“This is the Passover of the Lord: if we honour the memory of his death and resurrection by hearing his word and celebrating his mysteries, then we may be confident that we shall share his victory over death and live with him for ever in God.”
Those are the words used just now before we blessed the fire and candle at the beginning of this liturgy. “This is the Passover of the Lord.” What do we mean by that?
You may or may not be aware of a social media drama this week involving how people commemorate the Passover. The Church of England put out online worship resources for Maundy Thursday encouraging them to celebrate a pretend Jewish Passover Seder meal together in order to understand more of what the Last Supper was all about.
The are, however, a number of problems with that, which people on twitter immediately pointed out.
First of all, the Passover Seder meal emerged in its present form after the time of Jesus, and so is unlikely to be what he celebrated.
Secondly this practice has been described by many people as highly problematic because of what our Jewish brothers and sisters feel about it. Many Jewish authorities have spoken of being uneasy about this Christian appropriation of an important Jewish liturgical tradition. Such a Twitter storm of protest and anger was whipped up that by Maundy Thursday morning, the material and its accompanying video had, thank goodness, been removed.
So what is an appropriate Christian relationship to the Jewish Passover? The first thing to be said is that Christians have a Passover – and it isn’t the Jewish Seder meal. The Christian Passover is what we are doing tonight.
It’s important to remember that a Passover isn’t a meal. A Passover is an event in which God’s gracious action saves a people from slavery and defeats that people’s enemy with outstretched arm. The meal celebrated to commemorate it draws us into that Passover but isn’t the Passover itself.
The Christian Passover is not the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. Our Passover is Christ being sacrificed for us, and rising from the death so as to bring us to the promised land of life in him. The enemy whose defeat we celebrate tonight is death itself.
The Passover meal which Christians celebrate connects us to those powerful events and makes them real for us in the present, just as a Jewish Passover meal makes real the events of the Exodus for our Jewish Brothers and sisters. But the saving reality at the heart of our Passover is the risen Christ, whose actions and triumph we see foreshadowed in the story of Exodus.
So the Christian Passover is tonight. It celebrates our freedom from the slavery of sin and death. And the meal we share to celebrate that is the Eucharist – a meal that brings the power of Christ’s victory into the present and where God invites us to share in the risen life of his Son Jesus Christ.
Fr Peter Anthony