There is a distinct pattern to the plagues that God brings upon the Egyptians. First,
God employs the forces of nature to demonstrate His power over His creation. Second, the plagues are designed to mock the gods of Egypt, showing that God is in control over aspects the Egyptians believed only their gods controlled. Third, the plagues increase in intensity as Pharaoh’s heart continues to harden.
So why do we remember?
We remember in order to seek freedom anew, in our time, in our lives, in our world. We remember in order to see with fresh eyes the way we remain bound and unfree. We remember in order to set aside that which holds our spirits captive and our lives fettered: our fears, our old angers, our regrets and resentments.
The writing of the service was a huge labor for the team that prepared it. Satisfying each writer was a major effort, I believe. The quality was evident to me the first time I read the finished service. Here are a few excerpts:
Narrator: Today we will participate in a Passover Seder much like the one that Jesus and the disciples experienced at what we know as the Last Supper. This would have included a full meal (which we will not have today) and all the elements of our Seder today. The word “Seder” simply means “Order.” Everything is done in a careful order in keeping with God’s instructions in the Old Testament or Torah, as it is known by Jewish people, and with traditions that have been added to keep alive the memory of the original Passover people.
Each Passover is celebrated as if the original Passover was something we personally experienced. In this way we acknowledge our unity with those who have gone before, and our faith in one God whose unchanging love and purpose is eternal.
In the center of each table, there is a Seder plate complete with several symbolic foods. We will eat from them at specific times as their meaning is explained through the Seder readings. The Passover is usually a family celebration, led by the mother and father. Sometimes groups of people will celebrate it together, led by the host, as Jesus did with the disciples. Today each table will be a family group, and we will be led from the center table by our honorary father and mother. From time to time I will narrate some explanations, and we will also hear from a New Testament Voice that will echo from our Christian tradition the ways Jesus layered meaning from the Seder throughout his life and ministry. A traditional Seder may take three to six hours to celebrate. Today we will be respectfully celebrating some of the key elements.
New Testament Voice (Luke 22: 7-8):
“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.”
There are four Seder cups per person- a cup for each of the four promises God made in Exodus 6:6-7. The first cup is called the Cup of Sanctification for the first promise in Exodus 6:6 : “Therefore say to the Israelites ‘I am the Lord and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” Please pass the tray of small individual cups around your table so that each person will have their first cup ready in front of them.
Mother lights the candle and prays:
Blessed are you, Eternal God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us through your commandments and instructed us to light the holiday candles.”
Father: Lifts the first cup and prays:
In your love, O Eternal, you wanted us to know joy and have given us holidays and festivals and this day of celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and of our escape from slavery in Egypt.
Father: Uncovers the matzah, lifts it for all to see, and says:
Here before me are three pieces of matzah. It is said these represent the priests of theTemple, the Levites of theTemple, and the congregation ofIsrael.
He breaks the middle matzah in two and explains:
We break the second matzah and hide one part of it while the children cover their eyes. This part is called the Afikoman, which means ‘that which comes after.’ After the meal the children will look for it and the two will be back together again. This will be a sign that what is broken is not really lost. Children- cover your eyes!
Children cover their eyes while the hiding of the Afikomen is enacted by the mother and the father at the center table. The Afikomen has already been hidden at each of the tables for the children to find later in this service.
New Testament Voice (Matthew 26:26 and Luke 23:52):
While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
[Joseph of Aramathea] went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.
There are many important things for us to remember for our Passover Seder. The children must learn, too. Do the children have any questions?
All children and youth together:
On all other nights we eat either leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night only unleavened bread. Why is this night different?
All Women together:
God told us to be ready to leave quickly when he freed us from the Egyptians. There was no time for the bread to be made with leaven and rise. So we eat unleavened bread to remember we were freed quickly.
All children and youth together:
On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat bitter herbs. Why is this night different?
All Men together:
On this night we remember the bitterness of slavery before God set us free.
All children and youth together:
On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables, but on this night we dip them twice—in the salt water and the charoset. Why is this night different?
All men together:
On this night we dip once in salty water to remember the tears of slavery, and once in the charoset which looks like mortar for bricks, to remember the bricks we were forced to make from mud and straw.
All children together:
On all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat reclining. Why is this night different?
All women together:
In contrast, the Israelites ate the first Passover meal standing, ready to leave at any minute. On this night we relax and recline as free people do and no longer as slaves. We eat in comfort and peace because God has set us free.
New Testament Voice (John 13:21-25):
Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
The service continues (it is a little longer than our regular services, but much shorter than a traditional Seder meal) and concludes with The Lord’s Supper served at the table.
I hope that we might do this service again in future years.