Don't Pass Over Passover
It is wrong to think the Seder of our time helps us understand the Lord's Supper. We've no reason to believe the prayers and ceremonies were the same in Jesus' time. Edersheim, a converted Jew, says "the present Passover liturgy contains comparatively very few relics from the New Testament times" (Temple, 230,1). Even the actual Passover of the Old Testament is a type of the Lord's Supper. That means the Lord's Supper explains Passover just as Baptism explains the crossing of the Red Sea and the Flood. However, just as a secular myth or movie can pop into focus a Christian truth that you might've gotten too use to, so an Old Testament type can pop into focus a New Testament reality. So when it comes to appreciating the Lord's Supper don't pass over Passover.
Think of the Passover lamb to recall the pathos of the Lord's Supper. Exodus is clear. A year-old lamb was to be selected 4 days before Passover. Edersheim says the lamb was tethered in a prominent place so the whole family would be reminded of the coming sacrifice (Ibid. 218). We also know from Exodus Passover was a family event. You can bet kids went to pick out the Passover lamb as they do our Christmas tree. You can bet those kids named that cute little lamb, petted it, cuddled it, even as mom tried to tell them don't get too attached, yet you know they did. Even the father did just a little, and as this was the only sacrifice a priest did not do, I'm sure he winced a little as he slit the throat of that one year old lamb.
That's touching, but we remain unmoved as we sing "A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth?" We're touched by the father untying the lamb with the children wide-eyed and teary watching. We're moved by the father's calloused hands taking the robe and we are bothered by the slight catch in his voice when he says, "Come on now." We can't even bear to think of the father using his left hand to gently lift the little lamb's head as his right hand uses a knife to slit its throat. What must he be thinking as the lifeblood of that lamb fills the basin?
All of that happened because one day God the Father would sacrifice His only beloved Son for His family, mankind. The lamb had to be me male because God's sacrifice would me. The lamb had to be without blemish because God's sacrifice would be. The lamb had to be tender and dear to the father because God's sacrifice would be. The lamb had to be killed because God's sacrifice would be. Think of that little lamb tied up for 4 days; fed for 4 days; loved on for 4 days and then sacrificed to provide shelter from God's wrath and food for sinners. Don't pass over Passover. Let its pathos touch your Lord's Supper.
Think of the blood of Passover to pop into focus the blood of the Lord's Supper. Outside of those who clean wild game, our world has lost touch with the connection between blood and survival. You don't get beef, pork, fish, or poultry without shedding an animal's blood. A pastor took his young son dove hunting. As he popped the head off the dove to kill it quickly, the dove as usual bled profusely. He explained to his son that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness, but the blood of a dove wouldn't do that; only the blood of God could, and God only has blood in His Son, the Man Jesus.
There's an emphasis in Exodus 12 on shedding the lamb's blood. God commands the Passover lamb be slaughtered in such a way that the blood flows freely. The Hebrew uses schachath which means "'to slaughter [in such a way] that from the stretched out and extended body the blood would flow forth abundantly (History of the Suffering, Gerhard, 188). And Exodus wants you to save that blood. How else would you be able to paint it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of your house? It's amazing to me how fast blood soaks into the ground. Where on the same ground water puddles, blood doesn't.
The Passover lamb was made to bleed profusely, and that blood was caught, saved, used. It was precious. The only doors the Destroyer passed over were doors painted with the blood of that Passover lamb. No blood no passing over. The Angel of Death flew into your home and killed the firstborn of not just man but beast. Don't you wince at the thought of a dog's yelp or a cat's howl let alone a firstborn child's cry?
Passover blood pops into focus the blood of Jesus. The Roman's perfected crucifixion so that it was essentially bloodless. They placed the nails so as not to puncture major arteries. They didn't want their victims bleeding out quickly but suffering for days. The blood lost by the crucified was from the whipping that preceded it. Yet in the Words of Institution Jesus says His blood is "poured out" for you. Jesus is highlighting the power not the amount. A drop of God's blood has more power, more forgiveness, more life, more salvation than all the blood of beasts. A drop of God's blood cries out "forgive, forgive" louder and longer than Abel's blood or any other innocent blood shed by man cries out "avenge, avenge."
Think how precious the blood of that Passover lamb was. The father knew that as much as his kids, and he himself, loved that little lamb, he needed its blood. So he arranges to catch it. Perhaps his wife or an older son holds the basin. "Careful; don't spill it." And then he takes the hyssop branch dips it in the still warm blood and puts it on the tops and sides of his door. The Hebrew says he is to "touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin." Would you just touch the door? I wouldn't. I'd paint it; I'd slather it. As Jesus' poured out His blood, I would pour it on.
Don't pass over this connection. The Passover lamb's blood was caught in a basin because Jesus' blood would be caught in a chalice, in a font, in the Absolution. Now if the type was so powerful that just a touch of it could cause the Destroyer to pass over your home, how much more powerful the reality? If God attached the promise to pass over a life to the blood of a lamb, how much greater promises does He attach to the blood of His Son?
Do you think there is some sin, some shame, some guilt so terrible that the blood of Jesus isn't thick and rich enough to cover? Do you think the Lord wanted people with the blood of the Passover lamb on their doors inside cowering, afraid it might not work? He wanted them confident, certain it would. How much more you who have His Son's blood on you in Baptism, over you in Absolution, and in you by Communion?
Don't pass over Passover. Think of the lamb, the blood, and think of the meal to pop into focus this Meal. The Passover was only for those in fellowship with the Old Testament church. Read your Bibles. Think of how many times the Lord admonished His Church to be kind to strangers because they were once strangers in Egypt. Yet kindness, being nice, being friendly didn't rule this meal. Exodus 12:43 says, "No stranger shall eat of it." If God was that serious about the type, how much more the reality, and the first Lord's Supper bears this out. Look whom Jesus considered a stranger in the first Lord's Supper? His mother wasn't there. His brothers or sisters weren't there. Only those He had instructed and had followed Him for the past 3 years.
See how the Church was instructed to eat the Passover meal. "You are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste." A type has some things in common with the reality, but the reality surpasses it. We're to eat the Lord's Supper as ready to go. We've no intention of staying in the land of Egypt. We're eager to go to the Promised Land. What does our alternate Thanksgiving say? What Paul said in our Epistle. "As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup: You do show forth the Lord's death till He come." We eat and drink this Meal with one eye on our Lord returning to get us out of this Egypt.
Yet we don't eat and drink the reality of Jesus' body and blood in haste. We partake of it in the spirit of a 1723 liturgy. "'Behold the Blood of Christ poured out for thee, and for me, and for all of us. Drink ye all this, drink large draughts [drafts] of the Love of Christ'" (Oxford History of Worship, 516). But we do take it as they took Passover, for a journey. Communion is viaticum. Roman Catholics say viaticum is Communion given to someone expected to die. Historically, the viaticum was the 75 denarii signing bonus recruits in the Roman army received (We Look for a Kingdom, 57). A bonus is to be enjoyed here and now leisurely. We eat Communion then in the same way we pray for bread in the Lord's Prayer. As Bread for today and as Bread for tomorrow.
The reality of the Lord's Supper exceeds the type Passover. But we run into a problem. Exodus 12:14 calls it "a lasting ordinance," but this translation softens the text. Passover is really "an ordinance for ever" as the RSV has it. NKJV has "an everlasting ordinance." NASB has "a permanent ordinance." ESV has "a statute forever." So should we celebrate Passover? No, the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever has the authority to change forever. The One who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end in flesh and blood has authority to alter forever for flesh and blood. And He did.
The Words of Institution make a point of saying it was after supper, after Passover that the Lord gave us His Supper. The Orthodox use only leaven bread in Communion to show that the Lord's Supper is not a continuation of Passover. Passover, like all the Old Testament Law, is a shadow as Paul says in Colossians. The reality is Christ. When reality comes shadows disappear. Think of typewriters. The instant the reality which is the metal letter strikes the page, you see nothing but the metal letter. The type is left behind on the page, and left behind is the point. It points to the reality of the metal letter but it is left behind. It's not the real deal only an image
Don't pass over Passover. The type can pop the reality into focus, but don't pass over the fact Passover is over and something better is here. The eternal Lamb of God to eat for life and salvation not an earthly lamb. The Blood of God that sins may be forgiven completely, not the blood of a lamb that sinners may be passed over for now. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (20130328); Exodus 12: 1-14