Longing for the Divine

Passover: The Season of Love and Liberation

Passover begins tonight. Though I’m not Jewish, I have had the privilege of making several Jewish friends over the years, have had wonderful experiences attending synagogues, and have attended a Passover Seder (pronounced SAY-der), a ritual meal that includes symbolic foods and recalls the Exodus story. Passover is the perfect time for remembering and experiencing the themes of redemption (Exodus 13:8). In fact, I think Passover presents a much fuller vision of redemption than Easter Sunday. Hearing the Exodus story and responding affirmably to God’s rescue make redemption bear pointedly upon our present reality. Over the years, I’ve organized my own Seder (order of service) that invites people to experience a “Last Supper” or Passover communion meal, offering them some valuable lessons that inspire greater insights into God’s redemption.

Passover is not an empty proclamation. No doubt, it is the sharing of the meal, the togetherness of family, and the elements of story and symbol that have kept Passover alive while so many other religious observances have become mundane. In fact, the last meal Jesus chose to celebrate was a Passover Seder. Was this just to fulfill a prophecy, or is it a story of resistance and redemption that heightens the significance of salvation—a story without which we are left impoverished?

I admit there is much confusion among Christians about celebrating biblical feasts. For example, Christianity has tried to extrapolate the Jewish identity from Jesus, as if it were bad. I’ve been called names laced with anti-Semitic slurs and watched others separate themselves from anything that might look Jewish, yet nowhere does the Bible speak of avoiding such things. Understanding our spiritual roots is important, and telling the Exodus story was never meant to be for the Jewish people alone.  

Jesus did not come to annul Old Testament law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). I think it is preposterous to claim that Jesus did away with the law and it’s types and shadows. The ceremonial law and the feasts included in it were never meant to be degraded. Jesus did not abolish or terminate any Old Testament laws but fulfilled them and gave them God’s intended meaning. Although we are not obligated to keep many of these laws and stipulations today—and this is crucial—we should not disparage the ceremonial law or disregard the shadows and types it contains. That’s a horrible theology.

From a biblical standpoint, no one today can literally “keep” Passover as a formal feasting because the Sanctuary or Temple regulating its service no longer exists. Remembering and celebrating its message, however, brings many blessings. It should not come as a surprise that some laws have changed and no longer apply. For example, those in Exodus 12:43–48 that regulate the eating of the Passover lamb have changed, and they will change again when animals will no longer be eaten in the future: “‘The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25, ESV).

With the faithfulness of Jesus our Redeemer, the law was no longer needed as imposed behavior (Galatians 3:24). Why? Because the technicalities of external forms need not be enforced when one is acting out of love. Those who emphasize rules and commandments over and above love and faithfulness are missing the point of God’s law. Jesus has brought God’s law to a level beyond all written codes and specifications. The faithfulness that Jesus reveals does not require a list of imposed behavior but brings an inner experience of law upon the heart that makes obedience more careful and special. Why then is there a list of specific laws and commandments? According to Paul, they were given as teaching tools, to help guide and preserve us. These written laws and commandments provide us instructions for living.

It is a mistake, however, to consider specific laws and rites as obligations or to twist them into the opposite of what God intended. Often, the human side of religion emphasizes prohibitions and laws, spoiling our ability to see the loveliness of God’s character. The Passover paradigm, however, is driven by love and emphasizes parents passing the story and its meaning down to their children (Exodus 12:24–27). Above all else, both young and old are encouraged to ask questions and seek the real God who redeems. As misrepresented by religion, God may not seem attractive to us, but Jesus came to dispel these perversions, helping us see God as He really is. In my opinion, the commandments and the entire system of law needed to be refurbished according to its true sense and centered around the revelation of God in Jesus.

Understanding the message of Passover requires working to “unleaven” our lives—to stand still and let God take the stage. Instead of puffing ourselves up and taking up a lot of space, we must learn to make room for God  to work, allowing redemption to occur. There is no swollen posture, no arrogance, no puff of pride in Jesus. When we learn to become gentle, humble, and modest like Him, we can be used for His saving purpose.

The story of being liberated by a gracious and caring God, of leaving a life of bondage and oppression under a cruel king, and of crossing over to a new life of freedom is one that still resonates. As we retell the Passover story, we see God challenging and dismantling the systems that dehumanize and oppress. The signs and plagues of Egypt exposed and judged the evil around them. Jesus likewise has challenged the systems of this world and brought redemption. What’s more, the Lamb of God has unmasked the power and deception of the evil one and the pretense of human powers to reveal God’s love for the world.

On the first Passover in Egypt, lambs blood was smeared by the Israelites on the doorways, and the angel of death rescued them by bringing death to all Egyptian firstborn sons, but on that same night in the Gospels, redemption came to the world because God chose to give Himself up in the person of His firstborn son. This was the most amazing act of liberating love the universe has ever seen. All who take refuge in the death of God’s firstborn son are redeemed and will overcome death.

The Exodus story begins with enslavement to a cruel king and ends with freedom from bondage for God’s loving purposes. Our world still needs the wonderful lessons Passover teaches today, perhaps more than ever. Passover is a time to remember God’s concern for us in our suffering, to trust in God, and to practice empathy toward the strangers among us. It is also a reminder of the courage needed to stand up to injustice and is rich in themes of liberation, hope, trust, wonder, and joy. Whether or not you celebrate Passover, I wish you the many good lessons it teaches.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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