Friday, April 10, 2009

Reflections on Passion Week: The Passover Lamb

The last thing that Jesus does, before the events that directly lead to the Crucifixion, is eat the Passover meal with his disciples (Mk. 14:12-26). While a lot has been written regarding the symbolism of the original Passover in Egypt and the Passover lamb specifically as both relate to Jesus and the crucifixion, I'm not sure we reflect very much on what the Passover meant to the Jews at that time.

Passover was both a remembrance and a promise of freedom. The Jews were recalling God's deliverance of them from bondage in Egypt. If we were to take what Independence Day means to Americans (or meant, in a more patriotic time), and multiply it about a hundredfold, we might get a sense of what Passover meant. God's miraculous deliverance from slavery! The birth of a new national identity, the beginnings of the journey to the Promised Land, the new realization of God's special concern for them as his chosen people. That is what Passover meant, except that now it was bittersweet, because Israel was no longer free. They had failed to fulfill God's commandments to them, had been judged, and had lost their independence. And so now the remembrance of being set free had become a promise of future freedom. Once again, God may deliver us! Once again, we may be a free people under the rulership of God alone! This is what the prophets had foretold, and it was what every Jew devoutly longed for.

What must it have meant for Jesus, as his last act before being delivered over to the Gentiles to be crucified, to celebrate the Passover? We know that he agonized over going through with the crucifixion in Gethsemane, begged the Father to prevent it from happening. John writes that he was "troubled in spirit" at the meal itself (John 13:21). Here they were, celebrating deliverance, looking forward to promised freedom, and Jesus knows that his freedom and his life will be taken from him in a matter of hours. And he knows that these men, who are closer to him than anyone else on earth, do not and cannot understand. They will not understand until it's all over with. One of them, in fact, has misunderstood so badly that he will betray Jesus into the hands of his enemies. The rest will run away from him; the one who protests the loudest that he will defend Jesus to the death will in fact deny any knowledge of him. All this, he knows, as together they eat the sacrificed lamb and the unleavened bread, as they dip their bread into the same dish and drink from the same cup.

Jesus knows that he comes to bring freedom; he also knows that the freedom he brings is not what his disciples expect or long for. He knows he is a king; he also knows that his kingdom is not of this world. He knows that all must be disappointed in him before they can have their faith renewed. He knows that he has come to bring them, not what they want, but what they need, and at a cost far greater than any of them can imagine. He knows that the deliverance from Egypt, grand and spectacular as it was, is merely a foreshadowing of the deliverance he has come to offer.

In what ways is our own vision limited? How far do our own desires fall short of what he longs to give us? Don't imagine merely a greater degree of what we already want. Imagine something else, something other, something different. Abraham, Moses, David, Paul; each of them and countless others saw the death of what they longed for before they saw the birth of what God had for them. In what ways do we misunderstand God's purposes? And are we open to having our vision changed?

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