In Exodus 12 and 13, God repeatedly instructs the people of Israel to remember and commemorate their dramatic liberation. The Jewish families were “passed over” from suffering death because they sacrificed an unblemished lamb and marked the doorframe of their homes with its blood. Because Israel was spared the death of their sons and Egypt was not, the ruler of Egypt expelled them and they were granted freedom!* After 400 years of slavery, God miraculously won their freedom and told them to remember and annually celebrate this event that was called the Passover.
“This is a day your are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. … In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ Say to him ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'” Exodus 12:14 and Exodus 13:14
The traditional celebration of Passover is a very interactive, fun and sensory event for Jewish families. It is focused around a special plate (seder plate) which contains food items that symbolize distinctive aspects of the first Passover. The uniqueness of the food creates questions and conversations for the family and guests to reflect on the miracles of God that won Israel’s freedom from a world power.
Though a seder meal traditionally has 6 food items, an ancient rabbi taught that the three main items of a Passover meal are the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread and the lamb. Interestingly, these three items can be used to tell the Gospel story, as explained below.
During a Passover meal, each person receives an herb (like parsley) swishes it in a bowl of extremely salty water, then eats it. The salty parsley won’t taste good at all but that is the point. This bitter herb in salty water is eaten to remind us of our bitter tears in life that come through our sinful condition. In Egypt, Israelite people were abused by those that enslaved them. But this is the condition of all people…each of us are like the Egyptians in that we have mistreated others in some way. Not one person ever escapes the humanness of being a sinful person or the bitter tears of being hurt by the sin of others. In this meal, the bitter herbs represent our bondage to sin, the sin of others against us. As humans, we are enslaved to our sinful condition, our bitter tears and brokenness in that no person ever lives without committing sins.
The second essential part of the meal is the bread. In most cultures, bread is an essential life giving food. At the first Passover, the Israelites prepared bread without yeast so they could depart with haste. They were instructed to be packed and ready to move, sleeping in their clothes. Yeast takes time to rise so unleavened bread was prepared with kneading, pounding, piercing and placing it in a furnace so the people could quickly have bread, a sustenance of life.
Similarly, in His final Passover, Jesus knows that His time is ebbing away. In 24 hours He will be lying in a grave after His body has been beaten, pounded, pierced, wounded and broken. He will endure His own furnace of suffering, but in doing so He will become the Source of life and sustenance for the benefit of others. Jesus takes the Passover bread, gives thanks, breaks it and shares it with His guests. Then He speaks to his followers in a shocking way, not focusing on the Israelites in Egypt, but telling them instead, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19. Jesus is redirecting the significance of the Passover bread as a marker of His body as a sacrifice. He foreshadows the meaning of his suffering to his disciples through this meal.
The third and final essential element of a Passover meal is the lamb shank. All four gospels describe Jesus’ Passover gathering, but no lamb is ever mentioned. Perhaps that is because Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the meal a few hours early and no lambs had been sacrificed and roasted yet. (They are eating the meal early because Jesus would die on the cross during the hours that the Passover sacrifices were being made in the Temple.) **
Jesus knows that He will be the ultimate and final Passover lamb required, so He uses the third cup of juice (the Cup of Redemption) to represent His (the Lamb of God, John 1:29) blood that will be the payment for our sin. When the lamb’s blood was placed on the door frames of the Israelite homes in Egypt, they were making the sign of the future cross over their homes. God used a Passover lamb’s blood to liberate Israel from their bondage in Egypt. In the same way, God provided Jesus as a sacrificed Passover Lamb to liberate us from the bitter bondage of sinfulness.
The Old Covenant practice of multiple sacrifices each year as offerings for sin would be replaced by a New Covenant. “Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood that establishes the covenant. It is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.’“ Matthew 26: 27-28
Jesus also uses this final Passover to connect us with the future hope of his Father’s kingdom and anticipates a future celebration, a reunion and eternal blessings of those who follow Him. He said, “Mark my words, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Matthew 26:29. Though they could not understand His meaning yet, these words show us that Jesus knows that He will live again and celebrate with His family in a heavenly celebration. Despite his sacrificial death, He looks toward the joyous celebrations that will come (Revelation 19:9) and allows us to anticipate our eternal fellowship with Him in the fully realized Kingdom of God.
Many resources are available that can help you craft a teaching moment about God’s faithfulness through the Passover and how it foreshadowed the meaning of Jesus’ death as well as remembering the transitional last Passover (Communion) that Jesus celebrated with his disciples. Read or listen to any of these resources below for help in creating a celebration that will work for you family. Engaging your children in a teaching opportunity that will be fun, interactive and lead to conversation about the connectedness of God’s provisions throughout the scripture is the goal. Allow your children to see God’s pictures, His celebrations, His work among us as you experience His redemption together.
* The tenth plague the Egyptians experienced was the death of their first born sons. The plague was a reminder to Egypt and Pharaoh that the leaders of Egypt had killed ALL the male boys born to the Israelites during the time of Moses. Moses was spared death because his mother put him in the waterproof basket and floated him down a river where he was discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter and allowed to survive.
Passover Seders for Christian Families:
** A podcast for Christians about the Passover Meal:
Cynthia Thompson enjoys living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, Larry. They have two daughters, two sons-in-love and two grandsons. She loves prayer journeys, coffee with friends, and mentoring early career pastors and their wives.