Thursday, April 17, 2014

Grace on a Thursday: Hashing out Passover

For years, I've wanted to be a part of a Passover Seder somehow. We used to go to a church that hosted one annually, but we never went. Then, I knew a Jewish family who hosted this special meal in their home every Passover; I secretly wished to be invited over, but it never happened. The Jewish feasts have always been so interesting to me, yet elusive. I have heard of people reading books that walked one through the feasts, but have never researched or had a book title or knew where to begin in celebrating with my own family.

Then, last Sunday, our pastor taught on the first Passover, the final plague on Egypt after which Pharaoh would let the Israelites go. Let me recap the story briefly. Over 2 million Israelites were harshly enslaved in Egypt. Moses was called by God to free and lead the people in a mass 'exodus' into the Promised Land, but Pharaoh was not going down without a fight. (Imagine the economic collapse a country might go into if it lost a workforce of 2 million people literally overnight!) After God sent nine awful, disciplinary plagues on the Egyptians, He told Moses that this final one would be the last straw: He would take the life of every firstborn of every household in the land.

The only way the Hebrew families would remain untouched was if a family had obediently swathed the doorposts with the blood of an unblemished lamb. Then, the angel of death would 'pass over' the household, sparing the life of the firstborn. The blood covered the family from the curse of death. And then, forever more, the Jews were commanded to remember this deliverance and celebrate Passover annually, teaching their children about God's faithfulness and grace. So much grace.

Our pastor read from the Old Testament, where God said the Jews were to roast the lamb meat, and eat it with bitter herbs (or salad greens) and unleavened bread. Because the Jews would very soon be freed, they would be in a rush to escape. In fact, Pharaoh would drive them out in his grief, and there would be no time to bake bread that needed to rise. In addition, God said to eat the meal with one's shoes on, and with one's walking stick in hand for the same reason. This meal was specifically "to be eaten in haste."

It's all so interesting. There aren't many instances in the Bible when God tells us to rush. We take notice when He does. Hurry to your freedom, He says. When I say go, you flee from captivity. This is not a meal to be eaten joyfully over three hours. It is to be taken solemnly and quickly and with grave remembrance, because something had to die first. Remember, there is blood at the door.   

Suddenly Passover seems not a thing to be "celebrated" as much as it is to be memorialized. And last Sunday, I decided remaining on the fringes of this holiday was not necessary; there was no reason I couldn't hash out a symbolic Passover meal in 24 hours for us to enjoy the next night. Heck, the Jews didn't have The Food Network and the internet and 3 easily accessible supermarkets like I did, and they had no trouble working it out.

The Scripture we read on Sunday listed three food items in the Passover meal: lamb, bitter salad greens, and flatbread. Easy. Well, minus the lamb part, which I had never cooked. But in a matter of minutes online, I found a simple recipe for roasting lamb. I went to two stores to find it, but when I did, it was on sale. Win. And finding the other two items was simple as well. I bought a bag of arugula, a bitter and spicy green which I love, and a box of Matzo bread. Crackers. I don't know what the proper term is. (However, when I got home, I noticed the box specifically says "Not for Passover." What? Why not? I don't understand.)

To be honest, I hesitated sharing this experience online. I was a bit afraid I might offend someone who knew the "proper" way to do Passover. I'm hoping for grace in this area, since I should be better versed on the holiday but am not, yet. On the other hand, I wondered if there were more people out there who have been interested in participating in the tradition, but felt overwhelmed or sort of uninvited, like I did.

Well, it boils down to this. My decision to hash out my own Passover and my decision to share it here were both rooted in this belief: God just wants us to remember and share His story. I believe He doesn't care as much about the details as He does about our hearts. Are we remembering that our freedom comes at a high price? Are we remembering there is blood on the door, the blood of the Lamb of God that covers us from the curse of death? And perhaps most importantly, are we telling each generation the stories of God's deliverance and power and incredible grace?

Sitting down to a meal of lamb and arugula and flatbread just made the history come to life. God knows the ways we learn best, and how amazing is it that He gives us tangible symbols? Sharing the Passover meal as a family simply created a venue to talk about God's great works, and it engaged our five senses, which are incredible triggers of memory. The whole experience was simple enough for a child to understand. At the table, we read from Exodus and then from the gospels. The Lamb had to die so that God's people could live. It is bitter and rich and when God says go, you don't hesitate. You run to your freedom.

God is a great Teacher. He doesn't just talk at us. In His grace, He invites us to learn with all our senses. To taste the bitterness of sin and slavery. To hear the dry snap of the cracker eaten in haste. To smell the roasted herbs and meat, satisfying and rich fuel for a long journey. And perhaps what I love best is that He wants us to learn and re-learn with our families. He wants our kids involved. He can't wait for them to taste and hear and smell and wonder about His great works too.

All in all, our night was awesome. I think we may be remembering Passover in this way every year. And next year, I may even find some people to invite.



  1. Love this! I've never cooked lamb either. Did you all like it? I just saw an awesome resource on Ann Voskamp's blog yesterday for a Christian Passover meal and thought I think I'd like to check that out for next year.

  2. i tried commenting on this 3 times already! ok....let's try again....i LOVE this. and you are NOT the only one who wants to add these traditions into their families. i think it is a beautiful and meaningful tradition. anything that brings us closer to God, i say. thank you for sharing your experience and being willing to be vulnerable! (miss you...sad face)

  3. I've always wanted to do this, but not being Jewish, I never know when Passover is. I'd love to do this next, I'd love to join with others to do so. Thanks for the reminder that it's not about being complicated, but our hearts before God.

  4. i did my first seder meal last night (i actually thought of you the whole time because i had seen on your post on instagram). we went through a booklet and each had different readings. it was funny and sweet and awkward because only 1 out of the 8 of us had ever done it, but i loved thinking about the tradition behind it and being a part of something that has been going on for literally thousands of years. and jesus! He sat through that meal knowing He was about to be betrayed and crucified but He celebrated it anyway. #sorryiwroteanovel

  5. You had me at... "God just wants us to remember and share His story. I believe He doesn't care as much about the details as He does about our hearts...." To me, this the pure essence of the bible. I've had the traditional Moroccan Lamb Tagine w/honey & apricots, but that probably won't pass for kosher passover cuisine, shucks.

  6. So cool that you did this Leslie! I celebrated Passover for the first time as a teenager and our family has done it ever since. There is soo much depth and richness in it. Each year we learn much more and is the time of year we look forward to most!

    The cool thing about Passover (and the rest of the Biblical holidays) is that they weren't made just for Jews. At the time of the first Passover ALL 12 tribes of Israel were there and participated, along with the non-Israelites who chose to worship YHWH. We know Passover as "a Jewish holiday" because it is almost entirely Jews who celebrate it, but Scripture instructs ALL of YHWH's people to keep it. :)

  7. I adored this Leslie and the way you write and share is powerful . I loved this story too. I went to a Christian - Jewish Church if that makes sense (may not be the proper term ) but they celebrate all the feasts ect and invite community. It was so powerful and one of the most wonderful events I have been to . Thanks for sharing .