Passover for All of Us
Reflections on the book What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover
By Nancy DeStefano
Week One: Introduction
Our Lenten study of Rabbi Evan Moffic’s book What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover will be our way of preparing for the Seder meal we will enjoy on March 31st (Tuesday of Holy Week), led by Rabbis Shira and Adam Roffman. This is a wonderful book that will help us come to better understand both the meaning of the Seder for our Jewish brothers and sisters and our own celebration of the Eucharist.
This blog will move chapter by chapter through the book each week. I cannot do the book justice – so I really encourage you to obtain a copy for yourself and read it. Rabbi Moffic has a way of saying things that will touch you in ways that only reading about what he says cannot.
If you are reading the book I hope this blog will help you ponder some of what it says. If you are using the blog as your way into the book, I hope I can say enough to give you some flavor for what the book offers.
So today, we consider the introduction. Rabbi Moffic is clearly well versed in Christianity. The insights he offers us into the meaning of the Seder are filled with parallels for us in our practice of Christianity. He writes with an appreciation for what we believe as Christians and enriches our understanding of what Passover meant for Jesus and can mean for us. It is not just the Passover that Jews celebrate once a year that is made clear for us, but as Rabbi Moffic points out, every time we celebrate Holy Communion we enter into this sacred meal that Jesus shared with his disciples and that we share with the Jews in their remembrance of the Exodus experience.
By our study we will rediscover and appreciate more deeply our Jewish roots and be able to better understand Jesus as a Jew of his time and place. We will also deepen our appreciation of our Jewish heritage. We will be able to see how Judaism and Christianity intersect in our shared experience of liberation and God’s call on each of us to a life of justice-seeking for all.
In the introduction, Rabbi Moffic reminds the reader that the meal that was eaten by Moses, Aaron, Miriam and all the Israelites on the night they were led out of Egypt to freedom is the same meal that Jesus ate with his disciples at the Last Supper. It is the same meal that we eat every time we gather for Holy Communion. I don’t just mean that the meals are similar. In the Jewish understanding of this meal, every time it is eaten the participants are there with Moses; they are participating in the liberation of the people by God’s hand. This is the true and fullest meaning of “symbol”. When a ritual is a symbol it does not just recall a past event to our minds but rather makes that event present in the moment so that we are there and it is here. Past and present come together and point us to the future – God’s future. It is, therefore, a meal that celebrates and promises freedom. It is a meal of liberation from oppression and slavery. It is a meal that gives thanks for God’s deliverance from all that keeps us enslaved and all that imprisons us.
The Rabbi writes: “This book explores the radical claim that one meal – one momentous meal – the Passover Seder, can in fact change your life.”
How does it do that? The book suggests several ways that will be considered in more depth throughout the book. The meal has the power to bring us closer to God. It can help us to confront all that enslaves and imprisons us – all the places where we encounter scarcity and fear, all the places where we feel trapped or inadequate. God stretches out God’s arms and sets us free.
Our theme of “journey” this Lent is a metaphor for our life with God. Each of us is walking a spiritual path to wholeness and holiness. As Lent begins, we consider those places that need to be unpacked, cleared away, cleaned up in order to make the journey. This is one of the ways the Passover works in us. As we contemplate the areas of our own enslavement we are empowered to let them go, turn away from them, ask God to deliver us from them and so by God’s grace we are set free.
How often do we receive Communion without fully realizing its power to set us free? Moses and the participants at the first Passover were slaves to the power of the Pharoah – but God’s power was greater and through God’s loving care they were led to freedom. Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal in a land that was enslaved to the Roman Empire. Jesus drew strength from this meal to walk the path to freedom that would take him through the cross to new life. Every time we go to the Communion table this same path to freedom, even though filled with obstacles and struggles, is ours as well.
As our study of Passover and our living of Lent begins, we would do well to consider what enslaves us today? Where are we oppressed, where are we blocked from moving forward in freedom? What empires hold us? Are we slaves to our possessions, our careers, our identity? Are we imprisoned by addictions – and these need not be limited to chemical addictions – anything that possesses us and keeps us from being fully devoted to God can be an addiction. Even our devotion to our family can enslave us if we do what we do out of a need to control, or to be liked or needed, or to be safe.
From what do you need to be freed? Where are you enslaved? Will you let God set you free?