Sun | May 19, 2019

Peter Espeut | Remembering death and resurrection

Published:Friday | April 19, 2019 | 12:07 AM

The Jewish Feast of Pesach (Passover) begins tonight, and the Christian Feast of the Pascha (Easter) begins tomorrow night. There is an unbreakable connection between these two high holy days of two of the great world religions.

For the Jews, there is no more solemn feast than Pesach, commemorating when Yahweh intervened in history to save the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, from the angel of death sent to kill all the first-born in the land, and from Pharoah’s chariots and horsemen sent to recapture them.

The centerpiece of the drama is the injunction given to the Hebrew leader, Moses, by Yahweh (see Exodus 12) for each family to kill a spotless (that is, healthy) male lamb on the 14th day of the month of Nisan (called the Preparation Day), and to paint the doorposts and lintels of their homes with its blood.

That same day, the flesh of the lamb must be eaten with unleavened bread by God’s chosen people, and that night, when the angel of death came, it would “pass over” those homes; its occupants would therefore be “saved by the blood of the lamb”. But the homes of the Egyptians – including the royal palace – would be visited with death, and on the following day (the 15th day of Nisan) in the midst of widespread grief, the Hebrews would escape from slavery into the Egyptian desert.

When Moses raised his rod, the Red Sea parted, allowing the Hebrews to pass over it dry-shod, and when he lowered the rod, the waters rushed in, drowning Pharoah and his whole army. The Hebrew people were commanded to commemorate these events on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, forever.

Today, the 14th day of the month of Nisan, is Preparation Day, when the Passover lambs are slain; Passover itself – the 15th day of Nisan, begins at sundown.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him (see John 1:29) he declared: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

HUMANITY FOREVER SAVED

Later, describing the events of the first Good Friday, John states “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath” (19:31). This means that while the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the temple, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was being slain on the cross.

In Christian theology, because of “The Fall” of Adam and Eve, the whole of mankind was in slavery to sin and its effects, which are sickness, suffering and death. During his ministry, Jesus clearly showed that his mission was to do away with the power of evil (c.f. when he cast out demons), do away with sickness and suffering (c.f. his many healings and miracles), and to do away with death (c.f. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, etc.). With the death of Jesus on the cross, humanity was forever saved from slavery to sin, and from death – “saved by the blood of the Lamb of God”.

Convened in the “upper room” the night before his death, Jesus and his disciples (all Jews) were eating the Passover meal – a lamb served with unleavened bread. He took bread, blessed it, and gave it to them saying, “Take this and eat, for this is my body”. And then he took the cup filled with wine, said the blessing and said “Take this and drink of it, for this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the New Covenant, which shall be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins”.

And that night, God’s chosen ones ate the flesh and drank the blood of the Passover Lamb of God.

John reports (in chapter 6) that Jesus declared, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (6:54-55). The whole mission was about life – doing away with death.

And to crown it all, on the third day was the sign of Jonah: resurrection from the dead – the proof of the promise.

- Peter Espeut is a Roman Catholic deacon, and Dean of Studies at St. Michael’s Theological College. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com