Passover

Preaching and Worship Resources about Passover

At the original Passover, God "passed over" the houses of the Israelites while striking down the firstborn of the Egyptian people and their animals. This was the last event Israel experienced before they were released from captivity in Egypt. Passover is also the annual festival to celebrate this event.

In Scripture

Lamb without blemish "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male . . . the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. . . . This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Ex. 12:5-13).

What does this mean? "When in the future your child asks you, `What does this mean?' you shall answer, `By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.' It shall serve as a sign on your hand and as an emblem on your forehead that by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:14-16).

God heard "We cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Deut. 26:7-9).

Remembering "They slaughtered the passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and they sanctified themselves and brought burnt offerings into the house of the Lord. They took their accustomed posts according to the law of Moses the man of God; the priests dashed the blood that they received from the hands of the Levites" (2 Chron. 30:15-16).

Passover meal "On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, `Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?' . . . So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal" (Mark 14:12-16).

Paschal lamb, Christ Jesus "Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7).

Ransomed by the blood of Christ "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish" (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

Worthy is the lamb "[They were] singing with full voice, `Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!'" (Rev. 5:12).

Points to Ponder

A founding event In the history of Israel the Passover is a founding event, the basis for Israel's devotion to God the liberator and the constitutive factor in Israel's sense of her identity. Who are we? We are the people whom God passed over and then delivered from Egypt. In following centuries, when Israel recited God's "mighty deeds," she would start with the Passover. Moreover, the Passover and other mighty deeds secured Israel's hope. If God delivered us before, then God will do it again.

A festival In the years following, Israel kept the memory of Passover alive by celebrating the Passover festival. In it, Israelites would re-enact the Passover (a slaughtered lamb, its blood smeared on the door frame, roasted and eaten quickly, with people dressed for getting out of town). The festival might happen hundreds of years after the Passover event, but the father of the family would speak as if he himself had been brought out of Egypt: [the festival] "is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt" (Ex. 13:8).

Slaughter of the lambs By the time Israel had a temple, it became home base for the slaughter of the lambs. A Jewish family would slay a lamb while the priests collected the lamb's blood in basins and then dashed it against the base of the altar. The lamb would be skinned and its fat and kidneys burned on the altar. During the process, Levites would sing the Hallel psalms (113-118). Then the lamb's owner would rewrap the carcass in its own skin, fling it over his shoulder, and carry it home for the Passover meal. During the spring celebration of Passover, Jerusalem would be glutted with an extra 200,000 Jews. Among them were merchants of every kind. Merchants would haggle, beggars would scramble for the most trafficked spots, and everywhere, food, drink, jewels, clothing, and especially lambs and goats would be bartered or sold.

Last Supper New Testament gospels tell us that the Last Supper was a Passover meal: there was food, drink, (probably Hallel) psalm singing, and an air of urgency because Jesus reveals that a traitor is with them. Jesus also reveals that the bread and wine are his body and blood to be consumed now, but not again until God's kingdom comes.

Slain Passover lamb Paul and Peter (and maybe Revelation) identify Jesus with the slain Passover lamb.

Baptism Meanwhile, Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:1, 2 ties baptism in with the Exodus: "our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea"). Elsewhere, Paul says that Christians are baptized into Christ, or into Christ's death and resurrection. The idea is that Moses and Christ are the "representative personalities" of the people of God. To be baptized into them is to be recognized ceremonially as belonging to the community launched into history by their signature acts — for Moses, Passover and Exodus; for Christ, death and resurrection, with resurrection counting as the second Exodus (Lewis B. Smedes, All Things Made New: A Theology of Union with Christ, Eerdmans, 1970, pp. 143-45). When Christians immerse a baptizand, they are reenacting the passage through the Red Sea and the death and resurrection of Christ. Christians say to the baptizand by these actions: You are a person of these events. They are your events because you belong to the people formed and identified by these events.

Belonging and identity In his teaching at Calvin College, Nicholas Wolterstorff used to suggest an illuminating parallel: when on the Fourth of July Americans dress up in eighteenth-century clothes, play music, parade, and shoot off cannons and fireworks, they are saying, "We are the people of the Declaration of Independence and of the Revolutionary War. Those are our events, because we belong to the people formed and identified by these events."

For contemporary observant Jews, the Passover feast often features braised lamb shank.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.