Exodus 12:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Holy Thursday is inextricably connected to Passover. Whether the day of or the day before, Jesus gathered with his disciples for one final meal. We don’t know who was there, though it’s clear that Judas was present, as he left early to tend to business. Christians will gather across the world this evening to remember that meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, a meal at which he spoke of the bread as a sign of his body and the wine as a sign of his blood, noting that he would not drink again until he drinks it a new in the kingdom (Mark 14:12-25). It is Paul who gives us the official institution of the supper, to be continued as an act of remembrance (1 Cor. 11:17-22). As we remember Jesus meal by breaking bread and sharing of the cup, it is good to remember the feast that stands behind it, and that is the Passover Festival.
As I have been reflecting on the first reading from the Hebrew Bible as part of my lectionary reflections, I am choosing to address the reading for Holy Thursday, taken from Exodus 12. The lectionary allows for the omission of verses 5-10, though I think they are helpful to include. As a caveat, I understand why some Christians choose to observe a Seder on this evening, but I’m not sure it is appropriate to reconfigure another tradition’s sacred rite. If you have the opportunity to participate in a Seder, that is hosted by a Jewish family or a synagogue, make use of that opportunity, but let us not appropriate the rite for Christian observance.
We return to the Exodus story. It is time for Israel to depart from Egypt. The moment of liberation has arrived. God reveals to Moses and Aaron that the people should set aside a time, in the first month of the year, on the tenth day, to take a lamb, and keep it until the fourteenth day, when it is to be slaughtered, so that the family (or group of families) can eat of the lamb (sheep or goat does not matter). Then they are to take the blood of the lamb and place it on the doorposts and the lintel of each home. This is to be a sign to the angel of death to Passover, as the angel of death makes its way across Egypt, culling the first born of Egypt.
Here is the word of liberation. When they eat this meal, they should be prepared to leave immediately and hurriedly. That is, eat the meal with your loins girded, and with sandals on your feet. There is no time to lose.
Then comes the word to those who follow. “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD, throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance” (vs. 14). In the Christian reflection on this meal of liberation, we hear the call to remember Jesus’ own meal, his death, and his resurrection. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
While the Seder as practiced today has been modified greatly since these early days, which reminds us that Jesus didn’t observe the current version. We don’t know his liturgy. But he did use this meal as a call to his disciples to remember forever his life, his death, and yes, his resurrection (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). We must be careful with typologies when it comes to the Passover, but Jesus did connect his own death with the Passover. His death on the cross would become a means of liberation, a breaking of the bonds of sin that hold us, keeping us from embracing God’s call to enter the realm of God. Both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus established it, witness, as William Danaher suggests, “Like the remembrance of the past at contemporary Jewish observances of Passover, these sacramental actions provide a window through which to view God’s future acts of solidarity, liberation, and deliverance mediated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [Feasting on the Word, p. 262].
If you are a Christian, I invite you to remember. Remember Jesus and the meal he shared with his disciples. Remember the intimacy of that night, which John suggests Jesus used to wash the feet of his disciples, as a sign of humility and service (John 13:1-35). Remember the cross, and the death that revealed our true hearts, hearts of violence and sin, and remember the resurrection, which declared God’s victory over death. That is, it proclaimed God’s liberation of humanity from the bonds of death.
Picture Attribution: Passover, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55441 [retrieved March 28, 2018]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Andelsbuch_Pfarrkirche_-_Chorfenster_3a_Opfer.jpg.