Explaining Biblical Themes :
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
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
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
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.
For Website issues only, please contact :
For all Church or calendar related issues, please contact :
St Cuthbert's Parish Church. 5 Lothian Road.
Edinburgh. UK. EH1 2EP