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Explaining Biblical Themes :
Passover





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Passover
And The Feast Of The Unleavened Bread 


Luke tells us that on the day of the feast of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover had to be sacrificed, Jesus dispatched Peter and John to prepare the evening meal in the upper room of a house he had already made arrangements for hiring 


Luke chapter 22, verses 1 - 6 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. 


Passover was a combination of two observances - the week of unleavened bread and the night of the Passover. The festivals had their origins in the years when the Children of Israel were a desert people. It was, and still is, recognised by the Jews as the anniversary of the time when God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt sometime between 1400 BC and 1200 BC. It records the birth of the Israelite nation as a free nation under the guidance of divinely inspired laws. 

Just as memory of the central events in the New Testament gospel was preserved in the worship of the early Christian community, so the Exodus was handed down in Israel in one great family religious festival - "Passover". Again just as Christianity built on pagan customs giving them new meaning in Christ, Judaism built on the practices of desert peoples back beyond the time of the settlement in Canaan and probably beyond the Exodus. 

The origin of the two festivals may well have been in a protective ceremony carried out by semi-nomadic shepherds before their annual migration from the desert towards the cultivated fringes. Celebrated in the Spring at full moon, it contains a rite, the smearing of blood of a lamb on the tent posts, which was probably designed to ward off demons of destruction or infertility. A lamb was roasted in nomadic fashion and eaten with desert food - unleavened bread with bitter herbs. (These came to feature in the Passover as symbols of the bitter years of slavery in Egypt.). The participants in the meal were ready to move at a moment's notice to defend the flock, sandals on feet, staff in hand. All of this is explicable without reference to the Exodus. 

The name of the Jewish festival, Pesach, is difficult to define, but it is linked with God's "passing over" the blood-smeared lintels of Hebrew homes and the fastened belts, sandaled feet, staff in hand are memorials of the haste with which the Hebrews left Egypt at God's command.  

The reason for keeping Passover and the instructions for its celebration are found in Exodus 12 and 13. In the beginning it was an observance in the family circle more than a pilgrimage festival as it had become in the time of Jesus. It came into community prominence towards the end of the time when the Israelites had kings and was linked to the barley harvest-time when the first cuttings and the first-born animals were presented at the sanctuary as a thanksgiving. The rest could then be taken for human use without arrogance. The week was marked by a ban on leaven (yeast) as though to avoid contaminating the new crop with the old. When the festival came to be interpreted as a commemoration of the Exodus the unleavened bread suggested the haste of the meal on Passover night. 

In the time of Jesus, pilgrims walked, travelled by ship, camel or donkey, often in caravan companies to avoid attack by brigands. The pilgrims came from all over the Mediterranean. Homes were searched for the remains of leavened bread or cakes and cleaned; animals were washed down; male Jews within a radius of fifteen miles of the temple were to appear at the Temple bringing a lamb for sacrifice. Temple worship continued throughout the week. (see June Magazine "The Temple"). 

During the Passover time all lodging in Jerusalem was free. The better class houses had two rooms. The one room was on top of the other and the upper room was reached by an outside stair. A very usual use of an upper room was that it was the place where a Rabbi met with his favoured disciples to talk things over with them and to open his heart to them. It was in such a room that Jesus and his disciples ate their last meal together. Jesus gave the elements of bread and wine in that meal a unique meaning - giving himself in the symbols of bread and wine to and for his friends, and through them, to all mankind. 

Christian Education Committee, 2004

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