Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
"Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Cor. 5:7-8—the Easter Canticle).
All over the world in recent days, trendy Christians have met to hold a Seder, the ritual meal of the Jewish Passover. They probably mean well, but they have become so disconnected from the Holy Scriptures that they do not see that holding a Seder to celebrate Easter is as ridiculous as celebrating Moses’ or Samuel’s birthday at Christmas.
Our English word "Easter" was provided by early missionaries, who borrowed the name of an ancient Germanic celebration of the rising of the sun on the day of the spring equinox, which occurs of course in the East. Those missionaries tried to give us a "native" English word for the rising-again of the Light of the World, without whom life is as impossible for mankind as it would be for a world without the sun. The fact remains, however, that in most languages the name of Easter is "Pascha," the Greek and Latin form of the Hebrew word for "Passover."
Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is our Passover, as St. Paul tells us, and not the Passover of the Jews. The first Passover, of course, was very important. It was a living prophecy in time and space of Jesus Christ. So, also, was the annual commemoration of the first Passover a prophecy of the annual Christian celebration of Easter in which we are now engaged. We can even say that it is impossible to understand Easter without understanding the first Passover, but we need to be very careful not to confuse the one with the other. It was the inherent promise of Jesus Christ contained in that the first Passover that made the Passover powerful and holy. The first Passover does not "ratify" Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ ratifies and fulfils the ancient Passover, and supersedes it by his death and resurrection.
The first Passover was the founding of the nation of Israel by God, through his deliverance of his Chosen People from slavery in Egypt. God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb, to mark the doorposts of their homes with its blood, and to eat its flesh in a ritual meal of obedience and communion. When God sent his destroying angel upon Egypt, the angel "passed over" the homes of the Israelites, sparing their children, to claim the first-born of the idol-worshipping Egyptians.
These mighty works of God resulted in the Exodus, the Israelites’ departure from Egypt for a new life in the Promised Land. The completing event of this Exodus, and the outward and visible sign of its power, was the passage through the Red Sea. The waters of the sea opened to allow the Israelites to cross over into freedom and closed again upon the Egyptian army that was pursing them, so that it was destroyed. Now the Israelites were completely lifted out of their bondage under a foreign tyrant and made a free people whose allegiance belonged to God alone.
The ritual meal of the Old Testament, the Seder (from the Hebrew word for "order") commemorates the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. The "paschal" or "Passover" lamb is, of course, the centre of the feast. Almost as important, however, is the unleavened bread that is also eaten at the meal.
In their haste to leave Egypt, the Israelites had no time for their bread to rise. They left behind in Egypt the fermented "bread starter" (what we call "sour dough") that would have been used to raise or leaven their bread. Thus, all they had for their journey was the simple sort of bread or biscuit that could be made from plain flour and water. In the Passover meal, therefore, the unleavened bread symbolized three things. First, it represented the complete break with the past in Egypt by God’s grace. Second, it represented the dedication of the Chosen People to God and to his deliverance ahead of all earthly concerns. Third, since unleavened bread is the simplest and purest form of bread, its very plainness represented the unity of God’s people in spiritual purity and communion, without adulteration of any kind.
The entire order of sacrifice under the Mosaic law was derived from the first Passover and the meal that celebrated it. We can see that sacrificial order laid out in great detail in Leviticus (chapters 8 and 9), when the priesthood of Aaron and his sons was ordained and inaugurated, but it can be summarized simply in this way. There is first of all, the shedding of blood, the offering of a life for life, as a sacrifice for the remission of sins. No other sacrifice could be offered until the sacrifice for sin had been offered. Then came the sacrifice of complete dedication to God, represented by a whole burnt offering of the sacrificial victim, so that nothing was left that did not belong to God. Finally came the sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, which were eaten as a sign of communion with God at his table.
None of these sacrifices, however, had any power of its own. Their power was a promise of, and a sharing in, the perfect sacrifice that was to come. Jesus Christ, our Lord, is that perfect and permanent sacrifice that all of the Old Testament sacrifices, including the sacrifice of the Passover, looked for and hoped for. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God made man, is both the victim of this sacrifice and the high priest who is raised from the dead by the Father to offer it—to offer himself, once for the redemption of the whole world.
And so, Jesus Christ is our Passover. He is the Lamb of God, slain for the forgiveness of sins. He offers his life in the place of our lives, which we had forfeited by sinning. His Blood is shed, instead of ours, so that all the prayers ever offered for the forgiveness of sin, either before or after his death on the Cross, are answered by his Father only on the basis of his one death on the Cross. We are forgiven and redeemed, and given a whole new eternal life, by the sacrificial death that Jesus Christ offers for us to his Father in heaven. Nothing else can save us, and we are not saved until the Father by his grace and the Holy Ghost gives us, as his free gift, the benefits of this one and only perfect and effective sacrifice for sin.
Jesus Christ is our sacrifice of dedication, not merely offering himself to the Father in our place, but also offering himself to the Father, completely and absolutely, as one of us, as our representative, as the one man in all of history who has offered perfect obedience to God in heaven. Moreover, if we are faithful to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, then we, too, are absolutely dedicated to God. We belong to God alone, and God alone must hold all of our allegiance, obedience, and loyalty.
Jesus Christ is our sacrifice of peace, thanksgiving, and communion. In the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, instituted by Christ on the night before he died, we eat his Flesh and drink his Blood, the Flesh and Blood of the one perfect sacrifice, at God’s table. The meal we eat at Jesus Christ’s commandment unites us with the Father in heaven, in a communion with the Father’s love and purposes, by the working of the Holy Ghost who dwells within us. The communion that Jesus Christ gives us in himself, with his Father, and by the Holy Ghost, is also the communion that binds us together, one to another, as the members of Christ’s Body and the adopted children of God.
When St. Paul announces that Jesus Christ is our Passover, sacrificed for us, he intends that our lives and our homes should be marked with the Blood of Christ as belonging to the household of his Father in heaven. He intends us to understand that no evil, not even death, can overcome those who are marked with the Blood of this sacred sacrifice. He intends that we should believe that the waters of Baptism through which we have passed are our "Red Sea," so that we are now totally freed from the tyranny and despotism of Satan, to live the new life that Jesus Christ has promised us, and purchased for us, in his Father’s kingdom.
In this, our Christian Passover, we do not slay and eat a new lamb, a different lamb, every year. Instead, we sit at table in thanksgiving with the one, true Lamb of God, risen from the dead, making the sacred memorial he commanded of his one sacrifice, once offered. We continue, by the mighty grace of God, to eat the Flesh and to drink the Blood of the one Lamb of God, through him, with him, and in him, offering our praise and thanksgiving for so complete and perfect a deliverance from our sins and from eternal death. The old Passover is done away, not because it was evil, but because it is now complete in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul writes of "leaven," then, not to command us to eat the old Passover, but to tell us how to live in the kingdom brought into this world by the Passover of Jesus Christ. We are to follow the Lamb of God, now raised from the dead and enthroned at his Father’s right hand, by making a complete break with our sinful past; by dedicating ourselves completely to the God who saves us, above any other concern in heaven or earth; and by maintaining our communion in Jesus Christ through the spiritual unity that is only possible among a pure people who live in sincerity and truth every day of their lives.
God has done a mighty work, which we commemorate on this day, whether we call it "Easter" or "Pascha." And by that mighty work, God calls us to equally mighty works, in the imitation of his Son, the Lamb of God, and by the richness of his grace. We are a new people. We are freed from slavery to Satan, sin, and death. God has made all things ready for us to live good lives now, and to live perfected lives with him forever. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania, Australia