Every year at this time you hear the word Passover. Cooking magazines carry Passover recipes. You may see a Passover meal demonstrated in an Easter pagent or on a TV movie. Here are some answers in case one of the kids in your class asks you, "So, what is Passover? How did it get started? What does it mean to me today?"
What is Passover?
In Exodus 12 we read how the LORD instructed Moses to tell the Israelites about a special memorial meal. Passover is a feast instituted the night before God delivered His people from Egyptian slavery. The Israelites were to mark their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so the death angel would pass over their home. After they left Egypt, God told Moses that every year they were to eat a special meal and tell their children how God delivered them from slavery.
How did the Hebrews celebrate Passover?
We can only imagine the details of what took place. It may have happened something like this. Young children ran in and exclaimed that the sun was setting to signal the beginning of Passover. According to ancient Jewish custom it was the task of the mother to light the festival lights at twilight. This celebration began with singing and laughter. The children were instructed about the meaning of each portion of the Passover Seder. (Hebrew: seder means order of service)
- Everyone washed their hands in a bowl of water that was passed around the table. The washing of hands symbolized the interior cleansing necessary for those partaking in the memorial.
- Only unleavened bread (Hebrew: matzah) was eaten at Passover as a reminder that the Hebrews left Egypt in such a hurry they didn't have time to let their bread dough rise. Matzah looks like a big cracker.
- Next they served parsley and salt water. Parsley (Hebrew: karpas) is a green vegetable that represents life which is created by God. It is usually dipped in salt water to remind us of tears and that life for the Hebrews was very hard during their Egyptian bondage.
- Next the story of Passover was retold. The youngest child at the table asked four traditional questions from Exodus 12.
On this night, why do we eat only unleavened bread?
On this night, why do we eat only bitter herbs?
On this night, why do we dip them twice?
On this night, why do we recline while we eat?
- According to Numbers 9:11, they ate bitter herbs such as horseradish, radish or onion as a reminder of the bitterness the Israelites suffered while they were slaves in Egypt.
- They had already dipped the parsley in the salt water. Next, they used the matzah to dip a sweet mixture of finely chopped apples, nuts, raisins and wine. This sweet mixture, haroset, was eaten as a reminder of the mortar used to build the Egyptian cities.
The Israelites had to eat the Passover meal in haste but as a memorial they were instructed to recline and freely enjoy the meal as they remembered the mighty works of a faithful God.
Other elements of the meal included:
- Shank Bone: Since the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, lamb has not been eaten at Passover. Instead, a roasted shank bone of lamb represents the lamb whose blood marked the houses of the children of Israel.
- Wine: Wine is a symbol of joy and the four-fold expression of the LORD's promised deliverance. Four cups are served throughout the meal: the Cup of Sanctification, the Cup of Judgment, the Cup of Redemption and the Cup of Praise.
- At the end of the meal, everyone sang or recited a song. Traditionally every Passover Seder ends with the latter half of the Hallel (Psalms 115-118).
Why is Passover important to me as a Christian?
The story of Passover and the deliverance of the children of Israel, foreshadowed a greater deliverance that was to come. God sent Jesus to deliver mankind from a slavery to sin. Jesus fulfilled the Law as the final sacrificial Lamb of God and provided redemption once and for all. Passover is a reminder of how God redeemed the Israelites from Egypt and how Jesus provided the ultimate redemption at Calvary.