Passover - Jon Fryer

Shema Israel Adonai elohenu Adonai ehad.

Last night and tonight in the Jewish calendar is the festival of Passover, the great feast of redemption and liberation, the memorial of how God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and made them into his people.

MenorahTonight we are going to explore the story of Passover through a ritual meal, but we are not going to celebrate the feast as the Jews would celebrate it – there would be little point, since we are not Jewish! However, what we can do is look at the story of how God chose a people for himself and saved them from slavery, and realise that although we are not Jewish, their story is our story, because in us too God chose a people for Himself and,. Through his son Jesus Christ, saved us from slavery to sin and death. Jesus himself celebrated Passover with his friends, and he used the symbols from the meal to teach his disciples about himself, and so it will hopefully teach us too. The ritual meal is not just a teaching method however – it is an act of worship too – think of it as an extended version of communion, which we will take together as part of the meal itself. 

We gather today to remember and to celebrate.

To remember harsh oppression and celebrate liberation.

To remember our sins and to celebrate our salvation.

To recognize New Pharaohs and rejoice in New Freedoms.

Kadesh

We gather for this sacred celebration in the presence of loved ones and friends with the signs of festive rejoicing around us. Together with all of Gods people both young and old are linking the past with the future; we respond in faith to God's call to service; we gather here to observe the Passover, as it is written:

Celebrate the Passover Feast, because it was on this day that I rescued you from Egypt. Celebrate this day forever, through all of the generations that are to come.

(Oldest woman, the ‘mother’, says:)

We praise you God and say that all life is sacred. In lighting these festive lights, we are reminded of the holiness of life. With every candle we light, the world is brightened. We praise you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who lights our lives with commandments. May the lights we now light inspire us to use our strength which you so freely give us to help and not to hinder, to love and not to hate, to bless and not to curse, to serve and worship you, the God of freedom.

(Oldest woman then lights the candles)

By lighting candles we ask God’s blessing to shine upon on us and make the day special. Passover is all about freedom, and the first step to being free yourself is to realise that you are special. You have a distinct combination of talents, skills and experiences that qualify you to make a unique contribution to the world. In Egypt, the Jews were forced to build the store cities of Pitom and Rameses. Why was this torturous labour? Because these cities rest on swamp land, and every time the Jews built one level it sunk into the ground. Slavery is a life with no meaning, work accomplishing nothing. You are not slaves. Your lives have meaning, and with Jesus you can accomplish great things.

Kiddush

Throughout the meal we will drink four times. God promised freedom to His people. With four cups of wine we celebrate God’s promises to Israel and to us. One for freedom, one for deliverance, one for redemption, and one in thanksgiving that God keeps his promises. It is traditional for the people to fill each others glasses rather than their own, so please do so now.

(Fill each others glasses)

Our history teaches us that in varied ways and in different words God gave promises of freedom to our people. With cups of wine we recall each one of them, as God said to us:

“I am God. I will bring you out from under the cruel hard labour of Egypt. I will rescue you from slavery. I will redeem you, intervening with great acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people and I will be your God. You will know that I am God, your God who brings you out from under the cruel hard labour of Egypt.”

(All raise wine glasses) We raise the Cup of Sanctification, and proclaim the holiness of the Day of Deliverance by saying together:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who have kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this season of joy!

(All drink the first cup.)

This is a day of freedom. In every age oppressors rise against us to crush our spirits and bring us low. From the power of anything that hinders us from being your people, you rescue and restore us. We praise you, God who liberates us to holiness.

Urchatz

We prepare for the meal by washing our hands, a sign of the purity of heart and hands that we are called to have as God’s people, as we come before God and as we serve the world. One aspect of freedom is to be able to lift ourselves out of the mess of sin that is common in the world. We have all felt the sensory assault of sexy ads, coarse jokes on the tv, and routine violence on our streets. We wash our hands in order to carefully consider who we are sharing a meal with – God, the Holy One of Israel, and Jesus, His perfect Son. If we are concerned about physical cleanliness it reminds us to be concerned about spiritual cleanliness – we have lots of options in life, but not all of them are clean. We wash our hands to distance ourselves from unhealthy things. Real freedom is being able to say “I choose not to do these things”.

(All wash hands)

Karpas

It is Spring, the season of rebirth, renewal, and new life. The days are filled with more light than darkness. The earth is becoming green with new life.

The celery symbolizes the growth of springtime, and is a sign of hope and renewal. It represents life, created and sustained by the Lord our God. We are filled with joy at the goodness of God in loving us and caring for us, and bringing into our lives all good things.

"See, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come...", and we say together:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the earth!

Gratitude brings freedom. Who is really rich? The Jewish answer to that question is is: The man who is satisfied with what he has got. If we truly appreciate all we have we will constantly be able to say “Life is a beautiful gift”. Even the bad times, the things that appear bitter, like a broken relationship or a lost job, are ultimately for the best – All things work together for the good of those who love God, says the scriptures.

Life and love though they are good are mixed with sadness and tears. We are celebrating the freedom that God brought to us as slaves in Egypt, but life in Egypt was hard and filled with pain and suffering and tears. The struggle for freedom always begins in suffering. To remind ourselves that even the bitter times will ultimately be fruitful, and that even the hard times belong to God, we dip the celery into the salt water before we eat it. And before we eat we say together:

You O God create all the fruit of the earth. We thank you that even in heartache and pain you provide riches beyond compare.

Everyone dips a piece of Karpas in the salt water and eats it.

Yachatz, Matzah, Maror

(The leader breaks the middle matzah on his plate, wraps the larger half in a cloth, and conceals it as the "afikoman.")

This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share in the hope of Passover. As we celebrate here, we join with Gods people everywhere. This year we celebrate here. Next year we may celebrate in the New Jerusalem. Now we are still enslaved. Next year may we all be free. The sharing of bread forms a bond of fellowship and community. In sharing this bread we are in community with all people the rich man and the beggar. Our freedom is bound up with the freedom of all people everywhere. It is only the grace of God that sets the captives free!

(The first of the leader's three matzot is broken and distributed.)

We say together:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. We praise you.  You make our lives holy by your commandments.

Uneavened bread is used to recall the fact that the dough used by the fleeing Israelites did not even have time to rise before God came and saved them. Unleavened bread is traditionally made not by cooking without yeast, but rather by baking bread so quickly that the yeast does not have any chance to rise. The lesson is to seize the moment – if God’s people had put off obeying him to do ordinary, everyday things like cooking bread properly then they would not have escaped from the Egyptians who were following them. Delaying even one second when God calls you can mean the difference between an opportunity seized or an opportunity lost. What is God calling you to today? All of life is made up of these seconds seized and seconds lost. Are you wasting the time that God has given to you? Ezekiel talks of people sunk in the depths of depravity whose lives are transformed by just one second of recognition when they meet with God, and that one second changes their entire eternity. One second can be the difference between life and death. God is in the little things, as well as the big.

Horseradish symbolizes the bitterness of the past suffering of the Jews in Egypt. Throughout history the people of God, both Jews and Christians, have been imprisoned, persecuted and murdered. God’s message of love to the world that he gave first to the Jews in the rescue from Egypt, and then again to all people in the body of His Son, is a message that evil simply can not tolerate. The forces of darkness have always sought to extinguish God’s message of love, but God has promised that he will never abandon us. Never will I leave you, nor will I forsake you, says the Lord your God. Behold, I am with you always, until the very ending of the world, said Jesus. We eat the bitter horseradish with the bread to remind ourselves that God is present not only during our periods of freedom (as symbolised by the bread), but also in the bitter times as well. He will never forsake us.

Charoset is a mixture of apples, spices, wine and nuts. It symbolizes the mortar the Jews used in carrying out the Pharoah's labor.

According to ancient custom, the horseradish and charoset are eaten between two pieces of matzot. Break the piece of matzah on your plate in half and place some maror and haroset between.

In each of these elements we see the symbols of our story: the bitterness of slavery to sin, the bread of freedom in the body of Jesus broken for us, and the mortar of work – because we still have a part to play in God’s great story. Even though we are free, God still has work for each one of us to do, but as Jesus said, if you come to me you will find that my work is easy, and the burden I give you is light. Let us eat together, remembering that just as the bread was once piece, so all of Gods people are one. We are all one family, with a responsibility to love and care for each other, regardless of our past history together.

(All eat the matzah, maror, and haroset.)

You may have noticed that I covered up a portion of the bread. This is a symbol of hope for the true freedom we know will come, but that we can not yet see. It a reminder of the hidden Messiah whose appearance we wait for in eager expectation. Remember the symbolism here, because it will become very important a bit later on.

 

Maggid

At this point in the meal the youngest child present asks the most important question:

Why is this night different from other nights?

And the answer is returned:

Because once we were slaves in Egypt, but now we are free.

God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would be a great people, a promise he renewed to each generation, to Isaac and Jacob. As time passed Jacob’s children came to live in the land of Egypt where his son Joseph was advisor to Pharaoh. But years passed and another Pharaoh came to power who did not remember Joseph and did not know his God, so he enslaved the Israelites. He forced them to work hard making bricks of clay and straw with which to build his cities. As the people increased in numbers, he feared that they might rebel against him, so he ordered every newborn boy drowned. They knew only toil, suffering, and tears. They cried out from their cruel oppression, hoping that God would remember the promises He had made to the fathers. And God heard their cry and remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham. Through a wise mother and sister, God saved the life of the boy Moses from the ruthless hands of Pharaoh. After he had grown up, God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, and promised Moses that He would be with him. And yet when Moses asked Pharaoh to free the Israelites, he refused and increased their labor. So God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh and the land of Egypt so they might know that the Lord is God, and let the people go.

(Leader fills his second cup. The second cup is held up)

Freedom was won in pain and suffering, lives were sacrificed, creation itself was ripped apart. We cannot celebrate without sorrow.

(A drop of wine is spilled for each plague)

Blood. Frogs. Lice. Swarms of flies. Cattle Disease. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Death of the First Born.

Pharaoh continued to refuse to let the people go until the last plague, the death of the firstborn of all of Egypt, convinced him to release the people. By following God’s instructions and putting the blood of a lamb on the door posts of the houses, the Israelites were spared this plague as death "Passed Over" their houses.

(The lamb bone is held up)

This is the symbol of the Passover lamb that was killed so that Gods children might live. It is a symbol of the tension of sacrifice and grace. Jesus was the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He died on the Cross at the exact moment the Passover lamb was to be killed, and as a result the Angel of Death has passed over us, and we are free to live forever in Him.

(The egg is held up)

This is a symbol of new life and hope, God’s grace is not confined to sacrifices in a temple. The old Temple is gone, the old Altar is gone, and yet life still springs forth from God. Jesus said: My body is the New temple, and even if you destroy it, in three days I will build it up again. On Easter Sunday he proved that his words were true, and that new life was available to anyone who believes and trusts in Him.

Parting the SeaEven as the Israelites were leaving, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after them. Trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites had nowhere to go. But God told Moses to lift his staff over the sea, and God parted the waters. They were able to pass through the midst of the sea . When the Egyptians tried to follow, the waters closed back over them. When the Israelites saw that they were free, Moses’ sister Miriam led them in rejoicing and praising God. Like her, we say together:

You are a great God, creator and sovereign of the universe. You hear the cries of the oppressed, you bring freedom to the captive, and embrace us as your children.

Jesus said to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” Surprised, they said, “But we're descendants of Abraham. We've never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, ‘The truth will free you’?” Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is a prisoner, who can't come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.

Why is this night different?

Because once we were slaves, and now we are free.

This question and answer sums up the entire point of the Passover celebration meal. Because once we were slaves, but now we are free. I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but in Mel Gibson’s version of the Passion, but just after Jesus is arrested in the Garden the film cuts to the two Marys, who have both been disturbed by noises. The younger Mary asks Mary Mother of Jesus ‘Why is this night different?’, and she replies ‘Because once we were slaves, and now we are free’, and it is at that very moment that John Mark bursts in with the news ‘They’ve taken Him’. Its an incredibly clever piece of film, because it is Jesus’ death that sets us free, and shows a really incredible understanding of what the Passover story and the Passion story are all about. As Christians we can ask that question every night, and still get the same answer ‘Because once we were slaves, but now we are free’. And its all about Jesus.

New Christians might ask us about who they are as God’s people, and we should tell them the story so that they might know. It is a privilege to answer the question of the Passover and to tell the story of grace.

Why are we so different? Why is this night different than all other nights?  This night is special, it is a night of the past and the future, it is a night when we reject that which holds us back and corrupts us, it is night when we remember the pain and sorrow of slavery and celebrate the freedom God gave us, it is a night we remember we are who we are only because of Gods great love for us and because God knits us together as a people of love and freedom. We are free to follow God into the world.

Why is this night different?

Because once we were slaves, and now we are free.

(The second cup is filled, and then held up)

We praise you God, Creator and Sovereign of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth. You delivered us from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption.

(Drink)

(Eat the egg dipped in the salt water, and the lamb mixed with bread and herbs)

(Also enjoy the fruit and chocolates)

(Psalm 121)

It seems odd that we should meet with God by enjoying a festive meal. But holiness is not about starving ourselves, or meditating all day in the wilderness. God meets with his people in the every day things like eating and drinking. We are physical people, and God meets us and teaches us in physical things. God wants it that way. The proof of that is in the fact that instead of making all food taste the same, he gave us oranges and strawberries and mangoes, and banana and chocolate. Why? Because God wants his people to experience pleasure! Jewish tradition says one of the first questions God will ask you when you get to heaven is: Did you enjoy all the fruits of the world? True freedom is the ability to live life to the full and enjoy it, not run away and hide from it.

Tzafun

(The third cup is poured and the Aflokomen returned to the Table)

Do you remember what I said this bread symbolised? It symbolises the Messiah, the one who who is to come. The Afikomen, the remnant, has traditionally symbolized hope for the future, a symbol of redemption, as God again acts in history to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

At this point of the meal, Jesus took this bread. When he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying “This is my body which will be broken for you; do this to remember me”. As we now share this bread, let us realise that the fellowship which binds us together is the grace and peace we share together as the body of Christ. This is the body of Christ.

(Eat)

The people of Israel waited for the coming of Elijah to welcome the Messiah at the Passover as the prophet Malachi said: "See, I will send you Elijah the prophet before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." They left the third cup, the cup of Salvation, untouched in hope and anticipation.

At this point of the meal, Jesus took this cup. He said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sin. Drink this all of you.” Let us take together our cups of wine, and recall Gods promise as we say together:

"I will redeem you with an outstretched arm." Praised are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine!

This is the blood of Christ. Drink it, all of you.

(Drink)

 

Shalom

We have now celebrated our unity in this symbolic meal, in sharing this bread and this wine. We recall the words of the Lord Jesus at this point in the Last Supper: "Peace I leave you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give...."

Let us now offer one another a sign of the peace we have experienced here as the company of believers gathered to celebrate these mysteries of our faith. (All exchange a sign of peace.)

 

Barech

(Fill cups again)

The Passover is complete, we celebrate true freedom in God through Christ. Yet there is much to do, we still wait and yearn for recreation. The Shalom, the peace and perfect wholeness of God is here and is still yet to come. We raise our final Cup in thanksgiving for the freedom we have received and in hope for the freedom that is to come for all of creation.

(Drink)

Let us conclude our ritual by joining our hands and hearts in praying the words which Jesus offered to his Father for us on the night we recall here.

Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one as we are one.... I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One.... Consecrate them in truth--your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.... May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.

(Pause for silent prayer.)

Let us say together the prayer the Lord taught us:

Our Father, who is in heaven,

Holy is your name!

Your Kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into trials, but deliver us from evil.

For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.

Amen.

 

Nirtzah

Let us bless each other with the blessing of Gods Priests as we say together:

May the Lord bless us and keep us! May the Lord let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us! May the Lord look upon us kindly, and grant us peace! Amen!

Let us remember that Jesus became the fulfillment of all the promises of redemption and deliverance we have remembered here tonight. Jesus has called us out of darkness and made us his chosen people of the New Covenant. That is why we gather here tonight. That is why we celebrate this meal. Jesus, the Lamb of God, has offered himself for the forgiveness of our sins. Happy are we who share in this supper with the Lord when the New Jerusalem has come.

Baruch Ha’ba b’shem Adonai! Halelujah!

Amen.

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