From Jenny M: It's hard for me to remember my life before my family started celebrating Passover. So sometimes I forget that many of my readers may have not enjoyed this wonderful "feast of the LORD" before! If you are new to the feasts, please read this "Beginner's Guide" I put together. As always, feel free to ask any questions you may have. There's no such thing as a "dumb" question!
What is Passover?
Passover is one of the “Feasts of the LORD,” as found in Leviticus 23:5-8. Actually, Pesach (Passover) is a feast that is literally only a few hours long (between sundown and complete darkness) on the 14th day of the month of Nissan on the Hebrew calendar. Chag HaMatzah, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, is observed for seven days following Passover, from the 15th day of Nissan through the 21st of Nissan.
What are we celebrating?
There’s a children’s song that goes, “On Passover we remember, we remember, we remember what the LORD has done…” That’s exactly right. Passover is a time of remembrance. But what are we remembering?
The festival of Passover recalls the story of how the LORD delivered His people from the slavery of Egypt, as written in Exodus 1-15. The commandment was actually given in Exodus 12:1-20 for the Hebrew people in Egypt to observe this festival, even as they were still in Egypt. For four hundred years the Hebrew people had been in Egypt, and a new Pharaoh arose that did not remember Joseph (Exodus 1:8). However, God had a plan; He always does!
He raised up a young Hebrew boy named Moshe (Moses’ Hebrew name). Moshe was told to go before Pharaoh and plead on behalf of the Hebrew people. “Let my people go,” he cried to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh, as we know, was stubborn and ten times, including ten plagues that were visited upon Egypt, he wouldn’t be persuaded.
Most people recall watching the Ten Commandments film, especially the part that shows that as the LORD passed through Egypt, only those who had obeyed His command to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts did not experience any death in their household that night. That is the part of the film I remember most from watching it as a child!
Finally after Pharaoh himself experienced the loss of his firstborn (Exodus 12:29), he sent Moshe and the Hebrew people out of the land, only to change his mind and send his armies after them. Then, of course, God uses Moshe to split the sea, and the Hebrew people walked to the other side on dry ground, while the armies of Egypt are swallowed up into a watery grave! Talk about deliverance!
There’s another deliverance we are celebrating, that of our spiritual deliverance! We all have had our own experience of being “slaves to Egypt,” that is, this world we live in. We can choose to allow our worldly existence to consume our lives with nothing but slavery from beginning to end, which is the road that most people choose. The good news is that we have an alternative – God sent the Messiah Yeshua of Nazareth to come and be our Passover sacrifice. How do we smear his blood on our spiritual doorposts? By faith, just the same way that the Hebrews did! They had to have faith that that lamb’s blood was going to “save” them, or else they wouldn’t have done it. Hebrews 11:28 says, “By faith, he [Moses] obeyed the requirements for the Passover, including the smearing of the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” All the observances and traditions surrounding this feast, as with the other feasts of the LORD, are given to us to teach us about God’s special plan of salvation, both in the past and in the future!
But what if I'm not Jewish?
Direct quote from Exodus 12:48-49, "If a foreigner living among you wants to observe the LORD's Passover, all his males must be circumcised. Then he may take part and observe it; he will be like a citizen of the land. But no uncircumcised person is to eat it [the Passover lamb]. The same teaching is to apply equally to the citizen and to the foreigner living among you."
Remember, it wasn't only the physical descendants that came out of Egypt, but a "mixed multitude" (Exodus 12:38) went out. There were people from "the nations" as it were, that decided that this God of Israel was the one true God, as they had seen his power and might displayed in their land. This was Israel living out her calling to be a "light to the nations." Today, we must also have a "circumcised heart" (Romans 2:26-29) as we are grafted in to the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:17-24). Therefore, any who has believed in the God of Israel has an invitation to celebrate HIS feasts!
How is Passover observed today?
Today, Passover is commenced by a meal, called a seder. Seder means “order” in Hebrew, and refers to the order of the meal. This is not an eat-and-run meal like the very first Passover meal, back in Egypt. As the saying goes, “Once we were slaves, now we are free!” And what do free people do? Take their time, relax, and recline…and that’s exactly what we do at the seder meal. There is a book that each participant will use at the meal, called a HaGaddah. HaGaddah means “the telling.” As we read through the HaGaddah together, we learn not only about the story in Exodus but also about the special ceremonial foods you see on the seder plate in front of you. If you will be attending your first seder sometime soon, don’t forget to eat something beforehand! The actual meal can come hours after you have started reading the HaGaddah and explaining the seder plate.
Another observance for Passover, and the main observance for Chag HaMatzah (seven days following Passover evening), is to abstain from things that are leavened. Not only do many people not eat regular leavened products (bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, cake, etc.), but the commandment in Exodus says to remove it from one’s dwelling. For the weeks preceding Passover, many families begin cleaning their homes of even the smallest crumbs! Talk about spring cleaning!
What are the ceremonial elements on the seder table and what do they mean?
Zeroah (A Shankbone) – Usually a roasted chicken leg is used, although sometimes people do use a lamb bone. This is obviously to remember the Passover sacrifice, the lamb that was slain. Lamb is not eaten during the seder, as the temple has not yet been rebuilt.
Maror (Bitter Herbs) – Usually a fresh horseradish root on the plate or some prepared horseradish to give a painful reminder of the bitterness of slavery.
Karpas (A Vegetable) – Usually a crunchy vegetable such as parsley, lettuce, a potato or an onion, alluding to the back-breaking labor endured by the Hebrew people in Egypt. If using parsely it can symbolize the hyssop that was used to smear the lamb's blood on the doorposts and lintel of the Hebrew's homes.
Charoset (A Sweet Paste) – This is everyone’s favorite element! It is a sweet paste made of chopped fruit and nuts (apples, dates, raisins, walnuts, and little wine or grape juice). It is a reminder of the mortar used for the bricks laid by the Hebrew slaves. As we scoop it up on to a piece of matzah with some of the bitter herbs, it is a reminder that God turns our mourning into joy!
Chazeret (Romaine Lettuce) – This is a remembrance that the exile of the children of Israel in Egypt began well (pleasant tasting leaves), but turned sour (the bitter stalk of the romaine lettuce).
A Roasted Egg – This is a tradition that begun after the destruction of Herod’s temple (the Second Temple) in 70 AD. The roasted hard-boiled egg is meant to symbolize the festival offering that was brought to the temple by the worshippers. It is dipped in salt water during the meal to symbolize the tears that were shed by those who witnessed the destruction of the temple, but the “new life” of the egg is a symbol of our hope to see Messiah rebuild the temple and rightfully reign from Jerusalem. Note: not all seders include the egg.
Matzah – Unleavened bread is made with no yeast, and therefore is flat. It is a symbol for many things. It is a reminder that the Hebrews had no time to allow their bread to rise during their flight from Egypt. Matzah’s greatest symbolization, however, is that of “sin” or “pride.” As we clean our homes of leavened products, we should even more so be introspective of our spirits. It’s a time of renewal and repentance before God, our deliverer. Also, as believers in Yeshua the Messiah, the matzah is a reminder of His sinless sacrifice. As you look at a piece of matzah, read Isaiah 53. The matzah is bruised (“He was bruised for our transgressions”), and it is pierced (“…pierced for our iniquities”).
Salt Water – As we dip the karpas in the salt water, we remember the tears of slavery. How great is the Father’s love that He will one day wipe away every tear!
The Four Glasses of Wine or Juice – Each glass of wine or grape juice represents one of the promises that God gives His people in Exodus 6:6-7.
They are: the Cup of Sanctification (I am ADONAI. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians,), the Cup of Deliverance (…rescue you from their oppression...), the Cup of Redemption (…and redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.) and the Cup of Praise (I will take you as my people, and I will be your God).
*When Yeshua took the cup and said, "Do this in remembrance of me," He did so at the last seder with His disciples. He was saying, "When you observe the Passover, remember how my sacrifice has sancitifed you, delivered you, redeemed you, so that you could praise the Father in Heaven!"
The Cup of Elijah – But wait…one more cup! This cup is actually not one that we enjoy at the seder, but one that is set in case Elijah himself arrives as the guest of honor to herald the coming of Messiah. It is a reminder that Messiah can come at any moment, even in the middle of our Passover seder! Even so, come Lord Yeshua!