ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 45

Passover: the Jewish and Christian versions

By Lenard R. Mahaarachchi

The feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest feast in the Christian Liturgy. It is generally known as Easter in the New Testament and the Passover in the Old Testament.

The Passover meaning to pass over, celebrates the home-coming of the chosen people of God (Jews) from slavery in Egypt, to the land of milk and honey given to them by God. Even today Jews celebrate the Passover, in remembrance of their coming back to the Promised Land, led by Moses and Aaron.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews participating in a Passover ceremony in Jerusalem last Sunday. AFP

According to the Bible, the Passover occurred in 1270 BC, and has been celebrated annually ever since. The Jews were celebrating this festival on the very day that Jesus died (Nissan 14) unaware that from then on, the Passover would have a new meaning with Jesus's death on 7th April 30 AD. In the post-Resurrection era, the early church gave the Passover a new meaning, that of a “passing over from death to life” — that life does not end in death, but will begin again after our own resurrection to life everlasting.

So the Rising of Jesus had a meaning - all of us would rise again.

But according to Bible scholars, there had been a Passover before the incident detailed in Exodus chapter 12. Reading the Bible carefully, we find that the origin of Passover goes back to the time of Jacob. The Jews were a nomadic tribe, going from place to place with their sheep. For them the winter was severe and that applied to both man and beast. So, when spring came, it was a happy time and there was celebration because it was a "Passing Over" to light from darkness. So they thanked God for the past and made supplication for the future, with an animal sacrifice. It was a lamb that Jacob the oldest patriarch had commended for a sacrifice. This may have been the first Passover.

Once in Egypt, Moses and Aaron had remembered this sacrifice and pleaded with the Pharaoh to allow them to go to the wilderness to perform the Passover sacrifice (Ex. 5/1-3). If allowed this may have been the second time that Passover was celebrated. So the Passover of Moses referred to in Exodus chapter 12 is the third, but the first official one that marked their end of slavery in Egypt. This was marked with the sacrifice of a lamb, the prototype of the sacrifice of Jesus on the first Good Friday in 30 AD. In the New Testament the Passover marks the passing over from the slavery of sin to the freedom of a sinless life, through the merits of the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

After the Jews left Egypt to the Promised Land, there was celebration of the feast of the Passover till they neared Jericho under Joshua. The first Passover since the incident of 1270 BC was celebrated after a lapse of several years. (Joshua 5/1-9). Ever since the Jews resettled in the land given back to them by the Almighty, the Passover has been celebrated annually without a break till the exile into Babylon and continued after their return from Babylon up to 70 AD. In fact there was no break and even on that fateful first Good Friday the Jews were engrossed in the ritual of sacrificing the lamb, when Jesus was dying on the cross. It was a full moon when, according to astronomy, an eclipse of the sun cannot take place. But gospel records indicate there was one during high noon in spite of the impossibility, maybe due to nature's mourning of the injustice that was meted out to Jesus. Even this incident had been foretold in the scriptures. "Day of doom, says the Lord, when there shall be sunset at noon and earth overshadowed under full light." - (Amos 8/9).

It is this full moon incident that decides on our present Easter which unlike Christmas has no fixed date. Jesus is said to have Risen on the Sunday after the Full Moon of the Spring equinox. The church in keeping with the date of this full moon, decided at the council of Nicaea to fix Easter each year on the Sunday that follows the full moon of the Equinox which occurs between March 22 and April 25. This date was fixed in 325 AD. The Passover of 30 AD, the year of Jesus's death, fell on a Friday (7th April) which was a full moon day too. Two other dates where the Passover fell on a Friday, i.e, 11th April AD, 27 & 3rd April AD 33, were left out as unlikely as they were not full moon days.

Easter is today's Passover and celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus. The empty tomb of the first Easter Sunday is the evidence of the Rising of Christ, victorious over death. Besides the empty tomb, we also have a document which vouches to the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus. It is such an authentication of the miracle that this piece of linen, now titled "The Shroud of Turin" (due to its presence in that city) is called the 5th Gospel and articulates details that are not in the four Gospels covering His passion and death.

Some sceptics were critical of Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of Christ" saying that the scenes of scourging were too gory. But if they only see the Shroud's bloodstains they would find themselves wrong. By the way a replica of the Holy Shroud is available with the Benedictine Fraternity in Ampitiya's Monte Fano for those who want to get an idea of what Jesus underwent in His Passion.

The second life of Jesus is not a mere religious story. His death was only a passing through of the valley of shadows only to emerge in the full light of Easter dawn. He remained 40 days among His faithful followers. He did appear to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. An apocryphal Gospel says that He appeared to His Mother too and also Martha, Magdalene's sister who went and told the disciples. The risen Jesus walked some distance with the two disciples who were going to Emmaus. Many others saw Him, according to Paul, who met the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.