"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. 5:7-8óthe 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 Mosesí or Samuelís 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 fulfills
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 Israelitesí 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 center 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 Godís
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 Godís 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 itóto 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 Christís 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 Godís table. The meal we eat at Jesus
Christís commandment unites us with the Father in heaven, in a communion
with the Fatherís 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 Christís 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 Fatherís 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 Fatherís 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.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.