From sunset April 22 to sunset April 30, Jews all over the world are gathering for the festival of Passover–commemorating Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt, described in Exodus 12.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, ” …each man is to take a lamb for his family … take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses … and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
For the first time this year, I participated in a Seder–the Passover dinner ceremony in which Jews celebrate the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in Egypt. Until recently, I hadn’t thought about what Passover might mean to modern Christians–I only knew Jews commemorated Passover’s historical meaning annually.
At my cousins’ house last Friday, our group of 10 sat at a long dinner table, set much like Christmas or Thanksgiving–the family’s best china, a couple nice candles, cloth napkins … but there was also a “Seder Plate” (if you, like me, are new to this term, this 1:24 video will give you a basic overview) and a few plates of matzah (a thin and crisp unleavened bread–similar to what a church might use for communion).
At each place setting, we found a “Haggadah”–a printed outline for our liturgy-like event–including Hebrew and English text, a narrative of the Exodus, and descriptions of each procedures’ significance.What struck me deeply was that, among the remembrance of Israel’s physical deliverance from slavery is the symbolism of every believer’s spirit rescued and forgiven from sin.
There was one custom in particular which drove that point home. On a small piece of matzah, we dropped a dollop of horseradish, then ate the pungent concoction. I’d never eaten horseradish before, and the sensation it created felt like an unforeseen bombshell dropped in my skull. My throat caught fire, my nostrils flared, and my eyes watered. I’m pretty sure steam exploded from my ears, too … it was a painful experience.
As it was intended.
The Israelites engage in that practice as a remembrance of the pain and suffering of slavery in Egypt. During my family’s Seder, my cousin explained to me that we, as Christians, also use the practice to recognize the burning agony of our sin.
The next part of the two-step observance was to take a second piece of matzah and again (yikes!) place horseradish on top. But this time, we heaped charoset–a symbolic sweet mixture of crushed walnuts, diced apples, honey, and cinnamon–over the bitter herbs. Then we ate it the combination. Although it was indeed there, the bitter horseradish could not be tasted underneath the delightful charoset. The paste is meant to remind Jews of the mortar used by Israelites during Egyptian captivity … as Christians, it’s also a means to reflect on the sweetness of Christ’s grace and forgiveness in covering our sins.
Seriously … “WOW” was all I could say most of the night. The Seder burst with meaning and symbolism–and incorporated all five senses to remind us of Christ’s perfection, holiness, and sacrifice.
In preparation for the Seder last week, I listened to Museum of the Bible’s edition of The Bookcalled “Passover.” I’d encourage you to watch the YouTube version here–where images of the Seder Plate and families commemorating the festival beautifully complement the rich audio.
What I appreciate about The Book is that the daily features are always timely–be it a report on the Bible censored in public libraries (see ALA’s recent article here) or the Bible’s engagement with today’s adult coloring book trend. I always look to the feature for a new angle on a current (or historical!) event or discussion.
Thank you for six strong months of inviting listeners to engage with the Bible through partnership in airing The Book.
(“goodbye” in Hebrew)