The Best Way for Christians to Celebrate Passover
“Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand.” (Exodus 13:3)
Passover in the Bible and History
Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, commemorates the most influential event in Jewish history — the Exodus of the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
The story, which is well-known to both Jews and Christians, actually begins in the book of Genesis with God’s promise to Abraham as he entered into a covenant with God. In Genesis 15:1316, God told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land for four hundred years, but that they would be redeemed and returned to the land given to Abraham.
This, of course, is the prologue to the heart of the Exodus story, but it is recounted on Passover in order to emphasize that God was at work throughout the centuries to set the stage for events to unfold in exactly the right way at exactly the right time.
Several generations later, the twelve tribes of Israel had settled in Egypt when a new Pharaoh took the throne. He decreed that all Jewish baby boys be killed at birth and enslaved the children of Israel. Hundreds of years passed in bitter slavery. The Israelites increased in number, but their hardships and sorrows multiplied as well.
When Moses appeared on the scene, the time for the Israelites’ deliverance was at hand. God commanded Moses to deliver His people from slavery, sending him to Pharaoh with the directive, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1). When Pharaoh repeatedly refused Moses’ request, God unleashed terrible plagues that struck Egypt and her people. Yet, Pharaoh remained stubborn and hard-hearted until God sent a final horrific plague — the death of all firstborn sons throughout Egypt. Only the Israelites, who placed the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their homes, were spared as God’s angel of death passed over them.
Before the Israelites could safely leave, Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued them. Caught between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, the Israelites walked forward in faith. God parted the waters for them, but the waves crashed down on the Egyptians when they tried to follow. Though they would face many trials through the years wandering through the desert to the Promised Land, God had freed the Israelites and a nation had been born.
What Christians Can Learn from Passover
While Passover is a uniquely Jewish holiday, many of its spiritual truths apply to Christians. As Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the late founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, once wrote, “The story of the Exodus is the rock upon which Judaism stands. If Judaism serves as the root of Christianity, then it is Passover and the Exodus that nourish the roots of us all.”
Primary among these truths is the idea that God is not distant and aloof — He takes a personal interest in and cares about His creation. The Passover story strongly affirms that God is present in human life, that He hears the cries of His people, and that He acts throughout human history to deliver His people from oppression.
Passover also leads us to affirm the link between slavery and redemption, between our tribulations and our joys. If we lose sight of either, we miss the mark. We shouldn’t obsess over past suffering or be unrealistically optimistic about the future. Certainly, the links between suffering and joy, death and resurrection, are familiar to both faith traditions; Christians, like Jews, affirm that darkness will be followed by light, oppression by redemption, and death by resurrection.
How Should Christians Observe Passover?
Today, more and more Christians are celebrating the Passover holiday in their own way, motivated by a desire to reclaim the Jewish roots of their Christian faith and the Jewishness of Jesus. Some Christians, for instance, hold their own seders.
But there is another, perhaps more meaningful way that Christians can commemorate Passover. Though Passover celebrates freedom from bondage, we must remember that God’s people around the world today suffer under another kind of bondage: the bondage of poverty.
As we look at the world today, there are so many people enslaved by circumstances they played no part in creating. Among them are tens of thousands of Jews — many of them Holocaust survivors — who live in poverty that is almost unimaginable. Some of them, having survived the scourges of Nazism and Communism, now live lives of poverty and indignity.
We know that God works through people to accomplish His will. The Bible is full of stories of men and women who heeded God’s call to help the needy, to seek justice for the oppressed, and to speak His word of truth to a world gone astray. This is the “true fast” Isaiah 11:12 speaks of: “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood”.
So, perhaps the best way for Christians to observe Passover is to do God’s will by helping His people in need. This could mean giving relief and comfort to those who live in extreme poverty, or providing security to Jews in places where anti-Semitism is rampant, or fulfilling biblical prophecy by helping Jews make aliyah (immigrate to Israel). In doing so, Christians are freeing their Jewish brothers and sisters from bondage of poverty and anti-Semitic hatred — and changing lives in the process.