Passover is linked to biblical text and is observed by different religious sects including Judaism and Christianity. Although both recognize the significance of Passover, each group relates to Passover differently. While Jews observe Passover in celebration of the Exodus Event, Christians observe Passover as a celebration of Jesus’ rise from the dead. Although celebrated for different reasons, Passover includes similarities for Jews and Christians. They are observed on the same day and time of year and celebrated under the same concept. Both believe and celebrate that, God passes over the homes of believers- thus saving them. As many similarities, there are also differences. By understanding the different manner in which Passover is understood, celebrated, observed, one can realize the significance that Passover represents to both Jews and Christians around the World.
The Exodus Event is significant to the Jewish Passover. The Jewish people commemorate this event in their history. By saving the Israelites and safely escorting them to the Promised Land, God fulfilled his covenant made with Abraham so long ago. Through this event, “we are asked to see the hopelessness of the Hebrew situation, the almost impossible struggle to change the pharaoh’s mind, the power of Yahweh and his total mastery of events of the showdown at the red sea” (Boadt 135). In this way, God is observed as Yahweh, a God who is always present and always there to intervene in the most desperate of circumstances. Passover is the highlight of the Exodus Event. This is observed as God instructs the people on how to save themselves from the final plague, death of the first born son. To ensure the Angel of Death knew who to save and who to kill, God instructed believers to put the blood of the lamb on their doorpost. This way, the Angel of Death would Passover their homes. The blood of the lamb, and the passing over of the home, became a significant event to Jewish history as well as the practice of Judaism and the holiday of Passover also known as the Seder Mo’ed Feast (Boadt 246).
Passover became a significant event to Judaism for multiple reasons. Most significantly, the enslaved Hebrew people had a firsthand testimony of the existence and the wonderful works of God. Through their belief in him they were not only saved but had the opportunity to observe his miracles and wondrous works. They watched first hand as the land of Egypt was plagued by a series of unfortunate events. As such, “Israel saw the death of Egypt’s first born as God’s clear choice on behalf of his people and his life and death concern for their freedom” (Boadt, 138). Even God realizes the importance of this event as he gives précises instructions to the Hebrews to observe, remember, and celebrate the event through Seder. This is seen in Exodus chapter 12 as God gives instruction and direction on how this holiday is to be observed.
Although most recognize the holiday as Passover, it is also called by other names such as Seder, Pasahim, Pesach, 7 Day Feast, Week of Unleavened Bread, or Feast of Salvation. From the sacrifice of the lamb, the taking of the blood, and the eating of unleavened bread, God asks his believers to observe this day. “This day shell be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it in a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever” (Exodus 12:14). It is sometimes called the 7 Day Feast because God asks the people to eat unleavened bread for 7 days, (Exodus 12:15, 19). Although this tradition has changed over time, scholars cite that today’s tradition includes meditation, blessing, and ritual (Fedman). While some traditionalist recite the Psalms such as Psalms 113-18 (Boadt 246), others practice afikoman which represents future messianic redemption. In addition, Passover is coupled with cleansing such as removing unclean foods, turning off and staying away from electronics, and the lighting of candles. In this way, “Passover becomes a new spring and a new beginning whose every action has commemoration value …[that] shows the power of the ancient symbols to make alive an event of the distance pass for our own age” (Boadt 139).
Christians around the world observe the celebration of Passover. However, Passover is called by different names for Christian believers. This is otherwise known as Easter, Resurrection Sunday, or Pascha (Pashal). The true term is unclear, whether it is Pascha (Zerubovel 286) or Paschal (Boadt 139), the concept is the same. Pascha is the ancient Aramaic name for the Passover that is found throughout the New Testament and relates to Christ and the Passover feast (Zerubovel 286). However, Boadt utilizes this term Paschal in connection to the Paschal Mystery. The “mystery” that is spoken of refers to the death and resurrection of Christ. For Christians there is no mystery involved as they observe Pascha in celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Specifically, Pasha is to commemorate Jesus of Nazareth’s rise from the dead and observed this holiday in a series of 3 days. This includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Resurrection Sunday. “According to the Gospel, Christ was crucified on Friday (Passover) and resurrected on the following Sunday” (Zerubovel 285). The irony between the Jewish Seder and the Christian Resurrection Sunday is that they fall on the same week, as Pascha evolved from the celebration of Passover.
In the New Testament, Passover as well as Pascha is mention as it was observed by Jesus Christ. However, he did not observe the holiday in the same manner as the Jewish people. Particularly this is observed within the Gospels and later in Corinthians. In the book of John, the apostle observes Pascha as a feast between the 12 disciples and Jesus. During the week of Passover, Jesus asks two of his disciples to go into town and prepare for Passover, this includes a feast. At this feast, Scholars suggest that, “the presence of Judas, Jesus prediction of his betrayal, Judas departure from the table, the affirmation by Peter of unswerving loyalty to Jesus, and Jesus prediction of his denial—all of these circumstances together form solid lines of connection between the meal and the holy supper” (Story 317). This is because during the meal Jesus reiterates his purpose as well as future events. Furthermore, this feast is also known as the Last Supper, as it is the last meal that Jesus will eat and the last moment with all 12 of his disciples together (Luke 11:15-16).
Many scholars indicate the similarities as symbolism, in that Passover and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus falling on the same week. This is because “[Jesus] is the real Passover lamb” (Story 317). Researchers note that no Passover ritual was involved in the Last Supper. Additionally, Jesus encouraged the disciples to celebrate and keep Passover in a new and significant way. During this last meal there was no traditional feast of roasted lamb or unleavened bread. Instead Jesus “took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me… This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 11:19-20). As such, during the ceremony Jesus performs with his disciples, he is creating a new way to observe Passover. Thus, Christians observe Passover in His remembrance and in their belief of Jesus. Because there is no mention of lamb at this feast, scholars such as Story suggest that Jesus observes himself as the sacrificial lamb. As such he is killed and his blood is spilled like the lamb that saves the Jewish people from bondage, Jesus saves Christians through self sacrifice.
Although Jesus himself celebrated Passover, he encouraged his followers to observe this holiday through the bread that represents his body and the wine that represents his blood. By feasting on these things, Jesus lives within the person making them whole through the legacy of his life and death. Aside from Jesus, Apostle Paul also encouraged others to observe Passover through Christ. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (Corinthians 11:26). Jesus and Paul encourage Christians to celebrate Passover in his remembrance. By celebrating his resurrection, they are also celebrating the life, belief, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Believing that he was the living Son of God, they take in his body and his blood as a symbol of belief and a representation of the sacrifice Jesus made for the sins of humanity. Biblical text suggest this in both John and Luke where it states that Jesus is to represent the Passover, passing over the sins of the people for their faith and belief in him. Passover is a symbol of this as he and the disciples eat the bread of his body and wine of his blood at the specific hour that has come (Luke 22:14; John 13:1-2).
The difference in how each religion observes Passover reflects their beliefs, values, and their faith. The significance of the Exodus Event and what this means in Judaism represents God’s saving grace and mercy. It is also an example of the covenant God made with Abraham. As such, at the appropriate hour God kept his promise and saved Abraham’s people from bondage through a series of plagues. If not for the blood of the sacrificial lamb, all first born Hebrew men would have perished along with the Egyptians and non-believers. This event is the celebration of God’s grace and his love for these chosen people. However, Christians celebrate Passover as well but in a completely different manner. There is no feast or fasting, instead a celebration and an observance of the sacrificial lamb of Jesus Christ. Through his sacrifice, the Christian people were saved. Although they were not saved in the literal sense such as the people of Exodus they were saved spiritually. Through Jesus they are pardoned from sins and through their belief they are promised the kingdom of heaven (John 3:16). Incidentally, Passover means something uniquely different for Christians and Jews that happens to occur around the same time of year. Each observes Passover in celebration of God’s deliverance. While the Jews were delivered from bondage, Christians were delivered through Christ.
The Exodus Event is more than what occurs in the book of Exodus. In the book of Exodus, God comes to Moses in the form of a burning bush, making him the chosen one to lead the slaves (Israelites) out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. It also tells us about God including what He wants and expects from followers and his covenant to the Israelis’. Instead it is much more. The Exodus Event is the acceptance of God’s covenant. From this understanding the Event was “to lead them to accept a covenant so that He would be their God and they would be His people” (Boadt 89). The Exodus Event represents all 5 books of Moses starting from Genesis and ending in Deuteronomy. In these 5 books, one learns about God and religion through a series of events that occurs throughout. As a result, the Exodus Event includes his promise to Abraham, his sons Isaac and Jacob, and how they would come to father a nation. In this way Abraham represents a promise and a covenant that God made to the people. This is observed in the first book of Genesis. Here God tells Abraham that, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12: 1-3). Through this one covenant God makes with Abraham, God is making several promises not only to Abraham but all believers. He promises to give believers and Israelites land to call their own, a national identity that is recognized by their belief in God, and spirituality. Therefore, by reading and understanding the first 5 books of the Bible, one can better understand God’s covenant. This is a promise he made to Abraham and the Israelites as Moses lead them out of slavery and to the land promised to them by God.
The Exodus Event, specifically the book of Exodus and Moses helping the people escape from bondage, directly references Passover. It is an event practiced by Jews and recognized by Christians and Catholics. It represents the passing over from one land to the next as the Israelites migrated from Egypt and into their new land. Most importantly it recognizes God’s kept promise to the people and the events that transpired. Consequently, “ the whole course of biblical history and theology is covered by God’s covenant; and when one considers how important the terms of some of these covenants are… the significance becomes even more apparent” (Beckwith 99).
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press,2012. Print.
Beckwith, R. (1987). The Unity and Diversity of God’s Covenants. Tyndal Bulletin 38 (93-118). Retrieved from: http://www.tyndalehouse.com/TynBul/Library/TynBull_1987_38_04_Beckwith_GodsCovenant.pdf
Fredman, Ruth. “Evolving Traditions: Passover.” Sources in Antiquity. Virginia Technical University. Web. 17 Aug 2013. <http://people.virginia.edu/~vlo4n/evolvingtraditions/passover.html>.
Story, Cullen. “The Bearing of Old Testament Terminology on the Johannine Chronology of the Final Passover of Jesus.” Novum Testamentum. 31.4 (1989): 316-324. Web. 17 Aug. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1560710>.
Zerubavel, Eviatar. “Easter and Passover: On Calendars and Group Identity.” American Sociological Associastion. 47.2 (1982): 284-289. Web. 17 Aug. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094969>.