I have just had the immense privilege of sharing, with hundreds of schoolchildren in my home town, the story of how Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, celebrated Passover with his disciples shortly before his trial after booking a large Upper Room in Jerusalem’s Old City for the occasion.
I had to re-tell the story dozens of times to a total of more than a thousand pupils aged six to eleven over seven days as part of engaging the kids with Christian teaching about Easter – that we see it as the fulfilment of Passover and which also happens to coincide with the Jewish festival this year.
They sat in rapt attention as I explained how, at this ‘Last Supper’, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) instituted what has become known to Christians as Holy Communion. But it was a Passover meal much like that celebrated by Jews today, except that when it came to the third of the traditional four cups of wine poured out (known as the ‘cup of redemption’), he made the startling declaration: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
We believe he was about to be sacrificed as the ultimate Passover Lamb, of which all previous feasts were only a foretaste. And he added that he would not drink again of the fruit of the vine “until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14.24 New Testament).
This was powerfully brought home in a dream my wife experienced in which she was talking with Yeshua, who was drinking something from a large tankard and was shocked when she discovered it was beer… until she remembered those words of Jesus quoted above!
Yeshua also broke bread with his disciples, saying, “This is my body.” The unleavened bread used by Jews today (matzos) is full of tiny holes, with darker stripes on the back, possibly indicating that the body of Yeshua was pierced by cruel nails holding him to the cross while his back was as a ploughed field beaten by whips.
The prophet Isaiah surely prophesies about this day when he says: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53.5)
Possibly with the cross in mind, Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites that the Lord would redeem his people “with an outstretched arm” (Exodus 6.6).
As he hung in agony of soul and body on that cross outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem, we are told that Yeshua accepted the offer of a final drink from a soldier who, significantly I would say, used the stalk of a hyssop plant to dip a sponge in a jar of wine vinegar with which to wet the lips of the victim.
The Israelites had been instructed to use hyssop to daub the lamb’s blood on their doorposts before being freed from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. And was Yeshua here partaking of the fourth cup – the cup of completion – before declaring “It is finished” and breathing his last?
His cousin, John the Baptist, had declared of him a few years earlier: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1.29 New Testament)
We believe that all those wishing to have their sins ‘passed over’ must avail themselves of Yeshua’s blood, figuratively ‘marking’ it on their hearts as protection from eternal destruction and a guarantee of life everlasting.
I’ll leave the last word to Reform Rabbi Evan Moffic of the Solel Congregation in Chicago who, in his book What every Christian needs to know about Passover, notes that “the shank bone symbolizes the lamb offered as a sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. The lamb symbolizes God’s mercy in redeeming the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In Christian tradition, the lamb symbolizes Jesus, the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice frees believers from the sins of the world.”
I have tackled this and many other issues in my latest book, Peace in Jerusalem, due out soon. May you be especially blessed this Passover!