A gracEmail subscriber in the southeastern USA writes that his house church is considering celebrating a messianic Passover. “I do not believe that Christians are required to observe this feast,” he says, “but I think there is value in it.” He asks for my thoughts.
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As you know, Passover memorializes Israel’s exit from Egypt and liberation from Egyptian slavery. On the night of the exodus, God killed the firstborn child and animal of every Egyptian household, but “passed over” Jewish homes which were marked with blood on the doors (Ex. 12:1-13). God commanded the Jews to remember that night by an annual ceremonial meal of roast lamb and unleavened bread. By the time of Jesus, the symbolic menu had expanded to include wine and bitter herbs, but the lamb dropped out with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. The Passover feast opened a week-long period known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:14-19).
Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples apparently was a Passover meal (Matt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-26; Lk. 22:1-20). At this meal, Jesus instituted what Christians call the Lord’s Supper, Communion or the Eucharist (from a Greek word meaning to give thanks). Jesus also urged his disciples to repeat this meal “in remembrance” of him each time they observed it in the future. The New Testament does not bind a specific frequency or day for this commemorative meal, although by the second century Gentile Christians observed it every Sunday. Paul borrows imagery from Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in his ethical instructions to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:6-8).
Jesus’ once-for-all offering of himself has replaced animal sacrifices as offerings for sin (Heb. 10:11-14). However, most Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah continued to observe Passover, Sabbath and other Jewish institutions (Acts 21:20). Scripture never binds these Jewish practices on Gentiles, but neither does it forbid them — so long as someone observes them to please Jesus Christ and has no idea of contributing to his or her own salvation (Rom. 14:5-6; Gal. 4:10-11; Col. 2:16-17). Messianic Jewish believers today find Christian meaning in all elements of the Passover — and many Christian congregations have a full-fledged Passover meal under their direction. I have personally experienced such evenings and found them very meaningful.