No Rabbits…

…But there are Lambs and Eggs!

The ‘Maundy’ in Maundy Thursday is from “Mandatum novum’ Latin for a new commandment (as in John 13:34). Good Friday, the next day, is always associated with the Jewish Passover feast. Each year the Jews celebrated (and still do) the Passover; Passover moves through the week and this year it begins on the Friday night of Good Friday so it is a ‘Sabbath Passover’ which is the same as the year Jesus was crucified.


Exodus 12:1-13

Exodus 12 tells us the story of the first Passover.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

After the Temple was destroyed the form of celebration included a Passover meal or Seder. This would not have been exactly the type of meal Jesus had with his disciples which we celebrate on Maundy Thursday as ‘The Last Supper’ as the form of it came later after the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 but the symbolism of the various parts is still significant.

This image shows how the Seder plate was laid out; each item on the plate represented something specific;

  • Karpas (a green vegetable, most often parsley) represents the initial flourishing of the Israelites during the first years in Egypt.
  • Haroset This mix of fruits, wine or honey, and nuts symbolizes the mortar that the Israelite slaves used to construct buildings for Pharaoh. The name itself comes from the Hebrew word cheres or clay.
  • Maror (a bitter herb, often horseradish) allows us to taste the bitterness of slavery.
  • Hazeret (a second bitter herb, often Romaine lettuce)
  • Zeroa (a lamb shank bone) serves as a visual reminder of the sacrifice that the Israelites offered immediately before leaving Egypt and that Jews continued to offer until the destruction of the Temple.
  • Beitzah (a roasted or hard-boiled egg) This not only symbolizes the Temple hagigah sacrifice but also the roundness of the egg represents the cycle of life; even in the most painful of times, there is always hope for a new beginning.

In addition to the items on the Seder plate, there should also be three pieces of matzah (unleavened or flat bread) and a container of salt water in which to dip the karpas. The bread with no yeast is because yeast symbolises sin. Salt water represents the tears of slaves in Egypt.
Cups are also provided for four cups of red wine, the third of which is known as the cup of redemption. Red wine symbolises the blood on the lintels (over the doors) in the original exodus and the blood of sacrifice. Wine is not mentioned in Exodus and was added at some unknown later date.

So how did Jesus celebrate it with his disciples that night?

This is a monologue from the viewpoint of John but based on an amalgam of the Gospel accounts in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 13 (with some artistic licence!).

It was just before the Passover, and I thought Jesus would stay back in Bethany for the Feast. But, he insisted that we return to Jerusalem. “Go into the city,” he said. “A man will show you a large, upper room, furnished and ready.” All a bit odd really as I thought all the rooms would be full with such an important feast. Peter and I rounded a corner and there, coming out of a narrow alley was a man we didn’t know, carrying a water jar. This was even more odd as men do not normally carry water but perhaps he was one of those Essene group who do not allow women to join. Whatever the case, he looked at us as if we were expected. He gave us the key and told us to “Help ourselves,” so we made preparation for the meal.
I put out a covered plate holding flat bread, and a cup for wine for each person for the four cups of wine during the meal, red wine, like the blood of the lambs that marked the door frames of the Exodus, like the blood placed on the altar, reminding us that freedom is not without sacrifice. There was nothing special about the meal itself but something very special about that night.
Jesus and the others arrived. Jesus was uncharacteristically solemn. Oh, that mysterious, dancing light was in his eyes to be sure, but he seemed so burdened.
Jesus lit the two candles and then recited “Baruch Atah Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha-olam, Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvotav V’tzivanu L’hadlik Ner Shel Yom Tov” (‘Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us that we kindle the holiday lights.’)
We were ready to start the meal but Jesus then did something very odd. He got up, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He put it around himself poured water into it and began to wash all our feet and to wipe them with the towel.
Now we were used to having our feet washed before eating, it was an old custom for the host to arrange this but it was such a horrible menial job with all the nasty stuff you picked up that it was a job normally only done by women Gentile slaves but here was the Master Jesus doing it himself.
As usual Peter protested and did not want Jesus to wash his feet but after Jesus told him if he did not do so, Peter would have no part of him, he asked for Jesus to wash all of him. Peter never really did get it but then neither did the rest of us honestly. Jesus said we were all clean except one and none of us knew what he meant at that time except Judas of course.
After the feet washing Jesus reclined at the table again and asked us if we knew what he had done for us. We didn’t really but he explained that if he the Lord and the Master, washed our feet, we should wash one another’s feet for a slave is not greater than his master. This was nearly as much of a shock as Jesus washing our feet. Were we now no better than Gentile slaves washing each other’s dirty feet? We really didn’t understand that until later either.
After Jesus had taken a slab of bread in his hand, he broke it into pieces and handed it to us and said, “This is my body. Eat it, and remember me.” The bread was still stuck in my throat and questions stuck in my mind when he raised the chalice for the cup of wine, the cup of redemption and said much the same: “This is my blood which is poured out for many. Drink it, and remember me.” Red wine like blood reminding us again that freedom and redemption is not without sacrifice.
Jesus gave some bread to Judas and he went out . When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Judeans so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. We didn’t really understand any of this until the next week.
Then Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Feet Washing

Most people of this time wore sandals instead of shoes, and as they usually went barefoot in the house, frequent washing of the feet was a necessity. Hence among the Jews it was the first duty of the host to give his guest water for the washing of his feet and this is referenced three times in Genesis and also in Judges (Genesis 18:4, 19:2, 24:32, 43:24; Judges 19:21). To omit this was a sign of marked unfriendliness. It was also customary to wash the feet before meals and before going to bed.

Remembering the Symbolism some questions we (note the first person; I am including myself) might like to reflect upon

  • At that first Passover Jews had to kill one of the best of the lambs. The lambs died that the Jews might live. Bitter herbs remind us of sacrifice. Jesus died as a sacrifice that we might live
    What are we prepared to sacrifice to be his disciple in other words to be his follower? 
  • The bitter herbs in a Seder or Passover meal also represent the bitterness of being slaves and the salt water represents the tears of the Jews for being slaves in Egypt.
    Do we shed tears for our fellow human beings in bondage both physical and spiritual? 
  • The boiled egg represents the morning and thus the morning sacrifices made previously in the Temple and that even in bad times there is hope with God.
    When we rise in the morning do we think of God or are we in too much of a rush to do what we need to do? 
  • The parsley is a symbol of life and especially new life.
    Are we really leading our life to the full since we became followers of Jesus? 
  • When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples he did something which was dirty and unpleasant. He told the disciples to do this for each other.
    What are we prepared to do for one another which might be dirty and unpleasant? 
  • By washing the feet, Jesus the God of the universe humbled himself to the status of the lowliest slave.

    How humble are we prepared to be? 
  • Jesus instructed those by then eleven disciples to love one another.
    How good are we as modern day disciples at loving one another, remembering that loving is more than an emotion, it is love in actions.

Final thoughts on the bread and the wine:

Passover bread has no yeast as this was associated with sin.

The wine in Communion is what would be the third cup of the four in the Seder meal and is the cup of redemption.

Jesus the sinless Messiah died to redeem us from our sins, past, present and future or in other words to give us all a clean slate whatever we have done.

Do we know that we are totally redeemed by what Jesus did or do we think even just sometimes that we still have to somehow work away to earn that redemption and forgiveness?

As we commemorate the Last Supper in Communion, do we really believe that Jesus died once for all on that cross?

If we do, let us reflect on the implications of that Last Supper night but let us not be too sombre as Passover was a happy festival to celebrate redemption from slavery and we have likewise been redeemed by Jesus in the action we commemorate on Good Friday.

So hoping that you are having (or have had) ‘hag pesach sameach’ – a happy Passover and a good Easter too.

Gordon MackleyPosted on Tuesday, 3rd April, 2018 by Gordon Mackley (based on his talk in church on Maundy Thursday evening 18th March).

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