Cathedral Parish Passover

Last Saturday was the Cathedral Parish Passover.  There was a good spread of different ages there, including a strong showing from TnT.  It was a brilliant evening with sharing of food, knowledge and prayers at the heart of it. 

One of the things I loved about the evening was the contributions that everyone made in terms of food.  All of the food (apart from the ceremonial food) was provided by the guests themselves.  People either brought chicken casserole for the main course or their favourite pudding for seconds, and it was all shared out among everyone.  Sarah, one of the organisers and a TnT regular, said she had been very suprised that everyone had decided to make the puddings themselves, as she’d just been expecting shop-made ones, but everyone bought into the idea and from the TnT’ers there were a few childhood favourites which were resurected.

The couple leading the Passover meal were a couple from Northamptonshire.  Fiona is a “cradle Catholic”, Colin was born and brought up as an orthodox Jew who had then converted to Catholicism; so the Passover tradition he was going to take us through was the tradition that he’d been brought up with and celebrated every year.  Colin said that a lot of what Passover was about was making it fun and relevant to the children so that when they grew up they’d continue celebrating it and keep the traditions alive. One of the reasons he converted to Catholicism was that he came to see in the Eucharist the completion of the Passover meal.

The Jewish Passover

I’m going to apologise in advance for the things I’ve left out of the Passover meal.  The Passover meal itself  revolved around 4 cups of wine, spread out over the evening.  In between the 4 cups of wine, traditional questions were asked, such as “Why is this night not like any other night?” which were then answered in a way that explained the Passover and the flight of the Israelites from Egypt.  These were asked by the youngest member of the gathering. 

These points were illustrated by the ritual food, which was laid out on the table in front of us. 

This food was:

  1. Bitter herbs (represented by celery);
  2. Parsley – for the hissop branch which the Iraelites were told to use to smear their doors with lamb’s blood;
  3. Unleavened bread - a little like crisp bread or crackers - (called Matzo) to remind us of the unleavened bread which the Israelites ate on the night of their flight; and
  4. Something called “cement” (which was actually quite nice – I think it was a mixture of cinnamon and other stuff) to remind the Jews (or us) about the slavery the Jews were escaping from.

In addition to this, on the top table, in front of the celebrants was some extra food, including the bone from a lamb.  Apparently at the time of Jesus, a lamb was eaten at Passover.  However, since the the Jews were kicked out of Israel after their failed revolution in AD70, as a sign of mourning they have never eaten lamb at Passover (hence the chicken casseroles) and the only part that lamb now plays in the Passover is as this piece of bone in front of the celebrant.

We started the meal with a cup of wine (you have to lean to the left as you drink it, as in Roman times free men would recline on their sofas to eat, and leaning to the left is a remembrance that the Jews are free), asked some questions, got some answers and then the celebrant (Father) broke some of the bread and hid a little for the youngest to have to find later on in the procedings.  Then we had another glass of wine, ate some ceremonial food, and sang some songs. 

The best song was a Jewish song called Dayenu, which means “It would have been enough” in Hebrew.  Basically the song goes through all the things that God did for the Jews and their gratitude that even one of these things would have been enough, but God still did more.  Anyway, the sentiment is lovely and the song is one of those catchy songs that makes you want to tap your feet and dance, and that you can’t get out of your head afterwards.  Love it!

Christianity and the Passover

So all this is very interesting, but from a Christian and a Catholic perspective this next part is particularly relevant.  We were coming up to the third ritual cup of wine at this point, and the celebrant (Father) broke some bread and gave it to one of the people at the top table.  This is as a token of love, and as it was part of the Passover ritual Jesus did the same thing, and handed it to Judas.  I found this quite poignant – although he knew Judas would betray him, he still loved him.

The part the Passover plays in the Mass

Around the third cup, the celebrant washed his hands, took the bread again, and broke it as part of the Jewish ritual (pretty much exactly what the priest does during Mass).  This is the part when, at the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread, broke it and said “this is my body” and then at the point of the third cup of wine, this is when Jesus said “this is my blood”.  What I found quite important here is that Jesus didn’t just take the bread and wine, bless it and break it off the top of his head, he was doing it in the context of a Jewish ritual which he and all his apostles would have grown up with and which would already have been hundreds of years old in his time.

For Jesus to have deviated from the accepted and traditional way of doing the Passover, and to deviate by saying that the wine which they were drinking was actually his blood, would have been an outrageous thing to say.  Blood was considered to be life, which is why the Jews weren’t allowed to drink it – even as part of the meat, so all meat had to be drained of blood before it was eaten.

A Passover not like any other

So anyway, the disciples seemed to cope with this, but the strangeness didn’t stop there.  In the Bible it says that after this they sang psalms and then they went out to the garden of Gethsemane.   At this point however, the Passover meal isn’t over.  The Passover meal is only over when they drink the 4th cup.  So Jesus and his disciples had celebrated the Passover meal but left it unfinished to go for a walk to some garden?! Colin said that it’s hard to explain how strange this would have been – similar to the priest going through the whole Mass and then saying “The Mass is ended” before giving out communion. 

The only explanation Jesus is recorded as having given is  saying “I tell you solemnly I won’t drink the fruit of the vine until I’m in my father’s kingdom”.  Which would hardly have been helpful to the disciples, but Colin has a very interesting theory about this, so remember it for later.

What I also noticed was that by this point we had all drank quite a lot of wine.  Perhaps this explains why the disciples had such a hard time staying awake in the garden of Gethsemane….?

So Jesus was arrested, sentenced to death and it must have been wildly confusing for the disciples who had gone from the fun and happiness of celebrating the Passover meal, to utter despair in the matter of a few hours.  But the Passover story wasn’t finished, and it wouldn’t be until the 4th cup was drunk.

Apparently it was customary when crucifixion victims were carrying their crosses through the streets to give them myhrr mixed with wine to dull the pain.  Someone offered this “fruit of the vine” to Jesus, but he refused it (as he had said that he wouldn’t drink of the fruit of the vine until he was in his father’s kingdom).

When Jesus was on the cross he was offered vinegar (a form of wine) on a a stick.  And the stick is very important.  It was a hissop stick….remember, the stick that the Israelites were told to use to mark their doors with blood, and which was an integral part of the Passover.  And this time Jesus accepted the wine and then the last thing he said before dying was “It is done”.  Colin’s theory is that he meant that the Passover was done.  Jesus had drank the 4th cup of wine and completed the Passover.

Jesus – High Priest and Sacrificial Lamb

At this point we need to go back to the lamb that was eaten at Passover before the exile from Israel.  This was to be cooked in a very special way – with a spit going through it from back to front, and one going between its shoulders, the spits making…a cross.

An oddity in the account of Jesus’ death is the Biblical obsession with his clothes, with his robe which was seamless.  I mean Jesus, their leader, had just been killed, their world had been turned upside down.  All the plans they’d had were shattered, and yet they go on about some  robe like they were Gok Wan.

Colin’s explanation for this is that the robes the (High?) Priests wore were seamless, and the Priests were the ones who sacrificed the Passover lambs in the temple. 

So Jesus was not only the Paschal lamb, crucified in the way specified in the Bible, in the way that all Jewish cooked their Passover lambs; he was also the High Priest who had made that sacrifice.  He was High Priest and the sacrificial lamb, the Lamb of God; and he had completed his Passover.

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