Passover or Pesach in Hebrew marks the celebration of the Jews being liberated by G-D from the Egyptians who had enslaved them. The Exodus narrative in the Hebrew Bible speaks of G-D freeing the Jews from the hands of the Egyptians by sending 10 plagues upon them. The final plague, the one that freed the Israelites, was the sacrifice of the first-born son. The Israelites were instructed by G-D through the mouth of Moses to sacrifice a lamb or goat ( Korban Pesach in Hebrew) and use the blood of the lamb to mark their door posts. Those that did not follow G-D’s instructions suffered the tenth plague the death of the first-born. Pharaoh agreed to free the Israelites from slavery once he felt the pangs of death of his first-born.
At the Passover Seder the youngest at the table asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”There are four questions along with four answers that remind those sitting at the table of bitterness of slavery, the tears of their ancestors, and the sacrifice of the paschal lamb at the table. Jews celebrating Passover are reminded of the pains of slavery, but of the freedom and liberation that came from G-D as they were delivered out of Egypt.
The night before Holy Thursday I had a dream that I was transported back into time. It was the American Civil War and I was on a Southern Plantation. On the plantation I saw the suffering endured by those enslaved. The backs of men were torn by whips. Children forced to watch their mothers and fathers taunted, mocked, and humiliated. Chains and cuffs ensnared the wrists and ankles of innocent bodies that cried out for freedom.
Under a magnolia tree, I saw a group of women hiding their tears. If the master caught them crying, they would be beaten. They pulled their children close to them and folded laundry that they collected from the line. I said to them, “soon you will know freedom.” Then I woke up puzzled. As I reflected on my dream I wept. I thought of several things tied to the Paschal season. First I thought about the African spiritual, “were you there?” possibly written before the Civil War. “Were You There” was later published in 1899 by William Eleazar Barton. Now it is used during Holy Thursday and Good Friday to commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Pondering my dream, I thought of the Passion of Jesus and how on the night before he was handed over to Pontus Pilot to be crucified, he broke bread with his disciples at a Passover Seder. He and his disciples would have reflected on the tears of their ancestors who suffered before them. The Gospel of Luke Chapter 22: 19-20, ” Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given to you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” Many times in the New Testament Gospels, Jesus uses rather carnivorous or cannibalistic language pertaining to the consumption of his flesh and blood. His disciples, who were first century Jews, would have been just as (if not more) turned off by this wording particularly as we are (as contemporary readers) particularly since the flesh of animals were not consumed with blood (according to ancient dietary restrictions). Jesus, however, was talking about eating him!
Jesus could have used symbolic language, but he chose to use very literal and visceral language intentionally. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his bloodshed to be poured out to many. His disciples would have recognized him Korban Pesach (in Hebrew) or Pascha ( in Aramaic) – the sacrificial lamb that would be used to deliver the people from slavery. Jesus revealed himself as the one who would be sacrificed for the sake of freeing those from slavery.
In the Gospel of John Chapter 3, Nicodemus, who was a Sanhedrin, came to Jesus seeking counsel. He asked Jesus how an old man might be born again. Jesus reveals a bit of his divine nature by explaining that he has been “sent (indicating he is not from Earth) to the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Jesus tells Nicodemus just as he explained to his disciples several times that he came down to the world that we might be granted eternal life through him. What does this mean? What does mean that we can be saved through Jesus?
Jesus chose to die as he surrendered his will to the Father. When he was on the cross, the Gospel narratives state that he gave up his Spirit. He gave it to the Father. On the cross, he says, “it is finished” or as it translates from Aramaic, “it is accomplished,” meaning that prophecies of the Old Testament have been fulfilled indicating we (the Earth-bound) will enter a new covenant with God. Prior to the martyrdom of Jesus, only High Priests of Levi could enter the Holy Of Holies. No other individuals were permitted to have direct contact with Almighty God. When Jesus breathed his last breath surrendering his will into the hands of the Father. He said, “it is finished” causing the Earth to quake and tremble so greatly it destroyed the Temple of the High Priests and the curtain of the Temple (that separated the Holy of Holies) was ripped open, revealing true and full divinity of Christ and this new contact (for all) with Almighty God. Through Jesus, as it was revealed by the prophets, we can have freedom from slavery. We receive the redemptive grace of the Paschal Lamb through the partaking of Eucharist. In his resurrection, we become alive with Him.
I wept on Holy Thursday for I contemplated the slaves in Egypt, the slaves in America, the Passion of Jesus, and my own sin. I think I dreamt of American slavery for two reasons. To think of the Passion of Jesus, but to remember that we have a responsibility to stop evil and provide freedom to those who seek it (whether in actuality or metaphorically). Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We are slaves no more. We have been freed and therefore we should not be silent. We should speak out against injustices and speak up about the freedom that comes from blood of the fully resurrected Paschal Lamb.
Adoration of the Paschal Lamb, from the Ghent Alter piece, Jan Van Eyck, 1432, Sant Bavo Cathedral, Gent
**All scriptures are taken from The Catholic Study Bible New American Bible Revised Edition.**