My family is privileged to be Jewish, and when I was growing up we celebrated Passover every year on the day before Easter. My father would lead the service, pausing often to explain how different parts of the Exodus story or of the Passover seder were prefigurements of Christ. We would spend Holy Week cooking all the ceremonial foods, feast on Saturday, clean up, and go straight to the Easter Vigil, where the readings from Exodus and the description of Jesus as the Paschal Lamb confirmed the direct connection between Passover and Easter.
My father discovered more and more Eucharistic symbols in the Passover ceremony each year: the stripes and piercings on the unleavened matzo (the scourging and piercing of Jesus’ pure body);
the action of wiping blood on the lintel and doorposts (which makes the sign of the cross); the angel of death (the death that entered the world through original sin) who is escaped through the blood of the spotless lamb (the sacrifice of the innocent Jesus on the cross); the redemption from slavery (the slavery of sin and death); and the middle of three matzos (the second person of the Trinity), which is broken and hidden away, and must be recovered and unwrapped in order to finish the celebration with dessert.
I’ve written about my personal response to the litany of gratitude, Dayenu, here.
Here’s something new that just struck me this year. In Exodus 13:8, when God is commanding the Israelites to celebrate Passover every year, He says: “you shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'” The Haggadah (the book of prayers for the Seder ritual) comments: “In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had left Egypt. It was not only our ancestors whom the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed from Egypt; rather, He redeemed us, as it is stated: ‘He brought us out from there, so that He might bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us.'” Later on, the Hagaddah makes it even more explicit: “If God had not taken us out of Egypt, then we and our children and our children’s children would still be slaves to Pharaoh.”
As a child, I took this literally: I guess it’s possible that I, a descendant of Jewish ancestors, could still be a slave in Egypt. Later on, I realized that it was meant symbolically. But now, in light of the coming of Christ, I believe that it actually is literal. If Jesus hadn’t shed his blood for us, we would still be slaves to sin and death. When we say that we ourselves were rescued from slavery, we are referring to the power of the Cross that reaches to us across eternity. Jesus did not offer redemption to just his followers, or just the Jews, or even just the righteous, but to everyone.
Happy Easter! Tell your children that we celebrate not because of what Jesus did two thousand years ago, but because of what he did for us, today.