Children look forward to Easter with keen anticipation. It is THE time of the year when chocolate is the primary treat. Parents spend time considering the various chocolate eggs, chocolate rabbits and countless other forms of chocolate. There is of course an Easter bunny and for many eggs are hidden for the children to find, of course filled with candy and chocolate.
Easter may come from the Old English goddess Eostre. This goddess was responsible for the rising sun and morning dawn. She was also the deity who brought forth spring after being imprisoned for several months in the underworld. This time of imprisonment was the explanation for the winter months. Oddly many in the middle ages thought rabbits were able to bear young without a male partner and able to retain their 'virginity' even though bearing young. In fact the symbol of a rabbit is common in the churches form that time. Likewise the German Lutherans had a popular custom of having a rabbit bringing eggs or presents to children, much like Santa Claus. However interesting these customs and stories may be, they do little to explain the deeper meaning of Easter or the connection with wine or bread.
Many eagerly look forward to Easter church services. Some will go to church and hear a special message, often with a focus on hope or the beginning of a new relationship between man and God. Often there is special music, perhaps new clothes are bought for this special day. We know a story about a supper that Jesus had with his disciples. We recall that in the story Jesus took some wine and some bread and told his followers that these simple items of food represented his blood and his body. But, this was a specific meal and part of a Jewish observance. Is there more to this meal that might give greater understanding?
Jesus and his disciples were observing the Jewish Passover, or Pesache, a remembrance of their departure and freedom from Egypt where they had been slaves. This meal is still celebrated at this time of the year by virtually all Jewish families as it defines the very essence of being Jewish. So, what is this Jewish celebration and does it relate to Jesus?
Pesach actually begins with the removal of all yeast from the home. Yeast symbolizes corruption and evil so it is forbidden to consume, keep or own any leavening or yeast. In fact this cleaning of house may involve steam cleaning all the kitchen counter tops, just to make sure no yeast is in the house! Truly observant Jews will have two sets of dishes, one that is only used for this meal, all to make sure no yeast is present. Of course the extent to which yeast would be removed from the house will depend upon the religious commitment of the individuals. Nominal Jews might not 'kasher' the house at all.
The meal begins with a special prayer that speaks of the awareness that of all nations, the Lord has chosen these people. After the prayer the first of four cups of wine is drank. These four cups also have four statements of deliverance associated with each one. The first cup is linked to the promise "I will bring you out". This first cup then is the promise of deliverance from slavery and hopelessness.
The next part of the meal is Karpas. Karpas is a vegetable, usually parsley or celery, that will be dipped in in one of seven types of liquid, usually salt water or wine vinegar. This is to symbolizes the tears of slavery. Importantly the loaf of bread is broken, and the largest piece is hidden somewhere in the house. The children will later look for this piece of bread called the afikoman.
At this point the story of their slavery and deliverance is told. Often children take great pride in being given the honor of asking one of the four questions that moves the story along. The second cup of wine is also drunk. This cup is linked to the promise of an actual deliverance-"I will deliver you".
The special unleavened bread, what we might call a cracker is eaten, symbolizing the quickness with which they had to leave Egypt. Also the Moror is eaten. Moror is grated horseradish mixed with cooked beets. This is eaten with romaine lettuce and horseradish root. This bitter element of the meal is to symbolize the harshness of their life as slaves. Exodus 1:14 is read- "And they embittered (ve-yimareru וימררו) their lives with hard labor, with mortar and with bricks and with all manner of labor in the field; any labor that they made them do was with hard labor". This part of the meal is required according to Exodus 12:8-"with bitter herbs they shall eat this meal".
The prepared Passover meal is now eaten by all. When all have finished the children will look for the hidden afikoman. Often a small reward is given for finding the afikoman.This hidden piece, or the piece that was covered with a special napkin, is now shared by all. Also at this point the third cup of wine will be shared. This third cup is the cup of redemption- 'with a mighty hand I will redeem you'.
As the meal ends, there are special Psalms sung and the fourth cup of wine is shared This is often seen as referring to a time after this world. This cup of wine symbolizes the very relationship with the Father- 'I will take you as my own'.
Mulling over these various parts of a Pesach meal reveals many similarities with our Christian life. We could easily begin our communion time praising the Lord for choosing us from among all nations. We would also do well to remember and consider the bitterness of our experience when we were without a saving knowledge of Jesus-that bitterness of sin. Even the four cups of wine parallel our deliverance from the death and sin. Notice especially the afikoman and the third cup of wine. Most scholars believe Jesus was sharing the afikoman when he said "this is my body which was given for you". It would be after this that Jesus would share the third cup-'with a mighty arm I will redeem you' There are so many parallels between Egypt and deliverance and our redemption from sin. How confused and shocked his disciples must have been to hear the words of Jesus.
Are you able to make these parallels of deliverance in your life? Do you see the bitterness of slavery, the salty tears, the futile life of hardship and the hope of deliverance in your life? How about the four cups of wine, how are these seen in your relationship with Jesus?
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