Holiday creep is upon us!
Still more than two months away, Christmas paraphernalia is cropping up in various retail outlets. Stores are putting up Christmas things with Halloween stuff. Thanksgiving is lost somewhere between a Ghoul and the Nutcracker. Seriously being thankful has becomeculturally miniscule compared to the consumerism hype of Christmas. Why be thankful when I can fight someone for a TV on black Friday?
Personally, holiday creep disgusts me in most cases… but not quite all.
The best case of Holiday creep… Passover!
Passover is already less than 6 months away! It’s never too early to celebrate Passover! In fact, if you were at Discovery a couple of Sundays ago when we had communion, you were celebrating Passover. That is some serious holiday creep.
Passover: Where it comes from
At the end of Genesis, we find Joseph and his brothers reunited in Egypt. God put Joseph in a place of authority and saved all of Egypt from a seven year famine. At the beginning of Exodus, hundreds of years later, the descendants of Joseph and his brothers have flourished. There are so many of them now that a new Pharaoh fears them and decides to enslave them and kill every new born male of them, to curb the growth that he sees as a threat to Egypt.
God raises up a leader, Moses, to lead his people out of Egypt. Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites leave and what results is famously known as the ten plagues of Egypt. The last of those plagues leads to the name Passover. Pharaoh was told that the last plague would be the death of every first born male of every house, and still Pharaoh refused to relent. So God gave Moses special instructions for how the Israelites could avoid this plague. The messenger of death was coming that night and the houses that killed a lamb and spread its blood on the top and sides of the doorway, the messenger of death would pass over those houses.
The Passover Seder
The special instructions for the feast to remember this moment, the Seder, can be found in Exodus 12. The Seder was a reminder of the mighty works of God to redeem his people from slavery in Egypt. It was to be celebrated each year and passed down to the next generation (Exodus 14:14-16). There are several elements and steps of the Passover meal, and depending on the family, it can be more than three hours long. There are far too many elements, traditions, steps, theology and history for a brief blog post to cover it all. But I will highlight the two that we use to celebrate communion, wine (grape juice for us) and bread.
The Lamb is central to the meal, because it was the lamb’s blood that covered the door posts and was the sign to the messenger of death to pass over that house.
For the Passover a special bread called Matzah is used. It is made without a leavening agent so it resembles a large cracker. At the table three pieces of matzah are put into a cloth pouch. Jewish tradition uses this to represent God. Each piece is in its own pocket and together they are called a unity. The middle piece is taken out, broken in half, and then half is put back in the pouch. The other half is wrapped in a white cloth and hidden. This piece is called the Afikomen which means “that which comes after” or “dessert.”
It is important to note that the Matzah is made in a very specific way. There is no leaven in it. And when you look at it you see that it is striped, pierced, and bruised. After the meal the children look for the Afikomen and the one who finds it ransoms it back to the Father of the house. Usually the reward is money. Then everyone takes and eats a piece of the Afikomen.
The Passover points to Jesus
Jesus is called “The Lamb of God,” a reference to the Passover lamb that died so that death would pass over them. Jesus’ death lines up with the time when the Passover lambs are sacrificed for the Passover dinner. The Gospels (Matt. 26:2,17; Mark 14:12) show Jesus as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb.
Jesus was striped with a whip, pierced with a spear and bruised by beatings. The Middle Matzah of the Unity represents Jesus the Messiah, broken, and buried –hidden like the Afikomen—and then brought back. Given the timing during the meal, it is likely the Afikomen that Jesus broke when he said, “This is my body, broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.”
There are Four cups of Wine that are drunk during the meal. Each one represents a promise of God found in Exodus 6:6-7 “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Emphasis mine.) The first cup is the cup of sanctification, the second is the cup of deliverance, the third is the cup of redemption, and lastly the cup of praise.
When we read in the gospel of Matthew (26:26-29) that Jesus is at table with his disciples celebrating Passover he takes the third cup (the first two cups are drunk before the meal is served), the cup of redemption, and says “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
For Christians, when we use the name Lamb of God we are saying Jesus is our Passover lamb who died so that the punishment for sin would pass over us. “Without the shedding of Blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).
Jesus is the fulfillment of Passover. Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Why it Matters
It is hard to overstate the importance of Passover.
This kind of Holiday creep in the church (and at some churches they do it every Sunday) and in our lives, is the constant reminder that it is Jesus that sustains us. What the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus did is open forgiveness for all who will choose it. It covers sins past, present and future, all year-round, whatever season or holiday it is.
The sin that has crept into our very being since the fall, is dealt with once and for all. It is only appropriate that Jesus would ask us to remember, all the time, what he did for us, what he is doing and what he will do for us. But he didn’t institute communion because he needs us to do it, but because it sustains us, it is good for us. First with the Passover in Egypt 3500 years ago, and now with Communion, celebrating the fulfillment of Passover 2000 years ago.
We are brought into God’s kingdom by Passover creep.