Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Passover Is Here

Exodus 12:1-14
Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers  households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. And they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste-- it is the LORD'S Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments – I am the LORD. And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.

Maundy Thursday                   4/09/20
The Passover Is Here

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This evening we commemorate one of the most often remembered, and most often disregarded days in the life of Christ.  We mention it, although we rarely think about this day, even when we speak of it, every time we speak the Words of Institution in preparation for receiving the gift of God in the Sacrament.  We say, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the same night on which He was betrayed, . . .".  That night was tonight, what we now call Maundy Thursday.  It was the night that the Lord left us His last will and testament in this Supper.

We often ignore the fact that this holy supper took place in the context of the celebration of the Passover.  I mean, we know it happened that way, but unless a pastor preaches about it, we tend to ignore that fact.  The Passover was Jewish.  We are Christians.  End of story.

But the Passover is here! God established the Passover as a memorial to be celebrated as a feast to the Lord as a permanent ordinance.  Those words are all from verse 14 of our text.  Jesus did not intend to end or supersede the Passover celebration.  He intended to fulfill the type and give it greater meaning and to allow His people to celebrate the fullness of the true Passover.

Our text lays out the first Passover.  It tells Moses how to instruct the Children of Israel to prepare for the night when the Angel of Death would visit Egypt and end the life of the first-born of every womb – man or beast, except those who were in dwellings marked with lamb s blood on the door frames.  Those he would "pass over" and spare the lives of the first-born within.

Moses was to instruct them on how to prepare the lamb (they cooked it whole, with head and fur and guts inside -- roasting it over an open fire).  They were to be careful not to break any of its bones.  They were to eat it dressed for travel – with cloak on their back and staff in hand, and sandal on their feet, for it was a meal of haste.  They were to have unleavened bread, because they would not have time for bread to rise.  They were to eat it with bitter herbs (today they often use horseradish) to symbolize the bitterness of their bondage in slavery in Egypt.

The Passover meal was to be the reminder for them of the saving acts of God, rescuing them from bondage and giving them their homeland.  It was a reminder of His power, and of how suddenly He accomplished what had seemed impossible just days before.  It was a reminder of what they had left behind so that they would not desire to go back.  It was part of what made them a people of the covenant.  If they did not participate, they were not Israel.  If they were not Israel, they were also not allowed to participate.

Over the centuries, a ritual arose and evolved around the Seder.  It evolved into a much more elaborate meal with symbolism to instruct the young and remind the older ones of the great truths of their faith.  They stopped eating the Seder standing, and reclined at table.  They developed the ritual of the Afikomen - or "after meal" – a dessert type ritual dealing with broken and hidden Matzoth.  They developed the custom of the four cups of the Seder.  But the essence remained – the bread of haste, the sacrificed lamb and the message of the great saving work of God.

Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the same night in which He was betrayed.  He did more than celebrate it, however, He changed it.  With His coming, and with the events of the next seventy-two hours, the foreshadowing function of the Passover would be complete.  Instead of the lamb of the Passover shedding his blood for the lives and safety of the Children of Israel, as God worked their salvation from slavery in Egypt, the Lamb of God would shed His own blood for the sins of the world and to redeem and save all men from bondage to sin and captivity to death and hell.  The Passover meal would never again require a lamb to die.  The symbol was superseded by the reality.

Jesus took the unleavened bread of the Seder, and gave it new significance.   Jews who have become Christians see the death of Jesus in the breaking of the afikomen, and the burial of our Lord in the hiding of the afikomen, and the resurrection in the "finding" of the afikomen at the end of the meal.  Jesus took the sacred bread of haste, and proclaimed that it was His body, and commanded His disciples to "Do This" – often – in remembrance of Him.

Jesus then took the third cup of the Seder.  We suspect it was the third cup because it is placed immediately after the meal – when He had supped (in the King James s English).  St.  Paul called the third cup "the cup of blessing." That is because they spoke a special blessing over the third cup at the traditional Seder.  The third cup was known as the "Cup of Redemption."  It had come to symbolize the blood of the Passover Lamb, and commemorated God s saving acts, and His will to save.  This is the cup which Jesus declared was now His blood – blood shed for each of us for the remission of sin.  Then Jesus commanded that we do this also – often – in remembrance of Him.

This Holy Meal we receive, of which we commemorate the establishment particularly on this evening, is the Passover.  It is not the Passover of the Angel of Death in Egypt which we commemorate, however.  In Jesus Christ, the death which we have earned in sin has been passed over, and we have been redeemed and rescued.  The bondage to sin and Satan and Hell has been broken and ended for all who believe.  The bread of haste has become a koinonia – a participation together in the very body of Christ and in all that Christ has won for us.  It establishes our unity, and our eating of it declares to all the world that we are united in this faith and in this salvation.

The Cup of blessing which we bless is no longer merely wine, but it is also filled with the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross for our blessing and salvation.  The cup of redemption of the Seder has become more than a mere symbol, it is the cup of redemption, filled with forgiveness of sins and salvation for those who drink of it knowing what it truly is and trusting in the promises of God made in connection with it.  This cup is also a communion– a participation together in the blood of Jesus Christ and in what that blood has done.

This is the Passover.  We no longer need to kill a lamb for it, for the Lamb of God is here, in, with, and under the bread and the wine with His true body and blood our salvation.  We still eat the Lamb, but in, with and under the form of the elements of this holy meal.  It still reminds us of our rescue, and it works in us the rescue of which we are reminded.  It still points to the promised land – only ours is the new heavens and the new earth of eternal life.  It still makes us part of the people of God.  Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 10:17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.  It is our sharing in this one bread that establishes our unity in Christ.  This is the truly ecumenical meal, for all who believe share in it, but only those who share in our faith are welcome to share in it.   As with the Passover of ancient Israel, the outsider who partakes incurs the judgment of God, Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.

Modern Christians sometimes say that this is "What is left of the Passover." I say that it is the whole of the Passover and more.  It has been called the "Medicine of Immortality," for by receiving it we are healed of sin and death, and prepared for everlasting life and glory.  It is the cure for sin, for it brings forgiveness of sins to the believer, and in so doing heals him from death, and imparts even to his flesh the power of the resurrection to glory.

The Passover is here! It continues as a memorial and a feast to the Lord.  It defines who we are, and marks us as the people of God.  It serves to hold before our eyes the saving acts of God, For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup.  you proclaim the Lord s death until He comes.   It is, in every respect, the Passover meal of the true Israel of God, the children of the promise.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

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