come to Jerusalem and celebrate. John relates how our Lord when he attended this feast had gone up privately and not with his family in order to escape attention from the authorities (7.10-12) but nevertheless He used it as a time to preach with a theme connected with the feast. To-day the feast still emphasises the Jews' thanksgiving for God providing for them in their deliverance from Pharaoh and how God provided for them in that journey to the Promised Land, and indeed for all they possessed, even a roof over their heads. In the Christian tradition there are also parallels with Sukkot. For example in England this is celebrated as Harvest festival. It is customary to decorate the church with fruits, flowers and vegetables, which later are given to the poor. An important part of the thanksgiving Mass is the solemn blessing of a special baked loaf of bread symbolising the gifts of grain. The American Thanksgiving is also very similar in meaning. Its origin goes back to the Pilgrims in thanksgiving for bountiful food in the autumn of 1621 after surviving difficult times. Their first winter in the New World was harsh as they had arrived too late to grow crops, and without fresh food, half the colony died from disease. The following spring the Iroquois Indians taught them how to grow corn, a new food for the pilgrims, and also how to hunt and fish. By the autumn of 1621, bountiful crops of corn, barley, beans and pumpkins were harvested. I am sure that those words of psalm 67 would not have been far from their lips. "The earth shall yield her fruits; and God, even our God, shall bless us." The colonists had much to be thankful for, so a feast was planned. They invited the local Indian chief and 90 Indians who brought deer to roast with the turkeys and other wild game offered by the colonists. The latter had also learned how to cook cranberries and different kinds of corn and squash dishes from the Indians. There are indeed parallels between the modern Jewish Passover and the traditional Thanksgiving. The modern Jewish children know why they are sitting down to Seder. Can the same be said for American children at their Thanksgiving meal? The manna God provided for food and the water from the rock for Israelites in the wilderness and under the Old Covenant took on new purpose under the New Covenant through Our Lord. The fourth gospel is very clear who provides the eternal bread and water of life in those "I Discourses". "I am the Bread"; "I am the Living Water". Indeed Our Lord Himself tells us that it was not Moses but my Father who gave the bread from heaven in the desert for the Israelites' sustenance. Now, however "the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (6.32-3). Unlike the manna in the wilderness, which satisfied immediate hunger, my Bread satisfies the eternal hunger. "Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live for ever." On the day of the festival of the Tabernacles, Our Lord also came to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival as noted. On the occasion described by John in Chapter seven, Our Lord makes it clear that those who are thirsty for spiritual food let them come to me. Unlike the water spurting from the rock in the desert to relieve natural thirst, the water I give you, is "living water" which will always refresh and replenish. This we know is the Spirit that Christ promised and was bestowed upon the Church at Pentecost and us at Baptism and all through our lives. The Israelites of old were concerned with their natural needs in their journey of deliverance and God met them. But we have to remember that God provided those needs on a daily basis. "Give us this day our daily bread" is another way of describing the collection of daily manna. We too must be content to live from day to day. Yet as Christians we drink not from the bitter waters of Meribah but from the eternal Spring of sweetness. We shall never go thirsty or hungry as Christ through the Spirit is always replenishing us. Our deliverance is through Christ. Paul speaks as much to us to-day as he did to the Corinthians c. A.D. 51:
Brethren, I would not have you ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ (ICor. 10:1 4).
The account of the exodus should always remind us of our own deliverance through Christ in His death and in our own Baptism when we are joined to Christ forever. We are baptised into His death and rise from the waters of baptism in the life of the risen Lord and the Spirit. Each time the Mass is celebrated we are to remember that death and sacrifice on the Cross, and the Church will continue to do this "until I come again". Our primary duty as Catholic Christians is to be in constant reminder of His death and Passion as this our exodus. That we do in the proclamations "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." "Dying you destroyed our life, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in glory." "Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free, You are the Saviour of the world." Deo Gratias.