Wednesday, June 28, 2017

‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ - Lesson 1 Draft

LESSON 1: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of First Fruit

פסח (Pesach, Passover)
CELEBRATED: 14th of Abib/Aviv (now Nisan)
PURPOSE: Commemorates God striking down the first born in Egypt, and is associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Exodus 12, particularly vv.7-13; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16; Deuteronomy 16:1-8
NOTE: The meal was eaten at dusk. It consisted of פסח‎ קרבן (Korban Pesakh, “sacrifice of Passover”), also known as the Paschal Lamb, whose blood initially served as a substitute for that of the first born son of the household. The lamb was roasted on a spit. The feast included unleavened flatbread called מצה‎ (matzah); bitter herbs called מרור (maror), generally interpreted to be horseradish and romaine lettuce; and multiple cups of grape wine. It became a tradition to interpret each element of the feast in light of the Exodus story, infusing the dinner with memories of slavery and freedom.
NOTE: This is often called a “memorial” rather than a “feast” because of its purpose (e.g., commemorating suffering, rather than expressing joy) and because it does not carry the same prohibitions as feast days do (e.g., people can work, buying and selling are allowed, criminals can be executed, it can be kept among the Egyptians). The meal was eaten at dusk, and then the following morning, it served as the Day of Preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
NOTE: During the first century, and possibly as far back as the Babylonian exile, Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were often confused, especially among Jews of the diaspora (i.e., Hellenized Jews living outside of Judea). Under Rabbinic Judaism, the successor to ancient Pharisees, the two completely merged, creating a seven or eight-day Passover. More traditional branches of Judaism and Samaritanism (the religion of the descendants of the northern tribes) still keep the feasts in the old manner.

חג המצות (Chag ha-Matzot, Feast of Unleavened Bread)
CELEBRATED: 15th-21st of Abib/Aviv (now Nisan)
PURPOSE: Commemorates God’s relationship with the purified nation of Israel, and is associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Exodus 12:14-20; Leviticus 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25; Deuteronomy 16:3-8 & 16-17
NOTE: This was a seven-day festival with prescribed Sabbaths (days of rest) that had to be observed in addition to the regular Sabbath on the seventh day of each week. The Israelites cleaned out all of the חמץ (chametz, “leavening,” i.e., yeast) in their homes, signifying their purification. The holy convocation, or gathering of the people, necessitated a pilgrimage to a common site, which later became Jerusalem and the temple. As a feast, there were prohibitions against engaging in normal work, buying and selling, and executing criminals.

חג הביכורים (Chag ha-Bikurim, Feast of First Fruit)
CELEBRATED: First day of the week following the Sabbath that follows Passover, in Abib/Aviv (now the 15th of Nisan)
PURPOSE: Part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Leviticus 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26-31
NOTE: The Israelites were instructed to present the priests with a special offering, the “first fruit” of the (barley) harvest, and make a special lamb sacrifice to God.

CITATIONS: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39, John 13:1-17:26, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
OBSERVANCE: Before His arrest, Jesus celebrated Passover in Jerusalem. However, rather than remembering the events of the Exodus, He told His disciples to remember Him. The bread broken symbolized Jesus’ soon-to-be lifeless body; the wine poured symbolized Jesus’ blood that would be spilled.
REINTERPRETATION: In light of His sacrifice in their stead, Christians soon saw Jesus as the ultimate Passover Lamb. (See John 1:29 & 36, Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19, Book of Revelation.)

CITATIONS: Matthew 17-18, Mark 15-16, Luke 23-24, John 19-20
OBSERVANCE: Jesus Christ was tried and crucified on the Day of Preparation and taken down from the cross to be buried before dusk, when the Feast of Unleavened Bread began. He remained in the tomb during the Sabbath. (The years 31 and 33 were unusual in that each had a “Double Sabbath,” where the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread fell on the regular seventh day of the week.) Then He rose on the day after the Sabbath, known as the Day or Feast of First Fruit.
REINTERPRETATION: In light of His resurrection, Christians soon saw Jesus as the new First Fruit offering to God. (See John 20:17, 1 Corinthians 15:20.)

Food for Thought
  • Did Jesus impose a new meaning on Passover, or did He reveal its true meaning?
  • Is there a contradiction between the Synoptic interpretation of the Passover meal (i.e., Christ as the bread and wine) and the Johannine/Pauline interpretation (i.e., Christ as the sacrificial lamb)?
Further Study
Song of Songs, or Canticle of Canticles, is often read during Passover or the Sabbath following it. A poem associated with the court of King Solomon of Israel, it celebrates the erotic relationship between two lovers. Jews have often interpreted it as an allegory: God in relationship with His people, the assembly of the nation of Israel. It is no surprise then that Christians have reinterpreted it in a similar manner: God in relationship with His people, the assembly of believers in Jesus Christ.

Note: This draft lesson was presented at the women’s Bible study meeting held on Saturday, June 3, 2017 at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California).