Last night was Passover. The full moon shone on me as I drove across the city to the home of a man I’d never met. A friend of mine had invited me to come and share Passover with a group of her Israeli friends, and I happily accepted.
As I drove, I felt the weight of what I was about to do. I was about to participate in a ceremony that has been passed down generation after generation for thousands of years; a ceremony instituted by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a feast steeped in tradition, but not just any tradition, tradition that is close to my heart because of the people who carry it and the God who gave it.
When I arrived, I was (strangely) expecting Australians with a bit of Jewish heritage. I got Israelis. I was instantly captivated by the elegantly set table, and the babble of Hebrew language around me. They were fabulously friendly, and quickly welcomed me, an outsider, into their circle.
Close to 9pm everyone had arrived and we sat around the long table and began the Passover feast. For the first half hour, we didn’t eat. We read in Hebrew from a book (reading right to left) that fortunately had English translations. Sometimes they asked me to read it for them in English and then exclaimed in delight over and over about how good my English was and how great it sounded.
Sometimes they sang the lines in Hebrew, quite disharmoniously, and everyone would laugh and argue and say ‘stop, it’s my turn!’ It was quite clear at times that they had no idea what they were doing, but we ploughed on until finally we were allowed to eat something. First a stick of celery (bitter herbs- not sure of the connection) and then some unleavened bread with raw Chinese cabbage and a ball of what tasted like walnuts mixed with dates and spices.
After the first lot of formalities were finished (we’d passed wine, dipped wine, broken bread, hidden bread, sung and read, all with a good amount of laughter and shouting) we could finally eat the meal. There was fish in a buttery garlic sauce, and eggplant with tahini. We ate potato salad, tuna salad and green salad, and some kind of mince wrapped in onions. We ate and talked and ate and argued and eventually everyone was full. Some people went outside to smoke and others started to clean up. The rest of the ceremony was forgotten as people lay on couches and ate fruit. The rest of the ‘cups’ were never drunk, and the hidden bread was never found. And that was that.
I’m pretty sure that as far as Passovers go, mine wasn’t particularly ‘Kosher.’ But I did learn a couple of things:
First, I’d somehow always imagined that everyone in every other religion was devout. I knew it wasn’t strictly true, but I’d kind of believed that Christianity was really the only one that had multitudes of people who claimed it by name, but really had no idea what it was about.
These people were certainly Jewish. They had Jewish mothers and Israeli citizenship, but I didn’t get the impression that they really understood what they were doing. They knew I was a Christian and assumed I had been born that way and were confused when I said that my belief system was basically Jewish except that I believed that Jesus was the Messiah. I’m not convinced that some of them realized that they were waiting for a Messiah.
The second thing I learnt was that Jesus was so much more the Messiah than I’d ever realized before.
The Jews are (supposed) to drink 4 cups at Passover. The first is called the Cup of Sanctification, the second the Cup of Judgement or Deliverance the third the Cup of Redemption and the fourth, the Cup of Restoration.
When Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples, he came to the third cup and said ‘This is my blood.’ His blood was our redemption. He then said that he would no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until he drank it with his disciples in His father’s kingdom. He didn’t drink the fourth cup. Restoration was still to come.
At the beginning of the Passover ceremony, three pieces of unleavened bread are taken. The middle one is broken in two. Half is placed back between the original two, and the other half is wrapped up and hidden away somewhere in the house, for the children to find later. While this may be a somewhat strange ritual for the Jew, for the Christian the depth of the meaning is amazing. When Jesus broke the bread he said ‘This is my body.’ He is the second piece of bread between three, broken and hidden away.
My experience of Passover is limited to a rather unorthodox rendition of the feast. It didn’t have the weight of tradition and sanctity that I was expecting, but to me it was profound.
I may disagree with them on my most fundamental of beliefs, but I have a deep respect for these Jewish people, who, sometimes without even knowing it, have faithfully passed on and preserved the laws and traditions of the God who led them out of Egypt. These are the same people, and the same God, who brought forth our Messiah, so that we, irrespective of race, may be brought into the family of God. May they one day see their Saviour for who He truly is: Their Passover lamb, the broken bread and the cup of redemption.