Let Us Break Matzah Together

This Sunday Christians around the world will observe Palm Sunday. It is the day when we remember Jesus as he approached the end of his earthly ministry, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst the cheers and adulation of the vast crowds. Some who were present may have believed they were cheering their soon-to-be new king, who would enter the city and use the amazing powers they had all witnessed to expel the Roman occupiers who had besieged their country for so many years. Little did they know that he would be crucified within the week.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, when Christians commemorate the events that led up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Next Thursday, a day we know as Maundy Thursday, we remember the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before being arrested, standing trial, and being crucified. During his Last Supper, Jesus picked up the bread, “and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19) In keeping with his request, we remember Jesus’ great sacrifice when we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

 

A Long-Standing Tradition

Jesus’ final meal with his disciples wasn’t just any ordinary dinner party. Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover. By the time these men sat down to eat, the Jewish people and their ancestors had been celebrating the annual Passover Festival for over fourteen hundred years. God ordained the observance as the ancient Israelites were escaping their long captivity in Egypt.

The original Passover occurred after several attempts by God to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Working through Moses, God had brought nine terrible plagues upon Egypt in an effort to convince Pharaoh to release the captives. Pharaoh remained unmoved, but the tenth plague would be decisive. During the night the firstborn in every household throughout the land would die. To be sure that no death would befall an Israelite household, God instructed each family to coat the doorframes of their homes with the blood of a sacrificed lamb. As the plague moved through Egypt, it “passed over” the homes of the faithful.

During the Passover meal, a flat, hard bread made without yeast, known today as matzah, is used, because on the morning after the tenth plague, the Jewish people were released and left Egypt in such great haste that there was no time to add yeast to their bread dough and let it rise. As part of the ceremony, which Jewish people still celebrate today, a piece of this unleavened bread is broken. It symbolizes the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed to save the people from death and release them from captivity. It was this piece of bread that Jesus broke when he told his disciples that it would come to symbolize his body. His body would be sacrificed, and his blood would be shed to release the people from the burden of their sins and save them from death—granting them eternal life.

 

Important to Jesus, Important to Us

You may have Jewish friends. Perhaps you have attended a bar or bat mitzvah (a coming-of-age rite for Jewish young people). Or, you may know families who will celebrate the Passover. It’s important to have a basic understanding of this celebration, not only because it may be important to people you know but also because it was important to Jesus. The Passover story helps us better understand and appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice for our freedom. So, chag sameach! (That’s “KHAHG sah-MEHY-ahkh.” It’s Hebrew for “joyous festival.”) Share some matzah with your family or friends and explore the rich tradition surrounding the Passover festival. As you do, reflect on the connection between the Passover, our ritual of Holy Communion, and Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

written by Neal Bowles

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