Sunday, 16 April 2017

Passover 3 - Passover and Easter

Image result for passover meal

In our last post, we saw that based on the way Jesus at the Last Supper, and much of the New Testament, connected the crucifixion, Passover, and the bread and wine, we could rephrase 1Cor 11:26 as follows: “For as often as you eat the Passover bread and drink the Passover wine, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” But does this, however, fit the wider context of Paul’s first letter to Corinth? To do this, we will look at the immediate textual and historical context of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and then look at a number of the preceding chapters to see if Paul was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to celebrate Passover to memorialise the death and resurrection of Jesus.

As we look at the immediate context of 1Corinthians 11:26, it becomes apparent in that Paul is addressing believers who were gathering for some kind of meal. That they were eating more than just some bread and drinking a little bit of wine, as is typical of eucharist rituals today, is evident in the way that Paul rebukes them: 
When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk (1Cor 11:20-21).
 This indicates that at the meal there should be enough food to satisfy one’s hunger and enough wine for someone to get drunk. Thus, this is a feast of some kind, referred to as ‘the Lord’s supper’ which Paul connects to the meal Jesus has with his disciples the night He was betrayed. This meal, as we saw in the previous post, was a Passover meal. Thus, it appears that the believers in Corinth were celebrating the Passover with a bad attitude of heart that did not take the rest of the body into consideration (1Cor 11:29). This correction can be linked all the way back to chapter 5 when Paul instructs the believers to:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1Cor 5:7-8)
Here Paul is telling them to ‘celebrate the festival.’ Which festival? He told us in the preceding sentence; the ‘Passover’ festival, of which Jesus is the Lamb. Now, one could argue that Paul is just being metaphorical here about celebrating Passover, and that to celebrate the Passover is to live in sincerity and truth. But as we can see, Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for celebrating Passover without doing in their hearts what the act of removing of leaven during Unleavened Bread was supposed to represent; repenting of their old ways. Or perhaps he was just saying, ‘if you’re going to celebrate Passover, do it by…’ But we don’t see that optional language there. Consider, for example, if I told my child “go wash your hands with soap”, I’m not telling him that he can wash his hands if he wants, and if he does; use soap. I’m telling him, ‘you should wash your hands, and use soap when you do.’ Now, granted Paul’s focus is not so much to tell them to keep Passover, but rather that they should do so with a purified heart, as represented by the removal of leavened bread. Nonetheless, it does appear that celebrating the Passover was a given. Thus, the content of chapters 5:1 to 11:22 is Paul describing what removing the old leaven should look like.

This process of ‘removing the leaven’ is important for all kinds of worship. For God, when his people just celebrate his feasts, without any repentance, expecting Him to accept their worship is unacceptable. One sees this back in Isaiah when God rejects Israel’s worship because of their neglect of social justice: 
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause (Isa 2:14-17).
 This was the similar problem with the Corinthians as they were ‘celebrating the festival’ with unrepentant hearts that had no concern for others. That Paul focuses on Passover specifically, rather than all worship in general, is that Passover is a time to celebrate God’s redemption of His people from the world, and the way they were living did not reflect the life of the one redeemed by Jesus ‘the Passover lamb’: There was sexual immorality (Ch 5-7), believers were suing each other (Ch 6), making each other stumble (Ch 8), upholding their individual rights above the rights of others (Ch 9-10), flirting with idolatry (Ch 10), and dishonouring one another (Ch 11). Thus, to eat ‘the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner’ is to do ‘so without examining oneself’ and repenting of sins, such as the ones mentioned above, lest they ‘eat and drink judgment on themselves.’ And this is what was happening in the church in Corinth since, as Paul says, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1Cor 11:27-30). And it for this reason that back in chapter 5, Paul instructs the Corinthians, and us today, to ‘cleanse out the old leaven’ (old sinful nature) and ‘celebrate [Passover] in sincerity and truth’.

To come back to the original question of this series, ‘how are we to memorialise the death and resurrection of Jesus?’, the biblical evidence seems to be Passover, which we in Modern English terms refer to as Easter. We have Jesus celebrating Passover, telling His disciples ‘do this in memory of me’. And we have Paul telling the Corinthians, ‘celebrate the festival’ to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Does this mean we should be all having a full blown Rabbinic Passover Seder?
No. That’s later tradition. They do however, provide significant symbology that points to the person and work of Jesus. But even nice meal with the basic elements of Passover prescribed in Exodus 12 of unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and lamb (we cannot provide a sacrificial lamb because there is no Temple, but I believe we can eat one as a memorial), and the ‘wine’ (however you want to define that) of the Last supper, is a much more meaningful way to remember the Passion event than some chocolate on ‘Easter.’

But didn’t Paul say in Colossians 2:16-17 that Passover, and the other feasts, are now irrelevant and unnecessary?
I have dealt with this more extensively in September Celebrations: Pointing to Christ, but the short answer to this is that this passage has been often misread as Paul says the full significance of the feasts in Christ is to come; future tense. But even if they were unnecessary, surely the meaningful symbology and significance of Passover over and against chocolate eggs should motivate us to do so. In the Passover, we remember our Exodus from sin and death and how God through Jesus delivers and redeems us ‘with outstretched arms upon the cross’ to set us apart as His special people, which gives us hope of our ultimate final deliverance from Satan sin and death in the New Heavens and Earth. And that’s just scratching the surface. Obviously, we don’t need the symbology of Passover to reflect on those things, but the depth of meaning they provide, and the intentionality and effort that goes towards preparing for, and the joy that comes from celebrating a feast, I think, is worthy of the significance of what was achieved in the Passion event.

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