Held on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the day and month of the going out of the Children of Israel from Egypt, the Passover seder is the ceremonial reenactment in recitation in the Jewish household. The Se'or (yeast) and the Hametz (everything that has been made with yeast) has been banished from the household, and even literally burned (b'irah). The table will be set with the ceremonial foods set on the tray:
- Zeroa = roasted shank bone of chicken or lamb bone, symbolizing the roasted Passover lamb of Second Temple days.
- Betzah = hard boiled and roasted egg, to symbolize the lamb that was slain to satiate the Israelite family group prior to the offering of the passover lamb that the feast not be sullied by ravenous appetite.
- Maror = bitter herbs, usually horse radish or romaine lettuce to recall the Hebrews' bitter suffering in Egypt.
- Haroset = chopped apples and nuts with cinammon and wine to denote the clay and mortar with which the Hebrews worked. To be eaten later with Matzah.
- Karpas = Parsnips or celery to be dipped 5 times in salt water (reminiscent of sweat and tears) and eaten.
- Hazeret = Horseradish and celery again to be eaten in Matzah sandwich later.
- The three Matzot (unleavened bread) recalling the fact that there was no time for leavening on the night of the first passover of flight from Egypt. They are kept in cloth covering but the middle one is broken and part hid for the children to find and be given some money. That hidden part is called the Aphikomen.
- The wine is set for the four cups of wine, two during the ceremonial seder, the third, called the cup of Thanksgiving drunk after the meal, and the last after it.
- A special cup filled with wine, the Cup of Elijah, is set near the center of the table or at one of its corners nearest door kept slightly open. It is for the coming of Elijah to announce the Messiah. When he comes, he will drink some wine and we will know as we watch his cup and know that soon so will come the Messiah.
The aim is to recall how we were taken from Egypt amd rekindle hope in us for this generation.
After a blessing, dipping of Karpas in salt water, and the breaking and hiding of the Aphikomen, there is the Aramaic prayer called the Magid (Recite)- " This.." (head of household holding up the ceremonial plate for all to see) '.. is the bread of affliction which our Fathers ate in Egypt...Let anyone who is hungrey come in and eat, Let anyone who is needy come in and make Passover. This year we are here, next year we shall be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves. Next year we shall be freemen." In Aramaic, the name of the prayer is as its first words. Ha Lahma Aniya (This is the bread of affliction).
The youngest boy that is capable, then sets the tone by asking the Fier Kashes (Four Hard questions) concerning the difference of this night from all other night This is the occasion for the head to begin the Biblical story Avadim Hayiinu(We were slaves). The story begins with us in Egypt but, with time lapses to before then with the calling of Abraham and God's promise to him, with occasional interjections from the Rabbis concerning "awakening elements".
One of these is the Four Sons - the Wise, the Wicked, the Simple, and the Incapable by age or capacity. It is based on the Scripture "Which the Lord has commanded you". The Wise son asks, so tell him precisely, The Wicked Son repeats "has commanded YOU "- meaning in his heart, you, not me, and so excludes himself. The Simple Son also asks "What's it all about?" Make it clear to him, " With a strong hand the Lord took us out" The Incapable? "It is you who must begin with him" leading him into understanding.
Then back to the story of the calling and the redemption of the people from the hands of the Egyptians and the beginning of the lifting of the cups of wine and setting them down without drinking. Here it be noted that the ingenuity and good humor of the father is to be applied. Some oriental communities have a "stranger" with staff in hand, and a pack on his back (It is Uncle Ike in disguise) knocking at door asking to be a part. Some families, especially having newcomers and children, will follow the father and do as he does lifting the cup, never knowing "Will he drink from it this time or not?", as the father tries to trick them and keep them alert (Uncle Herman, also. He is asleep again).
All this time, the children very openly, and the grown-ups furtively, keep glancing at the cup of Elijah to see if the wine in it has diminished any, if he has come already to announce the Messiah.
Back to Israel in Egypt with the recitation, increasing in severity, and oppression of the people in labor, thoughts and conversation will intensify and associate with our modern experiences of holocaust and wanderings and longing for home; of the fulfillment in Israel, the ingathering of the modern exiles etc.
At the height of the recitation, there are the Plagues, ten in Number, and at each plague named a few drops of wine spilled into a plate - which are the tears of the weeping angels at the devastation soon to take place because of the hardness of the heart. Blood, Wild Beasts, Hail, Frogs, Destruction, Locusts, Lice, Boils, Darkness, Death of the First Born.
The response is sung by all at the table in the rousing chant of Dayainu ("It would have been enough for us!"). If He had taken us out of Egypt and not brought judgment on their gods, DAYAINU, If He had brought judgement on their gods and not killed their first born, DAYAINU, If he had killed their first born, and not given us their riches, DAYAINU. If He had given us their riches, and not split the Red Sea for us, DAYAINU... If... DAYAINU, If... DATAINU...etc. Sung with much fervor, banging on the table, clicking of utensils, babies laughing, crying, Uncle Herman now awake, odors from the kitchen, women laughing. dinner is coming soon!
Then is sung Al Ahat Kama ve Kama, "How much More!". How much greater than is our indebtedness to THE PLACE UPON US (God) that He has done all this for us - taken us out of Egypt, brought judgment on their gods, killed their first born, etc. etc.
And now all attention is riveted on the head, as he shows the Matzah, the bitter herbs, repeats the saying - In each generation one ought out to regard himself as personally having come out of Egypt, then he lifts the cup and gives praises, lauds, honors, glorifications, etc. to God for the redemption from Egypt, breaks pieces from the upper and middle Matzah, washes his hands, and all make the pre-meal sandwich of Matzah and the bitter herbs, and Haroset, the table is set (Shulchan Arucch) and all begin to eat. There is no difference between life and liturgy. After dinner, there is the drinking of the third cup (the cup of Thanksgiving) the singing of songs, the drinking of the fourth cup, more songs, and finally - The proclamatic saying by all that all has now been completed - "Nirtzah" Accepted.
Lord's Supper and the Passover Seder
Though it is not likely that the Lord's Supper was at an actual Passover Meal at the normative time for Passover, nevertheless it was the Passover, and the Passover Seder in particular, which provided the "material" for the Gospel narratives concerning His last supper on earth. The following elements point to this close relationship.
- Jesus sent out his disciples to prepare for the Passover which He would eat with them before he suffered Lk. 22:8. . He called the meal that they were about to eat "Passover" and eagerly desired to eat it with His disciples.Lk.22:15.
- Though Matthew and Mark report Jesus taking the bread first and then the wine and speaking of His body and His blood, Luke reports that there was also a cup drunk before the bread. The taking of cups of wine before the meal is in accord with both Jewish Sabbath sancification (kiddush), and the Passover Seder.
- The Gospels indicate that there was a meal eaten at the last supper after Jesus took the bread and saying "This is my body..."* and before Jesus took the cup saying "This is my blood...". "Likewise, after they had supped, Jesus took the cup". This is in accord with the Seder where there are two parts to the ceremony separated by the Passover meal. In the Apostle Pauls day, the Lord's Supper was still being celebrated in the context of a meal - which people where abusing, forgetting, in their ravenous behavior, the reason why they were to celebrate. (This happened in Judaism as well. The boiled and roasted egg on the passover plate, also called the Hagigah - the Festivity, is meant to represent the lamb eaten outside the temple area by the family before the Passover lamb was slain. This lamb is meant to slake the appetite of the worshippers so that when they do eat the Passover lamb, it is not eaten ravenously, but with thought as to its significance).
- In the Passover Seder, besides the frequent mention of Matzah with intent to recall the happenings of Israel in Egypt and the hasty flight from it, there are two specific referrals and focusing attention to Matzah by the father to the household. This is fairly at the beginning of the service, with the Aramaic "This is the Bread of Affliction" prayer and toward the end of the part before the meal. Jesus could well have lifted up the bread at either of these two points telling what He intended as the new meaning for the old rite - His broken body for them all. This would have set the motion for the Disciples henceforth continuing to celebrate the Passover but that under the new sign of the New Covenant which would have a new name from what the Lord was to do for them. And so, the Passover Seder would become, the Lord's Supper, and Holy Communion, and Eucharist. Instead of a once a year celebration on the 14 of the month Nissan, the "little passover" for the Christians was celebrated once a week remembering Christ, "their Passover", on the first day of the week (Sunday), the day that He rose from the dead.
- Significantly, the cup that Jesus took immediately after the meal to signify His blood "shed for you and for the many", is called the Cup of Thanksgiving. This then would be the context for His speaking of His blood shed for them. The note for disciples listening would be gratitude for what He was about to do for them -though this could only surface after the pain of losing Him. The Last Supper for the Christians would be called Thanksgiving -"Eucharist"
- There was a "sop" given by Jesus to Judas to urge him now to do his dirty work. There were, at the Passover Seder, bitters, "Maror", to remind of the bitter servitude of the children of Israel in Egypt. There was also salt water for dippings of the Maror for the same purpose. There was also the mixture known as Haroset for the same purpose - recalling mortar for Pharaoh's building projects. The sop given by Jesus to Judas could well have been any of these dippings and mixtures - already laden with bitterness, which Judas had now come to continue and bring to a new plane.
- The Passover Seder was already in the form of a "sacrament". that is, it was not considered a contrivance of men for a greater purpose to be or not to be performed as considered apt. It was a command of God to be fulfilled, which He would see, and after which, the people having performed it, could say "Nirtzah" - Accepted! This is in accord with Jesus saying "Do this in Remembrance of Me" and in accordance with the fact, that from that first Lord's Supper, this "doing" continued on in the Church as an essential aspect of the worship of he people. They were "doing" what the Lord commanded to be done.
- The Passover Seder is a "home service". That is, it is not celebrated in the Temple (though in Second Temple times the lamb was slain in the Temple area), nor was it celebrated in the synagogue. The "officiant" was neither a priest (the cohen) nor a rabbi. It was the father of the household. Thus it was very much a localized affair, or from the ground up, if there were larger considerations, such as households being together because of the journey or because of poverty.The practice of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament also had this aspect of "localization" This might be seen in the reference to the seating on the "green" grass of the multitudes in groups of fifty (Gospel of Mark) at the time of the multiplication of the loaves as the early church saw in these feeding miracles of Jesus portents of the Eucharist he would institute - and thus form the precise literary forms about these events found in the gospels. They saw their celebration of the "little passover" as a continuation of the miraculous way that the Lord supplied His people. This localizing factor may well have influenced the New Testament role of the deacon - someone "in touch' with the local people of the community, well aware of their needs, who would serve them, freeing the Apostles for the serving of the Word and Prayer.
- After the meal the third cup is filled, and the Hallel (Praise)is sung beginning with the words "Not unto us, Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory, for Thy lovingkindness" (Today, other portions are sung including the Aramaic Had Gadya). After the Lord's Supper, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn, and went out.
Note: The Gospel uses the word "Artos" in Greek and "Lahma" in Aramaic meaning "bread" (and so the Apostle Paul) rather than the words for unleavened bread. But this may be a "modernization" to the later non Jewish believers and after the Christian "little passover" was more removed from the strictly Jewish Passover observance. The Greek and Aramaic New Testament Gospels would then not be the original, though they are the earliest now in our possession. This has more force if the Jerusalem School of Gospel origins is right in their assertion of an original Mishnaic Hebrew written source (or, at least, an oral Hebrew one) upon which our present Greek texts depended .