New wine, new wine skins, Ian
On Easter Sunday last, my colleague, Ian Boyne, wrote his annual polemic against the Christian commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus on Good Friday and Easter; and I hereby write my annual reply. Ian reads a lot, and every year he comes with a fresh approach, which is good, because it allows the debate each year to get deeper into the subject.
This year, Ian shows he has been reading some of the 2,000-year-old history of the Catholic Church. Ian's own denomination, the Church of God International, which is a breakaway from Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, which itself is a split-off from Ellen G. White's Seventh-day Adventist Church, believes that Christians should observe and celebrate the age-old Jewish feasts: like the Passover instead of Easter, and the Feast of Tabernacles instead of Christmas.
Ian titles his article 'Disturbing questions at Easter', and he writes: "The very first question has to do with the appropriateness of the festival being used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. You might have read Peter Espeut's apologetic against 'Judaisers' and for the Roman-baptised Easter celebrations (contra Passover), but facts are stubborn things. It is a fact that the earliest Christians memorialised the death of Christ at the same time the Jews celebrated their Passover." Ian believes that this should disturb us and lead us to abandon the celebration of Easter in favour of celebrating the Passover.
There is an inextricable link between the Passover and the events of Holy Week. In the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus eats the Passover meal with his disciples as his 'Last Supper' the night before he dies. Since the Jewish day begins and ends with sunset, the Last Supper actually took place on the same day he died, for the Thursday night events ran into the Friday events. And so "it is a fact" (for Matthew, Mark and Luke) that the death of Jesus takes place on Passover day. And, as Ian has recently discovered, "It is a fact that the earliest Christians memorialised the death of Christ at the same time the Jews celebrated their Passover."
Saved from death
The blood of the Passover lamb saved the children of Israel from death and liberated them from slavery in Egypt; and God decreed that "this day is to be a day of remembrance for you, and you must celebrate it as a feast in Yahweh's honour. For all generations you are to declare it a day of festival for ever" (Exodus 12:14). No doubt in obedience to this command, Ian and his cohort wish Christians to continue to celebrate the Passover.
In Christian theology and belief, the sufferings and death of Jesus are the Christian Passover. The blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, saves all humanity from slavery to sin, and from death itself! The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross is linked with the sacrificial death of the Passover lambs. In John's account of the events, Jesus dies on the cross on Preparation Day while the Passover lambs are actually being slaughtered in the temple and not on the Passover day itself, so as to make the theological connection clearer.
Luke's account of the Last Supper goes like this: "Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me'. He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you'."
The Jews had broken the first (old) covenant in the blood of lambs and bullocks; now there would be a new covenant in the blood of Jesus himself.
And from now on, we need not eat and drink the memorial of the Passover in Egypt, but we must now eat and drink the memorial of Jesus' suffering and death which brings eternal life.
But Good Friday was not the end. The best was yet to come! Jesus rose from the dead on "the first day of the week" which is Sunday, which caps the Triduum of events of Holy Week. Jesus' rising from the dead is the promise of our own destiny in glory which the New Covenant promises.
And the new church broke with the old covenant, and shifted the day of worship to the Lord's Day, and observed Jesus' Passover instead of the old one.
New wine needs new wineskins, Ian. You want us to put the new wine in old wineskins.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.