Pesach and Pascha are upon us - Jewish Passover and Christian Easter.
It is a good time to reflect on a few themes shared by both communities who, together, form the Judaeo-Christian tradition : a huge part of the Abrahamic family of faiths. Themes I want to reflect on today include the Sacrificial Lamb, the Chosen People and Baptism.
The Passover is a keeping alive through active remembrance and dramatisation of the liberation of the Israelites from captivity in Pharaoh’s Egypt, detailed in the Biblical Book of Exodus. Pascha is a Greco-Latinised form of the Aramaic and Hebrew “pesach”, meaning Passover. “Pascha” is a term employed by Eastern Orthodox and other Christians to refer to their greatest of all religious feasts - Easter : the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the liberation of a spiritualised Israel from captivity to sin, detailed in the Biblical New Testament.
The crux of good interfaith relations between Jews and Christians hangs on respecting the continuity of the Passover tradition.
The sacrificial lamb in Egypt was one without blemish and without broken bones, whose blood, daubed on the posts of a doorway, ensured that the spirit of Yahweh’s retribution would “pass over” the dwellings of the Israelites, his chosen people, and only strike down the firstborn human and animals of the Egyptians who were not covered in like fashion. The lamb (roasted whole) would also enter into a commemorative meal. After this, Israel would go free, to journey to the Promised Land.
Fast forward roughly 1300 years.
Jesus is designated by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Soon he would be crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem. His blood, if you like, is daubed on the wooden posts of the cross. As he is being crucified (without broken bones) the lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple for the Jewish Passover to begin at day’s end. Jesus is providing “cover” - as did the blood of the sacrificial lamb in Pharoah’s Egypt - against the dread judgment of God which sinners would otherwise deserve. He mediates a new covenant in his blood which leads God’s People out of captivity to sin into salvation’s Promised Land. This was the “exodus” of the Son of God.
The parallels go on.
Jesus, the night before his death, turned himself into a kind of Passover meal.
However way we look at the Last Supper - a thanksgiving meal based on a sacrifice; the rite of the body and blood in the bread and wine - there is a profound resonance with the original Passover which featured a sacrificial lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs etc. The Seder meal of Jews today includes 4 cups of wine in between the psalms and the stories.
For the destined Paschal event, Jesus as high priest offers himself as the sacrifice.
One goes to death so that many will be saved. There is also an expiatory logic in the conclusion of the high priest of the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, who said that it is better that one man should die so that the nation should not perish. The nation, the elect, had hitherto been Israel according to the flesh. Henceforth, there would be another, not necessarily competing, version of the elect. The spiritual Israel. The descent from Abraham through faith and supernatural grace. The covenant people, who would now enjoy an intimate union with God, underwent both a spiritualisation and a universalisation. Faith is possible to Gentile and Jew alike.
The original captives crossed over from Egypt to Sinai, traversing the Red Sea.
They went on to form themselves more perfectly as a covenant people.
The future captives would be able to cross over from death (which is the “wages of sin”) into life through the waters of baptism.
The promise is that dying with Christ they can rise with Christ.
Yesterday was the anniversary of my baptism, which occurred many years ago when I was a babe immersed in a font. Baptism is a unity encompassing baptism by water and baptism by spirit. In time they can seem to be separated. Decades after I was plunged as an unsuspecting babe into water, I registered in an adult’s consciousness the significance of entering into God’s covenant family.
The Biblical water symbolism runs deep and connects the two faith traditions.
In the Genesis creation story the Spirit of God moves over the face of the primordial waters to actuate the unfoldment of the manifest universe. Similarly, baptism by water and the spirit is supposed to make a new creation; to regenerate man and his world. When Jesus undergoes baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, the (Holy) Spirit is present in the form of a dove. Jesus arose from the river, and that which was basically latent for 30 years became actuated in his public ministry.
The spirit-symbolising dove flies out over the waters that drown out a sinful world in the Noah’s Ark story.
With everything that made the world degenerate now submerged beneath the waters, it was time for a renewal of creation. In the first Passover story, that which held the Israelites captive ended up drowned in the Red Sea - Pharaoh and all his men and chariots - when a mighty wind blew over the waters. In the second Passover story, there is the theme of a dying to sin in baptism, and a rising to life.
Happy Passover to all who participate in this cornerstone of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.