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Passover (February 7, 2016)

Scripture passage and lesson focus: Exodus 12:1-14 

The lessons for the next four weeks focus on the religious observance of holy days — days dedicated to special religious observance and sacred celebration. Jews observe Yom Kippur/Rosh Hashanah and Passover; Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. The Scripture passage for this lesson describes the origin and significance of Passover.

Exodus 12:1-2 — A new beginning
The description of Passover in the book of Exodus comes near the end of the account of the plagues God inflicted on the Egyptians for oppressing the Israelites. After God had already sent nine plagues, a terrible tenth plague is announced: God will kill the oldest male child and the oldest male animal in every Egyptian household.

God tells Moses and Aaron that the month in which this terrible plague will strike the Egyptians will mark the beginning of a new year. It will be the first month of the year (initially called Abib and later changed to Nisan) on the new Israelite calendar.

The term “first month” is found at two other key places in the priestly version of Israel’s history. The end of the flood occurred on the first month (Genesis 8:13) and the tabernacle was constructed on the first month (Exodus 40:2). Each occurrence marks a new era in the history of God’s redemptive work on behalf of Israel.

Exodus 12:3-6 — Unblemished animals sacrificed
God commands every Israelite household to prepare for a very special holy day on which an unblemished lamb or goat will be sacrificed. Here the word “congregation” does not refer to a single large gathering of people, but to separate households gathered for worship. Households assembled for worship define Israel. In order for each household to have enough people to consume the entire sacrificed animal, households may be combined. The animal to be sacrificed for the sacred meal must be an unblemished lamb or a goat that is one year old. On the fourteenth day of the month, the time of the full moon, the animal is to be slaughtered at sundown by a representative of the whole community.

Exodus 12:7-13 — Directions for the passover meal
The first directive for celebrating the holy meal is to spread some of the blood of the sacrificed animals on the door posts and the lintels of Israelite houses. The reason for this is not given until verse 13: God promises to pass by the houses with blood on the doorway and the tenth plague will not bring death to the Israelites. The purpose of the first observance of the holy passover meal is to protect Israelites from the tenth and final plague through which God intends to execute judgment on the Egyptians.

It is significant that the holy passover meal is prepared and eaten in the homes of the Israelites. It is a family celebration, not a national religious event over which priests would preside.

The holy meal that came to be called Passover includes a sacrificed animal properly roasted (not boiled or eaten raw). Unleavened bread and bitter herbs (probably a type of lettuce) will be served with the roasted lamb or goat. The whole meal must be eaten in haste and completely. If there is any food left over, it must be burned.

The last directive for eating the holy passover meal is that the Israelites must be ready to leave Egypt quickly. Their robes should be tucked up into their belts to make walking easier, and they need to have sandals on their feet and a staff to serve as a walking stick.

Exodus 12:14 — A holy day of remembrance
The compiler of the ancient Israelite traditions in the book of Exodus links Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That celebration marks Israel’s exodus from Egypt and therefore from slavery. In remembrance, Passover is to be observed as a holy day in perpetuity by future generations.

The celebration of Passover was definitely important to Jesus. The Gospel of John reports that Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover three times. John the Baptizer introduces Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The apostle Paul uses imagery of Passover when he describes Christ as our Passover lamb in 1 Corinthians 5:7b-8. Christians recall the death and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every Easter.

For discussion
What holy days do you observe? Have you attended a Passover Seder meal with Jewish friends? If so, how did that experience change your perception of Judaism and/or Christianity? Israel’s liberation from Egypt is a central motif in certain contemporary theologies. What kind of liberation can Christians celebrate today?