Thinking on why Christians would celebrate Passover and the Seder Dinner as we prepare for Easter…
I shouldn’t have been surprised when the questions came, probing, searching like a river rushing on. God knew they would.
Didn’t He prophesy it millennia ago? “When your children ask their fathers in the time to come…’” (Joshua 4:21).
The time is here and our children’s dams, full of wonder, spill over with a babbling stream of wonderings: What is fire made of? Why do coyotes howl at the moon? Where is France and why is the jungle of Peru larger than it? When birds fly, do their wings get tired? It is as just as God intended: children ask questions.
And He planned for parents to answer and teach, so children might learn: “And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the LORD did for me… (Exodus 13:8).
So we rise each morning and embark as storytellers to this generation, to future generations; storytellers of one story. For really, there is only One Story to share: His.
Come an eve in early spring, when the trees are budding and the birds nesting high in their limbs, children the globe over gather around feast tables to ask four age-old questions; questions that answer more than intended. So our children too ring the old oak farm table and echo the quartet of queries, seeking answers to the drama of a Lamb and new life birthing.
Keeping “this ordinance in its season from year to year,” (Exodus 13:10), I lay the Passover emblems out on the table in the early twilight: the matzah lies under a linen cloth, goblets of juice of the vine flicker in the candle light, sprigs of lush green parsley circle a tray, water drops jewelling leaf tips. Off to the side, behind the crystal bowls heaped with mashed potatoes and glazed baby carrots, a dish of ground horseradish sits beside a dark, heavy shank bone of lamb. Not our usual fare for a spring evening meal.
Weary and worn from the all-day effort, I have my own questions: Is all this business of keeping Passover unnecessary burden? Have we knotted the holy day up in redundant encumbrances? Does this old covenant really have bearing on new covenant living? But, slipping my hand through my husband’s, my queries hush.
For there are children pressing in now, anxious for just this, this tradition, this meal before candles, this sipping of goblets. The questions now trickle, the same four questions that have come rippling down from one generation, to the next, for centuries; from the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….to our children.
Six-year-old Levi, his young voice pitched high but gentle, asks the first of the three-thousand-year-old queries, “Why are we eating unleavened bread, or matzah, tonight?”
I pick up the matzah, a flat cracker of bread, striped with narrow lines, and pierced with small holes. And I answer in the only way I know how, “Because tonight we remember Jesus. By whose stripes we are healed. Yeast leavens, or puffs up, as pride and sin inflates our hearts. Tonight we eat unleavened bread, bread without yeast, to remember Jesus who was without sin.”
I break the matzah in half and whisper, “Just like He was broken for us.”
These are questions to know where we come from. These are questions to know that, because of Him, all of life’s answers are now so different.
Hope comes next, slender fingers reaching out towards the horseradish, face contorted in slight grimace, “Why are we eating bitter herbs?”
Lifting a small, silver spoonful of horseradish, I trace time’s prints back. “For on that long ago night, that night of Passover for the children of Israel, God said that ‘bitter herbs they shall eat’ (Ex. 12:8) and so we do too. To remember the bitterness of the cruel slavery of the Israelites to Pharaoh, to recall the bitterness of our relentless, ugly bondage to sin.”
My husband breaks off a corner of the matzah, topping it with the spoonful of horseradish and offers it to Hope. “But we eat the bitter herbs with the matzah to remember how Jesus, our Bread of Life, has paid the price and absorbed our bitter sins.”
This is the telling of the story to answers the human heart’s pleas…and prayers.
Joshua joins with children around the world, asking the third question on this night of four questions, “Why tonight do we dip our herbs twice?”
Picking up the evergreen parsley, I close my eyes to see the answer, as my husband speaks the scene. “Our fathers dipped hyssop branches into the blood of the Passover lamb, that they might mark their doorposts.”
He dips a parsley sprig into the salt water and continues. “As they wept salty tears for their life of slavery, they, in faith, painted the door lintels with the blood, that the Angel of Death may pass over. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”
He dips the parsley again, this time into a small glass dish of apple and raisins. “But now we have hope. Because of the blood shed by the thorns piercing Jesus’ brow. Because of the blood from the wounds of the nails, that we, in faith, mark on the door of our hearts. Now we wipe away our tears, for we have glorious, endless new life in Christ. We have been rebirthed into His hope.”
Young faces around the table, intent and listening, deliver up their own smiles.
Caleb, the pensive eldest, leans his head on his hand and serves the crowning question: “Why are we eating this meal reclining?”
I lean into the climax of the story. “Because our Passover Lamb has bought our freedom. Tonight we remember that we are no longer slaves, but children of the very King of Kings. Free men, royalty, recline while eating. So, as Jesus who reclined at the Last Supper, we too recline tonight, for we are free to come before God who is upon the Throne.”
In the culminating twinkling of toast glasses, so comes my answer to why we keep Passover. It isn’t about keeping laws and regulations. It isn’t about keeping our burdens. It isn’t about keeping some empty, meaningless customs.
On the night of four questions, the answer gurgled in the stream of time: keeping Passover is about keeping our way down this river of life.
It is about keeping something worth preserving: emblems pregnant with the fulfillment of the New Covenant. It is about the questions that keep time to the beat of our children’s heart: Why am I here? What does all of this living really mean? Where am I headed? When will I be all that I am to be?
And this story, His story, told on a quiet evening in spring when the trees are budding under the nesting birds, this three-thousand-year-old Passover story has answers.
Photo: our Passover centerpiece — flanked by spikes and a lamb with a crown of thorns… to remember the price paid for our salvation…
Posted originally for CWO April 2007