“Well, we had a good run.”  

Pesach tractI often joke that our Passover Seders are a bit like dinner theater, and if it were truly theater, that is what we might have said.  After more than 20 years “on Broadway” to sold out Seders, our Passover Seder this year was not well attended, 50 adults and 13 children, but we still had a good time.  The upside was that while we’ve never had less than 100 before, we had several new people who got a chance to celebrate Passover with us.  And of course, I led the Seder in three other churches this year, with about 200 people in those other three churches together, sort of “off Broadway,” and I got to go home from one with matzo brie.  So this morning, I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of leftover matzo brie and salmon.  Yum!

But it does leave me to wonder why we had less interest this year.  While I don’t believe that social media has that much impact on peoples’ opinions, the election not withstanding, it is interesting that this year there was so much on social media objecting to churches celebrating Passover.  Two prominent Lutheran theologians weighed in, agreeing with an article that was published in Christianity Today, written by two Jewish rabbis who contend that “Jesus Didn’t Eat a Seder Meal.”

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/march-web-only/jesus-didnt-eat-seder-meal.html

The rabbis’ contention centers on the fact that the traditions associated with the Seder meal were not instituted until after the destruction of the Temple, long after Jesus was crucified.  Yet in the same article they claim that Jews “have been celebrating the Passover Seder for millenia.”  That is plural, meaning thousands of years.  You see, the rabbis want to have it both ways.  What they are not telling you is that the Hagaddah and other rituals of Passover may not have been written down until after the destruction of the Temple,  but are part of the oral tradition that, according to them, goes back to Moses.  But it is convenient to disconnect anything Jewish with Jesus by playing the “destruction of the Temple” card, effectively removing Jesus and the early Christian Church from any Jewish ritual.

Apart from their faulty logic, the most disturbing thing from them is their charge of insensitivity by Christians who are appropriating their customs.  This is part of a larger arc on their part that seeks to deny Christians any continuity from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  The unstated claim is that the Old Testament belongs to the Jews, and the New Testament is Christian, and “n’er the twain shall meet.”  For this reason, ministries such as ours are deceptive by using Jewish symbols in worship, etc.

There are Jewish cultural symbols that are not biblical.  But there are many biblical symbols that Christians are allowed to use and explore, and truly, even in “traditional worship settings” (whatever that is), much of what goes on is Jewish.  Look around your sanctuary and you will see many things that come from biblical, Jewish, roots.  Seven-branched candelabra, eternal flames, albs and stoles, and Hebrew words like Hosanna, Hallelujah, etc.  You see, if you define adopting anything that is “Jewish” as being insensitive, you then are restricted from using any of the prophetic utterances of God that promise the Messiah and so clearly point to Jesus as Him.  And that is the honest agenda of these rabbis.

Sadly, even prominent Lutheran theologians fall into that trap.  One argues that the Passover Seder is akin to our practice of communion, and that those who celebrate the Seder “should be unified in their ecclesiastical community and in their confession of faith.  Call this ‘closed Passover.'”  I don’t hold that remark against him, but I also don’t expect him to understand the Jewish ethos.  In Judaism though, there is no such thing as a unified ecclesiastical community nor any corporate confession of faith.  Judaism is not that dogmatic.  The only true confession that Jews hold to be common is that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.”  (Yes, there is Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith, but very few of those who celebrate the Seder even know these much less believe them.)

The worst thing that comes from this whole online discussion is the disregarding of the value of celebrating the Passover Seder.  Most objections by Christians about celebrating Passover lead from St. Paul’s counsel to Peter in Galatians 2:14, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'”  The operative word here for Paul is “force,” and leads to a fear of anything Jewish as being Judaizing the Church.  

But compelling and exercising freedom are two different things.  We become so afraid of being Peter to Paul that we forget how to be Paul:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

The Passover Seder encourages faith, teaches theology, helps some understand culture, and most importantly, points to Jesus.  And an honest reading of the texts make it very clear that Jesus did celebrate the Passover, along with many if not most of the traditions associated with it.  The rabbis argue for respect of their cherished traditions, but these are ours too.

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Passover–Deliverance

Multicolor clown

Illustration:  “Multicolor Clown” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1974.  (Shades of Godspell?–ed.)

“… you do not believe because you are not part of my flock” (John 10:26).

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).

Sometimes the path we are on is lonely.  We see many on other paths.  They call out to us, urge us to turn from the foolishness we are following and join them.  They tell us to stop, don’t go on, that we are chasing a fool.  The closer we get to the cross, the more foolish this journey seems.

Jesus speaks to those who see the miracles of God and still do not believe. They say that Jesus is a fool, and that those who follow Him are even bigger fools. And they are right, because,  “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

How often do we see miracles and not believe? There are many who witness daily the miracle of creation, and yet still believe in evolution. They say that we are fools to believe that this world could be created in six days. They would say that we are fools to believe that God could part the waters of the Red Sea so His children could pass through on dry land. They would say we are fools to believe that God would sacrifice His Son for us, and raise Him again so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life.

Yes, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Prayer:  Dear God, if it is foolish to believe in You, then thank You for making me a fool. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Use today as an opportunity to show your own foolishness. Michael Card wrote a song called “God’s Own Fool.” The refrain is “And so we follow God’s own fool; For only the foolish can tell. Believe the unbelievable; Come be a fool as well.” Share this message with those today who would believe you a fool.

Here’s a youtube video for you to enjoy…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2sdeBWZ8bs

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Passover–Deliverance

ExodusIllustration:  “Exodus,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas.  This work was begun in 1952, and completed in 1966 .

“And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native” (Numbers 9:14).

God’s Word never limits deliverance to the Jewish people. His works of grace bring salvation to all who believe–whether alien or native born; wild or natural olive branch.  God chose the Jewish people to be a blessing to the gentiles, bringing forth the One who would be sacrificed for all people.

It is clear from Scripture that there were aliens living among the Jews who celebrated the Passover.  This has led to another tradition in Jewish homes. As a child, my family often invited a non-Jewish friend to share the Passover Seder with us. It was our attempt to include the “alien among us.” Often this friend was a Christian. Many who ate with us said they were blessed by the meal and the remembrance. When we finished the meal saying, “next year in Jerusalem,” that was a prayer of hope for the coming of Messiah. And yet, not one of these believers ever shared with us that He had indeed already come.

The first evening of Passover falls on Good Friday this year.  But we will remember that meal Thursday night as we  remember Jesus’ “new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).  As we come closer in our walk to this festival meal, we come closer to the truth that the Passover story also foretells the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  How much more could we love people than to share that truth with them?

Prayer:  Father in Heaven, as we prepare for the last Passover your Son will eat, prepare our hearts to come to the table and receive his gifts. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Are you perhaps the alien who has been invited to a friend’s Seder? If so, find ways to share the rest of the story. If not, how about inviting them to a Seder of your own.

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Passover–Deliverance

The MartyrIllustration:  “The martyr,” by Marc Chagall, lithography on paper, 1970.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it”  (Exodus 12:7-8).

As we continue to prepare for our Passover Seder, there is a very strange looking root on the table. God commanded us to eat this meal with bitter herbs, and these days the horseradish root has gotten the job. Freshly grated, horseradish will really clear your sinuses (we call it Jewish Dristan) and bring tears to your eyes.

It is appropriate to cry tears of bitterness at Passover. With tears we remember our people who slaved under a yoke of oppression for 430 years. And all that time, they cried out for a deliverer. And we sit here today, free from oppression, the blessed recipients of deliverance. It’s hard to cry when you are so blessed. So, the horseradish. Properly eaten as a nice big bite on a piece of matzoh, trust me, you’ll cry.

It is much the same with Jesus. We know the gospel so well that when we contemplate the pain and suffering that Jesus experienced for us, we should cry, but often can’t. We know the ending and have become immune to the pain. We risk taking His sacrifice for granted. Perhaps a nice big bite of horseradish will remind us of the tears that are shed over death.

But while we are crying those tears, we notice another odd-looking but very tasty mixture on the table before us. After unleavened bread, parsley and horseradish, this food is a delightful surprise. Called charoseth, it is a mixture of apples, honey, nuts and cinnamon ground together almost into a paste. Though not a food commanded to be on the table in Scripture, it is part of the Jewish Passover celebration nevertheless.

It is another reminder of bondage. The charoseth is to remind us of the mortar that the Israelites used to build Pharaoh’s cities. The question is often asked, “Why do we use something so sweet to remind us of something so bitter?” In the words of Tevya, the Jewish father trying to preserve tradition in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, “I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But its a tradition.” The charoseth is eaten together with the horseradish during the Seder, and perhaps it was done first to make the horseradish more palatable. Rabbi Hillel, a great Jewish teacher who died in 10 A.D., instructed his students to make a “Hillel sandwich” out of the horseradish, the charoseth and the matzoh. Rabbi Hillel would say that “even though life is bitter, with the promise of deliverance, it is also sweet indeed.”  I think the Hillel sandwich is a picture of life. Even life following Jesus.

On the path we have walked together, there have been sweet times and there have been bitter times. Life is like that. During the bitter times we are comforted by the sweetness of the Gospel as we are assured that we are children of God, saved by faith, and that Jesus carries our burdens. During the sweet times, we thank God and are reminded that there are many who do not know the sweetness of God’s love and live bitter lives apart from His love and salvation.

Prayer:   My Lord, I praise you for carrying me in those times that I am most challenged to see the good you have for me. Help me to learn from bitter times, and praise you for sweet times.  And in those times, so often I take the death of your Son for granted, as I go about my blessed life. Forgive me Lord, and make me truly thankful for the gift you have given me. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As this Holy Week goes on, focus on the real pain that Jesus suffered for you, that you will truly appreciate the cost he paid to deliver you. As we take the bitter with the sweet, let it teach us to thank God at all times.

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Palm Sunday: Passover–Deliverance

Christ familyIllustration:  “Christ family,” by Marc Chagall, lithography on paper, 1959.

“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3).

We take a break in our preparation for Passover to look again at the path we are walking. There is a great crowd gathered, and palm branches have been cut down and laid on the road. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, preparing to celebrate the Passover. The crowd is jubilant, shouting their faith in Him as the Messiah, He looks at the crowd and knows that they will fall away. He is not their brand of Messiah. They are expecting a warrior king, a messiah who will bring earthly victory.

Jesus’ triumphal entry is reminiscent of the procession that took place at the first Passover. God sent fathers, husbands and sons out to find a perfect, unblemished lamb for the sacrifice. The blood of the lamb protected them from the death God had planned for Egypt. Now God himself brings in His own perfect and unblemished Lamb for the sacrifice. When this blood is shed, it will be painted on the doorposts of human hearts. As we look out onto the crowd, it seems appropriate for them to be joyful. They may not know it, but God is bring in His Lamb for them.

We turn back to our Passover preparations. On the Jewish Passover table today is a roasted lamb shank and a roasted egg. Both of these remind us of the lamb sacrificed to save the firstborn children of the Israelites in Egypt. The lamb shank reminds us that the temple has been destroyed and no more sacrifices are made there. Believers in Christ know that the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, has been made.  He is sufficient, and no more sacrifices are necessary!

The shell of the egg is darkened by fire, just as the lamb was roasted. The shell is removed to eat the egg, and the pure and unblemished white inside reminds us to praise God that our pure, unblemished Lamb is alive again.

Prayer:  Father in Heaven, You are our Provider. Thank You for bringing Your Son, the Lamb, into Your house and covering our hearts with His blood. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As you celebrate this Palm Sunday, remember that there are some who see the procession and do not understand its meaning. God’s Lamb was brought into His house for them too. Share this truth.

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Passover–Deliverance

The Israelites are eating the Passover LambIllustration:  “The Israelites are eating the Passover Lamb,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:21-23).

“Nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes.” Surely you’ve heard that saying. In just a couple of weeks, all across the United States, we are reminded that taxes are still pretty certain!  But at Passover we learn that death is not so certain.

The Haggadah picks up the story when Moses is grown.  He has heard God’s call and presented himself to Pharaoh with God’s demand:  “Let My people go!”  But Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he did not free the Israelites, and plague after plague was visited on Egypt.  Finally, God Himself would pass through the land and slay all the first-born.  But first, He instructed His people to mark their homes with the blood of the lamb so that He would “pass over” and spare their children.

One of the elements of Seder is called karpas, usually a piece of parsley.  This represents hyssop, which was a leafy plant on a long stalk. The karpas is dipped in salt water, which represents blood, and is eaten. This tells the story of God’s instruction to dip hyssop into the blood of the Lamb and spread the blood on the “top and both sides of the doorframe.” God used this sign to pass over the homes of His children and spare them from death.

But death still followed us after that night, until the day on Mt. Calvary when hyssop diipped in wine vinegar, hyssop was raised again to a beam of wood on which blood was flowing. This was the blood of God’s Lamb.  By our faith in this Sacrifice, God has passed over us forever and given us eternal life.

Prayer:  My Lord, thank you for giving me the gift of life. Give me peace today knowing that all things are gifts from you. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  As we get ready for April 15, it is easy to moan about taxes and the government, and forget about the real issues of life and death that happen around us every day. Thank God for His gifts to you, even in his provision to pay taxes.

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Passover–Deliverance

Mother by the ovenIllustration:  “Mother by the oven,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1914.

“In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.  For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread” (Exodus 12:18-20).

This path we are on reminds me of the story of Hansel and Gretl. It is strewn with breadcrumbs–breadcrumbs thrown out of Jewish houses as they prepare for Passover.

Each element of the Seder meal is used to tell this story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt, but first homes must be prepared. No yeast can be found in the home during Passover. For 40 days, Jewish homes are cleaned and the leaven is removed. Today, a little leaven is often taken to the synagogue and burned as a symbol that the home is free of yeast.

The time of preparing the Jewish home is akin to the season of Lent. As they prepare by scouring the house and searching every corner for yeast, during the season of Lent we scour our hearts, searching every corner for the yeast of sin. Physical yeast is removed from Jewish homes, and spiritual yeast is removed from our hearts. Unleavened bread, or matzoh, is the bread of affliction, a bread baked in haste as the Israelites fled from bondage in Egypt. But it is also the bread that brings deliverance. Jesus, born in Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”), will also be both. For our sakes, He will be afflicted and we will be delivered.

Prayer:  Our Father, You know my heart. Forgive me for the things I harbor and do not readily give to You. Thank You for the pictures You have given in the Passover, and thank You for sparing me the death I deserve. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Take advantage of this time to examine your heart and give to God anything that burdens you. He will assure you of forgiveness through Jesus, the Bread of Life.

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Passover–Deliverance

Moses is saved from the water by Pharaoh's daughterIllustration: “Moses is saved from the water by Pharaoh’s daughter,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water'” (Exodus 2:5-10).

At Passover, there is a dramatic retelling of God’s faithfulness in the deliverance of His people. To tell this story, Jewish homes will use a Haggadah. The Hebrew word Haggadah simply means “the telling” and it is the “order of service” for the Passover meal (the Seder).  This meal will tell the story of the Passover.

God raised up a deliverer named Moses, whose ministry started at a very young age and in persecution. Moses was hidden because Pharaoh, the king, was trying to destroy the Jewish people. Pharaoh had grown wary of the Jews and sought to destroy them by having all baby boys killed. Moses was hidden in a reed basket and sent floating down the Nile river. Pharaoh’s daughter found him and named him Moses, which means “I drew him out of the water.”  Moses would grow to be the man to deliver his people from the bondage of their slavery to Pharaoh.

Is it any surprise that God has chosen water as the element that brings deliverance to His people? He would bring another Deliverer, draw Him out of the waters of His baptism, and through His ministry deliver you and me from the bondage of our slavery to sin. When Jesus was baptized, His public ministry began, and it will end soon with his death and resurrection. Because of that God has drawn us out of the waters of our baptism and could rightly call us by the name “Moses.” We are delivered, and are also used by God, through the teaching of His Word, to deliver others from their own bondage.

Prayer:  Lord God in Heaven, thank You for drawing me up from the waters of baptism and delivering me from sin. Show me today a person who needs to hear about this miracle. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Your baptism is a wonderful miracle of deliverance by God. Tell the story of your deliverance to someone who is in need of this miracle, and pray for his or her deliverance.

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Passover–Deliverance

The Israelites crossing the Red SeaIllustration:  “The Israelites crossing the Red Sea,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and oil on paper, 1931.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians'” (Exodus 6:6-7).

Our journey is coming to the end. We can see in the distance a hill at a crossroad outside Jerusalem’s walls.  We have seen much along the way but have much yet to see.  The next festival will be Jesus’ last. The preparation has been long, but this festival promises deliverance.

Pesach, or Passover is often considered the greatest of the Jewish festivals. It has been the defining event of the lives of the Jewish people, and is often used by God to describe Himself as the One who has “brought you by the hand out of the land of Egypt.” This festival is probably the best known of all Jewish festivals, and has been the subject of many popular movies. The events leading up to this festival are dramatic indeed. All of them point to the deliverance of God’s people from bondage and the promise of a new home.

This is the last part of Jesus’ journey to redeem you. He comes to deliver you from the bondage of sin. He comes with the promise of a new home, a home in heaven with many rooms. You are nearing the end of the Lenten journey, but much must happen before you come to the empty tomb. You must prepare for the Passover feast.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, give me new vision to stay on the path and walk daily with You to the empty tomb. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Often toward the end of the journey, our weariness tempts us to stop even when we are so close. We have walked together for 36 days. Press on to the goal. It is at hand.

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Purim–Persecution

Abraham and three AngelsIllustration:  “Abraham and three angels,” by Marc Chagall, sketch and study, 1964.

“In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them” (Esther 8:17).

The rest of the story, while a continuing story of persecution indeed, is also laced with wonderful ironic twists.  Human cast the pur, or “lots,” to determine a day to carry out his plan and he builds a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai.  He ends up leading Mordecai through town in a procession of honor ordered by the king.  Finally, Haman himself is hanged from the gallows he built in rage against Mordecai..  A prophecy spoken by Haman’s wife came to pass, and remains in the air for future generations:  “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13b).

Someone should have told him that a lot earlier.  Perhaps Haman’s wife understood the covenant that God gave His people through Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Even though Satan leads the persecution of God’s people, you can know that God’s promise still holds true.  Even though Jesus hung on the gallows built by the are of human sin and died, it was no victory for Satan.  It was his end.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Human and Satan both are destroyed through Jesus Christ, the blessing God promised to Abraham.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank You for Your blessing.  In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  How are you likely to react to those who curse you for your faith?  Rest in the assurance that God’s blessing is for you and those who curse you will be accountable to God.

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