Lambert provides a deep exploration of the connections between the Jewish Passover and Easter, demonstrating how a greater understanding of Passover can shed light on our relationship to Christ and the nature of the sacrament.
In this article, Rebecca Reynolds Lambert, initially inspired by Andrew Skinner’s The Savior’s Final Week, outlines numerous connections between the rituals commemorating God’s redemptive acts in Exodus and Christ’s ultimate redemption of the human family. Lambert suggests that as Christians we often place less significance on the Passover than Christ did himself, whose life aligned closely with what the Passover would have led the Jews to expect of the coming Messiah. Though the event of the Passover itself was a time of suffering for both the Hebrews and the Egyptians alike, it was the Israelites’ sacrifice of the paschal lamb, unblemished and unbroken, that redeemed them from oppression and slavery and defined them as a people.
According to the account in Exodus, both the Feast of the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread were established prior to the events that they commemorate (a practice potentially alluded to in Christ’s own possible early observance of the Passover meal), serving as a prospective and future memorial of God’s acts of deliverance, and with the covenants connected to them. During the time of Christ, these feasts would continue to carry the promise of deliverance, inspiring sedition and revolt against Israel’s Roman rulers. Jesus’ purpose in entering Jerusalem during the Passover feast was to fulfill and transform these Messianic promises.
That the people of Jerusalem recognized these messianic connections is suggested by Christ’s anointing as king, and by their reaction to Christ’s fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy via his triumphal entry. Christ was welcomed by the people with the messianic Psalm 118, and the people spreading their coats along his path—a sign of their acceptance of his kingship in allusion to 2 Kings 9:13.
Lambert suggests that Christ used the opportunity of the Last Supper to reframe Passover in light of his coming sacrifice, with the meal serving as the basis for introducing the new covenant of the sacrament. An understanding of the tradition of Passover helps us better understand the details provided by the Apostles regarding the Last Supper, and places it in a context broader than the mere observance of ritual–as an event that grounded participants in the “past, present, and future” of God’s role as messianic deliverer, a grounding referenced by Lambert as “sacred time”. Following Mark’s account, Lambert explicates the meaning of several aspects of the Passover meal, including:
- The bread ritual of the afikomen, where a piece of unleavened bread is broken and passed to all participants. This bread “represented the longed-for Redeemer,” and was identified by Christ during the Last Supper as himself. During the ritual, the bread is hidden under a linen cloth, which calls to mind Christ’s own burial, as well as our own modern ritual of placing the sacramental bread under a cloth. Lambert lingers here on the theme of “remembrance” found in the Passover, in the Last Supper, and in connection with the ordinance of the sacrament within the Book of Mormon. By participating in the sacrament we commemorate our own willingness to keep God’s commandments, Just as Christ witnessed the same with his own baptism, similar to how the Israelites were willing to come out of Egypt and through the waters of the Red Sea.
- The four cups of wine linked to God’s specific actions in the Exodus narrative (labelled today as the Cups of Sanctification, Deliverance, Redemption, and Salvation). Mark places special attention on the Cup of Redemption, which is the one most likely associated with the sacramental ordinance. In taking that cup (mixed with water, foreshadowing Christ’s crucifixion), Christ identifies the blood of the pascal lamb, protecting them from the angel of death, as his own, again fulfilling a prophecy from Zechariah. There were ancient proscriptions against drinking between the third and fourth cups, the fourth cup symbolizing ultimate salvation in the Kingdom of God. This proscription, which Christ himself follows when refusing wine on the cross symbolized Israel patiently waiting for the promised land.
- The hymn that Christ sings with his apostles before going to the Mount of Olives, which likely represented Psalms 113–118, the second half of which (Psalms 115-118) was also sung while priests were sacrificing lambs during the Passover meal. Known as the Hallel, the hymn references taking the “cup of salvation”.
- The sleep that overtakes the apostles in Gethsemane, with Talmudic evidence that the Passover feast wasn’t considered over until the participants were properly asleep, rather than merely dozing.
The closing pages of the essay dwell on Christ’s atonement and crucifixion, where Christ fulfills God’s covenant of redemption and deliverance, ends Satan’s reign, and rends the veil separating earth and heaven. That victory extends to all of humanity, in this life and the next. In accomplishing this sacrifice, Christ serves as an example to us in his offering of a broken heart (on the cross) and a contrite spirit (in Gethsemane), and provided the ordinance of the sacrament as a way for us to follow that example.
Lambert concludes that:
The Jews did not merely await a Messiah to rid them of the Romans. Their messianic hopes then, like ours now, anticipated the Final Kingdom and the ultimate revelation of the King of Kings. If we can step into sacred time, considering ourselves as if we each came out of Egypt with Moses, then we see Passover is also our memorial. Passover proclaims that our Lord is faithful in His promise of our salvation.
This article is definitely one that should be read carefully and in its entirety. The essay is dense with insights and connections that will be worth the reader’s time, and what results is one of the most informative Easter essays that Interpreter has ever featured. Though I’d participated in seders before, there was a great deal here that I’d never clued into previously, "light switches" that had never flipped in the years of my LDS-based religious education. I can’t help but look forward to the next year’s study of Christ’s triumphal entry, where I’ll enjoy putting these concepts to use in my family Come Follow Me. Though history and habit dictate that I’ll have forgotten these connections by then, I hope Lambert’s article will do for you what it did for me—reinforce the value of exploring the historical context underlying the core of our religion.