Friday, 10 April 2009

Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

So says Paul when he writes to the Corinthians as he urges the need to be diligent in removing polluting sins from the local church. It is one of the clearest statements in the New Testament that the early Christians saw Christ as the fulfilment of the ancient laws of Moses and Sinai. The Passover sacrifice had commemorated the first moments of the Exodus; Israel's deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

They had been the bond-slaves of the Pharaohs for many a generation but God had heard their prayer and sent them a deliverer and a mediator. Moses instructed that each family was required to measure the potential appetites of its members so that all could have a adequate meal of roast lamb. If the family was too small to warrant a whole lamb then two or more families were to join together. It was an intimate family affair. They were to eat it already prepared for the Exodus, the departure from Egypt; their robes tucked into their belts, their few belongings on their backs, their staffs in their hands and their sandals on their feet. They were to eat it in haste and standing up. They had to be ready to move out at a moment's notice.

It was not just a meal however. The lamb was a sacrifice and died as a substitute for the eldest son of each family. Judgement was on its way to Egypt and all the eldest sons were on a death list; Israelites and Egyptians alike. The Israelite families sheltered in their homes and ate the meal that the lamb had provided by its death. The only difference between their homes and those of the Egyptians was that they daubed the blood of their lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. It was a sign to God's avenging messenger of death; "When I see the blood", said God, "I will pass over you." Hence the name of the annual commemoration, Pass-over.

The Last Supper was a Passover meal and elements of the different parts of the ceremony can be traced in the gospel accounts. As far as we know this is the only 'sacrifice' that Christ ever made. As leader of the feast, it would have been his responsibility to provide the lamb and order the ceremony. He paused during the meal to declare that he had had a passion to share this Passover with his disciples before he suffered. He would not, he said, drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes. In the next moments he transposed the Old Covenant ceremony into a New Covenant one. "This cup" he said " is the New Covenant in my blood which is shed for you." He mingled together pictures of sacrificial lambs and the words of Moses when the Old Sinai Covenant had been inaugurated.

This was a new beginning and a new Exodus. From this time onwards his new family would look backwards to a human Passover lamb who had carried their sins and paid the price of their judgement. The Old Covenant had had its own Passover Lamb and now, so did the New. As Paul expressed it so profoundly; Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us. God has seen the blood and we are spared. Are we feeding on the Lamb?

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