It has been my custom, ever since I entered the blogosphere six years ago, each Easter season to provide a reflection. While my own tradition puts little store to special days and some friends prefer rather to celebrate the Jewish feasts, which are after all biblical, I recognize some make a lot out of such days.
But this year is different insofar churches are shut because of the Covid-19 emergency and, besides special services, things like Lent meditations to help us prepare for Easter have had to be cancelled. For my 2020 mediation, while I do not want to lose sight of the glorious climax of the Easter season, when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, all conquering Lord, and all that means, I want to consider an aspect of the feast that Jews still celebrate – the Passover, which holds enormous importance for Christians too. Passover or Pesach is a major Jewish holiday and one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays. Together with Shavuot and Sukkot, Passover was one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals during which the entire population of the kingdom of Judah made a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Pesach 2020 falls out at sundown on Wednesday, April 8, and ends at nightfall on Thursday, April 16.
Passover was first celebrated just prior to the Israelites leaving in haste Egypt for their Promised Land. There had already been plagues as God sought to get through to Pharoah to let His people go, but his heart was hardened and then there was the final plague when the Angel of Death flew over the land and slew the firstborn son of each house. The Hebrews were spared by staying indoors but before that a lamb had to be slaughtered and its blood had to be put over the door. God declared “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” Exodus 12:13.
Just as the Passover is significant for the Jews, to this day, and perhaps more than ever, it is significant for Christians too. In the church I was a member of for half my life, there was a text emboldened at the back of the church “when I see the blood, I will pass over you”. It served as a reminder to preachers that they should always be mindful that Christ the Passover Lamb shed his blood on the Cross as an atonement for our sins and it is the efficacy of His sacrifice that enables us to be reconciled to God. Passover, matters for Christians, because of what happened on that Passover with his disciples, the day before Jesus was crucified: “And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many” Mark 14:22-24. When it comes to Communion, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” 1 Corinthians 11:26.
Which brings me to why I focus on the Passover this Easter time. One article I came across, titled “The Power of Passover During a Plague” powerfully reflects on some of the ironies as far as Jewish people are concerned. “Most Jews in history have not been free, whether from murderous regimes, famines or pandemics like this one. What we have been is devoted to the idea that we deserve to be. This year, Passover falls at the beginning of April — smack in the middle of what some experts estimate will be the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in America. It’s not just the timing of the holiday — built around a retelling of the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt — that feels off. It’s that every aspect of its story and rituals now seems almost cruelly ironic. The Passover Seder centers on the experience of being thrust out of our homes, but these days we feel trapped inside of them. The story involves miraculous plagues that saved us; today we pray for the end of one. There’s the commandment to clean our homes of all non-Passover food, which we just spent innumerable hours and dollars hoarding. Then there’s the real heartbreaker: The Seder is when we traditionally gather with family, friends and even strangers. “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” we say. These days, many of us can’t even be in the same house as our own parents or children. We don’t come within six feet of strangers”.
As I have been following events as the Covid-11 saga has unraveled, the significance of Passover has cropped up a number of times, including by those with a “prophetic word” and even President Trump, hopeful that people will at that point be able to go back to work. With predictions that it will get worse before it gets better and only three days away from the Passover celebration, the thought of normality is a nigh impossibility, barring an act of God, which is of course what happened on that first Passover occasion, when God spared the Israelites, when he saw the blood. Our hope is for another miracle but whether God does or He doesn’t, let’s remember that occasion when God delivered His people and remember Jesus, our own Passover Lamb, of who it is written. ” Who is worthy to open the book … Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” Revelation 5:3,12. I also sense that we are living in days of great spiritual oppression but those who are children of God need not fear, because the blood of Jesus protects us from the evil of the wicked one. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death” Revelation 12:11.
Finally, I reproduce an Easter meditation I wrote six years ago, reflecting on the days between Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to when He rose from the dead, on Easter Sunday …
The marvel for me is that Jesus knew his time was about to be cruelly cut short but rather than not going into Jerusalem in order to avoid his fate, knowing his enemies would be there in force, to orchestrate his demise, he went because he needed to go. Nominally, it was to celebrate the Passover feast but, as we are about to see, his return had a much greater significance. We remember this day as the one when he was hailed as their king by the common people who among other things waved palm branches before him as he entered the city riding on a donkey, which like so many of the significant events that followed were foretold in scripture. Much of this is to do with the coming of the Messiah, Israel’s deliverer, although much will only be fulfilled at Jesus’ second coming, when he will be revealed in all his glory, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
Not much can be said specifically about these days, yet the four gospels devoted a considerable amount of space to this Holy Week, especially when compared with that devoted to the preceding three years, when Jesus’ ministry took place. We can learn much about what went on in Holy Week, although generally we can’t say for sure on which day when it comes to the early part of the week. During this time he continued to teach, heal, do miracles and dispute with the religious hierarchy. Things that took place included Jesus cursing the fig tree, clearing the temple of money lenders and spending time with his disciples and friends. One event relating to our theme was that of Jesus being anointed with oil by Mary (either the sister of Martha or Magdalene – not sure which), which among other things was significant because it represented what was soon to take place: “it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me”. The wonder is that Jesus just carried on his ministry, the one that had been given to him by his Father, right until the end, fully aware of his imminent fate.
We remember this day as the one when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and in doing so he demonstrated that he, even though he is Lord, had indeed come to serve, and he thus set an example that we, his disciples, needed to follow. Two significant happenings took place on that day. Firstly, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and when doing so gave the bread and the wine a new significance – the bread represented his body that would be broken for them and the cup (containing the wine) represented his blood that would be shed for them, the significance of which would shortly become all too apparent. Secondly, it was also when Jesus prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, in particular asking his Father if it were possible “let this cup pass from me” but, as we know, it was not possible, for Jesus knew what he had to do. Just after this, he was arrested, having been betrayed by his disciple, Judas Iscariot. While the disciples urged Jesus to resist, Jesus did not do so, knowing the cup could not pass from him because of the sacrifice he alone could make, even though, in an instant, he could have called ten thousand angels to immediately come to his assistance.
This was when the mock trials, various beatings and humiliations took place, culminating in Jesus being taken to be crucified along with two robbers. One salutary event was when Pontius Pilate had a get out opportunity to release an innocent man (Jesus), the crowd, stirred up by the religious authorities, asked that Barabbas, a murderer, be released instead. On this day Jesus was also alone, his disciples having earlier abandoned him. He hung in agony, on the cross, for three hours, along with two thieves and promised Paradise to the one that was penitent. What took place was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, even down to fine details, such as described in Isaiah 53, all of which Jesus knew. Much could be said of what happened in that time, in particular reflecting on the seven sayings he made while on the cross. One in particular: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” is poignant because it shows how a holy God had indeed turned his back on His beloved Son, as he bore the sins of us all. Another important saying was when Jesus cried “It is finished”, just before he died, signifying that his work had been completed. One event just shortly following his death was that the “veil of the temple was rent in twain”, signifying that we can now enter into God’s holy presence by virtue of Jesus sacrifice.
This was a time of darkness and foreboding for Jesus followers. His dead body had been taken down from the cross, embalmed and laid in a donated tomb. We can speculate what might have happened during that period, but strange things did occur, such as dead people being seen alive, although we know his followers were sorrowful and fearful. We read “he descended into Hades and preached to the dead spirits there”. And there his body lay until …
Jesus rose from the dead and revealed himself to his disciples as the all-conquering Saviour, Lord and King. “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes” as one hymn writer put it. He had triumphed over the devil, death and his enemies. By rising from the dead, he demonstrated that he was indeed who he claimed to be and gave hope and new life to those who followed him then and thereafter down the ages until now – the risen Lord. He appeared many times after that to his disciples, who went on to proclaim the gospel throughout the world, as Jesus commanded them. After 40 days, Jesus ascended into heaven to be at the right hand of his Father and thereafter those who follow him await his return, the return of the King in all his glory. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).