This weekend millions of people will be celebrating Easter. Decorating and Eggs, preparing food, gathering with family. Amidst the chaotic joy, comes an anticipation of spring. Christians give special significance to this holiday, because it is a reminder of the resurrection of Christ.
But did you know there is something even more important to be remembered during this time?
The Bible narrative teaches us that thousands of years ago God’s people, the Israelites, were enslaved by the Egyptians. They were forced to work and toil. But one day an Israelite man was called by God to lead these people to freedom. Moses, who had been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, returned from self-imposed exile and instructed Pharaoh that the Lord commanded him to let the Israelites go.
The Pharaoh didn’t listen and the Lord sent plagues. But Pharaoh continued to harden his heart until finally the Lord said He would send another plague:
”[..]About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.”
This would have been such a scary time, but the Lord provided a way for the Israelites to escape. The Israelites were instructed that on the fourteenth day of the first month (of their calendar) they should take a male lamb, without blemish, and kill it. Then they should take the blood of that lamb and spread it on the door posts of their homes. Then that night they were commanded to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. There was to be no food left over and if any was left, it was to be burned in the morning.
That night the Lord came, and any homes that had kept his commandments were saved from the plague. They had been passed over. Following this the Israelites were finally freed. They took their things and left Egypt.
But that wasn’t the end of the commandment. God also commanded that this day was to be a memorial to be observed by all generations and to be kept as a feast forever. Exodus 12:14-20
As part of this memorial the Lord commanded that his people should eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day, all leaven should be put out of the house. Additionally on the first and seventh day there should be a holy gathering, with no work done on those days. This is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Now, you may not be aware but the time for keeping this commandment as a memorial is this weekend. If you’re like me, I immediately searched for “Passover” on Google and was inundated with pictures of plates with circles and bones and eggs and stuff. So before you get too overwhelmed let me tell you that most of those things are NOT commanded by God. The Passover Seder plate and the symbolic items that go in each place, come from the Rabbinical tradition that evolved over time. But it is not commanded in scripture. If you want a more scriptural based approach I would recommend looking at the Karaite version. Karaites are a branch of Judaism that rejects the oral tradition and only accepts what’s found in the scriptures.
This is the approach I prefer. If you want to include other traditions that’s fine so long as those traditions compliment, rather than distract from, the commandments; and they don’t becomes so ingrained that they are perceived to be commandments.
How are we supposed to celebrate Passover? The first part to remember is that Passover is only one of two parts. Passover refers to the lamb sacrificed. The Feast of Unleavened bread refers to the meal and seven day observance after that.
To start us off lets first look at when this memorial is to be observed. The scriptures say it starts on the fourteenth day of the first month. If I understand correctly the first day of the first month is determined by the first new moon after the barley in Israel has reached its full size. Fourteen days after that is the day of Passover. This is when all leaven should be removed from your house. This includes not only leavening agents such as yeast, some flours, and cake mixes, but also already leavened products, such a bread, etc. In my house we are working on either eating or giving away bread; then we will put our leavening agents in a cooler out back.
Next let’s look at the meal. In the afternoon of the fourteenth day, if you are going to eat a lamb, you should prepare it. I don’t have a lamb to kill and prepare so I will be cooking a store-bought leg of lamb by flame on our grill. I recognize this is not in strict adherence to the commandments, but I would rather do the best with what I have than not do it at all. With the goal of strict observance in mind. Also during this time you should prepare your unleavened bread, bitters, and any other meal items. This should all be ready so that evening you can eat it for your feast.
As part of this fest we are commanded to remind our children of the events that took place during the first Passover. Most Jews have a ritual Haggadah reading they do. But for me, reading the account in Exodus will do fine. We will then eat our meal. It is important that every part of this meal must be eaten. If there are any left overs, they need to be burned the next morning.
Following this, for seven days, no leaven should be in the house or eaten. If you are going to consume bread products they must of the unleavened variety. For me, I want to find a way to make these seven days special too. While it’s not in scripture, I’m going to buy or make seven gifts for my children, one for each of these days. They will be themed after the seven days of creation.
Then on the seventh day you should not do any work and have a holy gathering. After this day you can return your leaven into the house and continue as normal.
You may ask, “Why celebrate these days? I’m not Jewish.” But these days were not given as a commandment only to the Jews. They were given as a commandment to all God’s people.
Christ taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15
Do we love Christ? If so, then why would we want to disobey His commandments? God commanded us to keep this day as a memorial of His power and mercy. Additionally, these days provide us with powerful symbols of God’s plan for us.
The Passover lamb symbolizes Christ. In Exodus it is quite literally the blood of the lamb that was used so that the Lord would protect the Israelites. So too, through Christ’s blood will we be protected from destruction because of our sins.
Leavening symbolizes sin. By gathering leaven and putting it out of our houses we are representing the process of finding sin in our lives and removing it. In Matthew 16 Christ uses leaven to represent the false doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Bitter Herbs symbolize pain. I’ve heard that the bitter herbs symbolize the pain of the atonement. Possibly even the pain of struggling to overcome our sins and turn to Christ, or also the hardships of life.
Unleavened Bread symbolizes many things. First off, it illustrates the fact that the Israelites didn’t have time to wait around for bread to rise before leaving Egypt. Second, it represents our goal of living a life free of sin. Third, from our perspective now, it is symbolic of the manna that was given to the Israelites by God while in the wilderness. Fourth, it symbolizes the “Bread of Life” aka Christ.
These days should be of special significance to all who claim to follow God according to the Bible. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread have the distinction of being among the few holidays which, unlike Easter, are commanded of God to be observed.
Many of us were raised with a huge emphasis on the holidays like Easter and Christmas. But shouldn’t we regard those holidays which were commanded by God to be far more important?
To finish off I want to point you in the right direction with a helpful links:
Grilling a Lamb
Karaite Kitchen – Other great recipes.
I hope you find joy in remembering the past and celebrating the amazing things God has done for us.