Passover on ThursdayA Maundy Thursday sermon April 6, 2023 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
You’ve all experienced it.
You’re watching a movie or a TV show
and then suddenly there’s tension in the scene.
The music is ominous and threatening,
signalling something terrible is going to happen.
Like the two repeated notes from Jaws —doo-doo, doo-doo
Bu the characters on the screen are woefully ignorant,
they have no clue they’re walking straight into a trap.
They’re just merrily chatting away about something mundane and meaningless,
but as you, the viewer know…
doom is straight ahead.
I get this same feeling when I read the story of the Last Supper.
The disciples are sitting down, and they think this is just a special meal,
like any other year,
(this Passover meal that happens annually,)
and they have no clue what will soon unfold.
But the music in the background gives us a clue.
The music in the background is the First Reading this evening,
about the first Passover.
At first glance, this reading seems out of place.
The other Reading, about the institution of the Lord’s Table fits really well with the Gospel reading of the foot washing and the meal,
but why bother with some other event that happened so long before?
Why do we hear about the Passover on Maundy Thursday?
Well, the story of Passover actually fits very well.
It tells the story of the last night before a very big event,
perhaps the biggest event for the Israelite people,
Just like how Maundy Thursday tells the story of the night before the biggest event for Christians.
Like the Holy Meal on Maundy Thursday,
The Passover meal is celebrated as a Day of remembrance,
a perpetual ordinance.
Both meals are meant to eternally remind us
of the salvation event that was to come.
Both Passover and the Last Supper are festivals to the Lord.
Both celebrate freedom, new hope and new life.
So in our first Reading, we hear that
the Passover reminds us of how the Israelites were slaves in Egypt,
and that the Pharao wouldn’t “let the people go”.
But on the night before they would be freed from slavery,
They got special instructions for a meal:
Take a lamb without blemish, a perfect lamb,
Roast it, and eat it all tonight, there should be no leftovers.
It is a special meal. Lamb is costly and a real treat…
but the meal is not a relaxed one to enjoy at great length
and drink lots of wine.
One must eat it ready to travel or rather, flee;
Fully dressed with shoes on one’s feet.
For the next day: God will pass through Egypt and kill every firstborn (human and animal).
On all the gods of Egypt God will execute judgement.
The blood smeared on the doorpost will be a sign to protect you.
God will deliver you.
And God’s promise is sure.
So as we examine the links between Passover and Maundy Thursday,
It’s important to remember that Passover is always in the same week as Easter.
Actually, Passover this year started yesterday,
April 5th and goes until next Thursday, April 13.
All 4 Gospels schedule Jesus' death during Passover week.
Matthew, Mark and Luke suggest that the Last Supper was held on the 1st night of Passover,
so that Jesus and his disciples would be eating the Seder meal,
followed by the passing of the bread and wine,
which then places the Lord’s Table as the new meal to be celebrated
in holy remembrance.
But in John’s Gospel (which we read tonight),
the last meal that the disciples eat is not a Passover meal, but a meal two days before
And the day of Crucifixion is the day before the Seder,
And thus Jesus is portrayed as the passover lamb who is slaughtered the day before.
“Jesus died as the Lambs for Passover are slaughtered;
as a sign of God’s promise to pass over and not bring the plague of death upon us.”
Whatever the actual timing of the Passover meal was for Jesus and his disciples,
What is clear is that the link of Jesus’ death to Passover shows
that what happened to Jesus was about redemption from bondage to a life of freedom.
On this day we remember the Jewish origins of the Christian faith: Jesus and his disciples were observant Jews.
There is a deep connection between Jews and Christians,
And this is underscored by the relationship between Passover and the Lord’s Supper.
Both Passover and Holy Communion are ritual meals;
with common themes.
Both meals are the most important meal for both Jews and Christians, then and now.
Both meals deal with deliverance through blood.
Passover talks about the blood on the doorposts being the sign of deliverance,
while the Last Supper is blood deliverance through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross.
Jesus says: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, and see: my body is broken for you, just like a Passover lamb slaughtered.
God’s victory over the power and arrogance of Pharaoh at the Passover
is mirrored by God’s victory over the power of sin and death
during Holy Week.
Moses and Aaron instituted the Passover prior to the Exodus (the fleeing from Egypt)
And Jesus instituted Footwashing and Holy Communion prior to his Death.
By taking note of the Jewish background to what we remember on Maundy Thursday, similar to important background music for a movie scene,
We can better understand the connection between the meal, and Jesus’ suffering and death.
By celebrating the meal, we participate in God’s saving activity.
We say “God delivered us!”,
not by just remembering a distant memory,
But by acknowledging that God’s saving acts are
Happening now and here as well.
As we gather as community,
We remember God’s promise to save,
We participate in these actions together,
And remember God’s eternal promise of blessing,
Then as now.
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