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Passover background

Background of the celebration

The people of God have celebrated Pesach or Passover for thousands of years. Before the Exodus, the tribes of Israel celebrated a sacrificial festival in the early spring called Hag HaPesach (Feast of the Paschal Sacrifice), offering the firstlings of their flocks and herds to the LORD in thanksgiving for His tender loving kindness towards them. It was during this time of year, while the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, that Moses pleaded with Pharaoh for permission to hold this festival:

“The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”    Exodus 5.3

Pharaoh refused them, and the sacrificial festival was transformed, as described in detail in the 12th chapter of Exodus, into the perpetual festival of deliverance that is celebrated each year by observant believers to this very day.

In Hag HaPesach animal sacrifices were offered out in the field, but in the Passover instituted by Moses, each family was commanded to sacrifice a lamb without spot or blemish outside their home in Egypt and to take the blood of the lamb and apply it over the doorposts of their house as a sign to all the powers in heaven and on earth that theirs was a household which believed and placed their trust in the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who were hearing the word of God for their age through His servant Moses. According to God’s promise, when the Death Angel came through Egypt, striking dead the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he “passed over” those homes that were covered with the blood. In this way the host of heaven could distinguish between Egyptians and true Israelites: those who heard God’s voice through Moses, believed in God, and obeyed His command were counted to be Israelites, while the remainder were counted as Egyptians. Since that time the Pesach feast has been known as the LORD’s Passover.

The Passover meal is known as the Seder (סדר), which means “order” because the meal and service are done in a prescribed sequence. This sequence is presented in the Haggadah (ההגדה or “telling”) which outlines the steps of the meal as well as the readings and songs for the participants. While there can be a great deal of variety in how the service is conducted, the basic elements and order have remained unchanged for centuries. At various points in the service there are different actions required of the participants. All of the actions have carefully composed symbolic meanings, hence the Seder, the order.

Certain aspects of the Passover celebration are clearly outlined in Scripture, including advance preparations, the date and timing of the celebration, certain commemorative symbolic foods to be eaten during the Passover meal, and a special order to the narrative and ritual recounting of the Passover story. As the years have gone by, the feast has been refined in its structure and form with the elements carefully laid out in a Haggadah or storybook such as this one, which outlines the events and activities of the evening celebration.

Jesus was, and is, and always will be a Jew. During His earthly lifetime He was raised up in the Jewish practices and customs of His time and in the precepts of the Old Testament Scriptures. Since He was the living Word of God, His life was a fulfillment of Scripture. As we read of the words and deeds of Jesus’ life in the Gospel accounts, it is striking to note how He became the fulfillment of the Passover, God’s Paschal Lamb sacrificed for our sins, whose blood was shed that we, placing it over the doorposts of our hearts, might be spared from the Death Angel and enter into eternal life. On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus celebrated a Passover Seder ceremony with His disciples in an upper room that had been prepared for them. During this special Seder, He took two of the Passover elements, the Afikoman and the Cup of Elijah, and consecrated them as the LORD’s Supper, the Eucharist that believers have celebrated ever since.

The Seder outlined in our Haggadah is designed for believers both old and new who sense a call to observe the Passover feast as a remembrance of their own passage from bondage to deliverance, from slavery to freedom, through the mercies of the living God and the shed blood of the Paschal Lamb. Guests who are able to appreciate both the solemnity and the joy of our celebration are welcome to participate. As it has been written in Scripture,

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight, is the LORD’s Passover… This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.    Leviticus 23:5 and Exodus 12.14

The Haggadah that follows was compiled from traditional sources and woven together with original commentary and selected additional Bible references. It was designed to be used at home, in small groups, or with larger gathering to celebrate the Passover. Over the years it has been enjoyed by many groups. Please receive and use it with our blessings!