Passover service emphasizes freedom, thanksgiving
By John Armistead
With laughter, embraces, kisses and warm hand shakes, the congregation of Temple B’nai Israel greeted one another as they gathered together at the Tupelo Furniture Market Thursday night to celebrate the second night of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) with the Seder.
The Seder (meaning “order of service”) is a ceremonial feast remembering God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery in the 1200s B.C.
The Seder is “a reminder to each generation of the price of freedom,” said Tupelo’s Marc Perler, who led the service for the 73 people sitting at the tables. “Tonight we remember, and we are thankful for our freedom.”
For Jews, the service is not only a reminder of God’s deliverance from Egypt, but of his continuing acts of deliverance, said Perler. Because of their own experiences as a persecuted people, Jews identify with all who are oppressed and yearn for freedom.
A symbol of this wider identification was expressed at the beginning of the Seder as Perler read, “Let all who are hungry, enter and eat thereof; and all in distress, come and celebrate …”
According to the scripture, the Hebrews in Egypt were instructed to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed lamb over the doorposts of their homes to show their faith in God, and, during the 10th plague, the angel bringing death to every firstborn in the land, “passed over” them. Only Egyptian first-born died.
During the Seder, the worshipers took turns reading the story of the flight from Egypt. Various foods on the table symbolized that flight, such as bread called matzah (“unleavened”) and moror, bitter herbs. According to the Bible, the Hebrews had to move so fast escaping Egypt that they didn’t have time to wait for the bread to rise before baking it. The herbs are reminders of the bitterness of slavery.
Almost 2,000 years ago, on the Thursday evening before he was executed by the Romans, Jesus, as a faithful Jew, held a Seder with his disciples. Knowing one of his followers was negotiating with his enemies to betray him, he reserved a large room for the feast, but kept its location secret.
When he was at the table with his men, he said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). At the end of the meal, Jesus asked them to eat the matzah and the wine in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19).
This simple meal of bread and wine, then, became what Christians would later call Eucharist (“thanksgiving”), or communion (“fellowship”), or Lord’s Supper. In many churches it remains the focal point of worship, emphasizing as it does the sacrifice and love of Christ.
On Thursday night of Holy Week (the week before Easter) many congregations hold a Maundy Thursday service in remembrance of the Seder Jesus had with the disciples. The word maundy is from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment,” and recalls Jesus’ words, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).
Because Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at his last Seder with them, worshipers at some churches wash each other’s feet during the Maundy Thursday service.
As the Jewish service drew to a close Thursday night, Perler reminded the congregation of Temple B’Nai Israel that the Seder is “a festival of peace and of freedom.”