The Connection between Lent and Passover
By Brenda Rishea, March 31, 2019. Given at Cochrane United Church, St. John’s, NL
Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s wonderful that you are interested in other faiths so that you can make your season of Lent more meaningful. I hope you will find it fascinating today as I delve into the roots of your faith, which is Judaism.
Is there a connection between Lent and Passover? Does anybody here think so? I’m going to show you, but first, I guess you want to know a bit about Judaism before I begin. I was raised Orthodox Jewish in Montreal, Quebec, where the majority of the Jewish community is Orthodox. This is one of several streams of Judaism that is more observant than some of the others. In Christianity, there are many denominations, of which some are liberal, conservative, orthodox, and more. The same thing occurs in Judaism, only there are not nearly as many sects as there are in Christianity. Among other things, to be “modern orthodox” means understanding the Bible in a literal sense but also take into account rabbinical interpretations and writings of our sages. The Orthodox are also strict about the dietary laws of what are considered kosher foods, and keeping dairy and meat dishes separate (Deut. 14:3-21).
Being Jewish is not generally a matter of choice. Unlike Christianity, whereby one must choose to follow Jesus in order to be saved, Jews are born Jewish and can choose to followor not to follow a particular stream of Judaism, yet still be considered as “Jewish”. According to Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, one is considered fully Jewish if they were born to both parents who are Jewish; or, to a Jewish mother, (based on the fact that a woman always knows how many children she has, but a man does not); or has undergone a conversion according to Jewish regulations AND is not a member of another religion. If a person’s father was Jewish but not their mother, they are considered half-Jewish.
Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, which adhere to a liberal theology, accept both matrilineal and patrilineal descent. It gets even more complicated than what I am telling you today, but to simplify things, I am keeping this part brief. Just remember, as the saying goes, “When you have 2 Jews, you have 3 arguments”. Enough said!
Judaism is more than just a religion. It’s a matter of ancestry and culture. In other words, it’s a way of life. One could be totally secular, yet still be a Jew. I, for one, gave up on the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism and I prefer to read the Scriptures for myself, asking God’s Holy Spirit, the Ruach haKodesh, to guide me in understanding and not to rely on the writings and commentaries of the Rabbis and sages. Being brought up Orthodox meant that we had to follow the 613 commandments – wait, what did I just say? Did you think there were only 10 commandments? The 10 commandments are just the first 10 of 613! The 613 are called the Torah, the written law, and then on top of that, there’s the oral law, called the Talmud. And each and every commandment has multiple rabbinic interpretations that get really bogged down in details. Then there’s the Gematria, the Mishnah, the Shulchan Aruch, the Targum, the Midrash… it goes on and on. I get a headache trying to figure them all out. One thing for sure in Orthodox Judaism was that we had nothing to do with Jesus, and that we had nothing in common with Christianity. But is that really so?
Many people are surprised to learn that Jesus is a Jew. Since the New Testament is written in Greek, You know Him by the Greek version of his name, which is Jesus, but did you know that His name in Hebrew is Yeshua? It means “salvation”. Joshua is a variant of the same name. I hope you don’t mind if I call Him Yeshua. How Jewish is He? Well, he was born to a Jewish mother. I just explained to you that it means that one is automatically a Jew.
He was circumcised on the 8thday according to Jewish law (Lev. 12:13 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised) and we read that in Luke 2:21 (On the eighthday, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus).
He had a redemption ceremony (Ex. 13:12. Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal) and we read about it in Luke 2:22 (When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lordas it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”). He lived His life as an observant Jew.
The genealogies that are listed in the books of Matthew and Luke clearly show that He is descended from a line of Jews.
Yeshua also celebrated the Jewish holidays. For example, John 10:22 says -Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. Hands up who knows what festival that was? Hanukkah, right! And how about this one? John 7 (2 and 10) But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near…he went also, not publicly, but in secret. What is that holiday called? Sukkot. He most certainly celebrated Passover, one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar. Look at Matthew 26:18 -He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” Mark 14:16. I won’t take the time to go to John 2:23, but Yeshua observing Passover is mentioned there as well.Even when he was a child, it says in Luke 2:41 -Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. And of course He represented the Passover lamb which was to be slain for the redemption of our sins.
This brings us to the subject of Lent. Atfirst glance, Passover and Lent seem to have little in common. We find the parallels, however, when we look at them more broadly. Passover is that feast which commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This freedom occurred after the Almighty spared the first-born sons of all humans and animals when the blood of a slain Passover lamb was applied to the doorposts and lintels of our houses. You know the story. You’ve probably all seen the movie, The 10 Commandments, right? Lent culminates with the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua, the sacrificial Lamb of God who took away the sins of the whole world.
The traditional Passover meal is called a Seder. We have to eat unleavened bread, called matzo, during the 7-day period. Yet traditional Jews do not see the symbolism and fulfillment of Passover through Yeshua. They are spiritually blind. This is thesamefeast and the samemeal at which Yeshua the Messiah took the cup (which symbolized the blood of the lamb) and said “This is the New Covenant established in my blood.” (Luke 22:20) and broke the matzo, the unleavened bread, calling it his body (Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and brokeit, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”).Both Lent and Passover are a time for meditation on the one, true God and reflection on our sins, His ultimate sacrifice, and what we do about it in our personal lives.
For Jews observing Passover, the preparation is just as important as the meal itself. We prepare our houses by getting rid of all leaven. It is forbidden during the week of Passover to eat any foods made with leaven, for leaven, according to the Bible, represents sin. We prepare by studying the Exodus story and retell it from generation to generation to recall how God worked miracles on our behalf. We prepare through self-examination.
Lent prepares Christians for Easter, or Resurrection Day, as I prefer to call it. Observers of Lent prepare by “fasting”, which entails giving up certain foods or desserts, or habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, using profanity, or video games, and so on. It’s a way to clean up our act, so to speak. Many Christians don’t fast anymore, but the Bible doesn’t say, “if you fast”; it says “when you fast”. It’s a command. Jewish fasts, on the other hand, involve a total abstention from all food and water, so Lent is a little easier to bear than a Jewish fast. Lent also involves praying and giving of alms, as does Passover. Both observances prepare our bodies and our souls in a spiritual checkup for the coming big event.
Numbers are important in the Bible. Why are there 40 days of Lent? The number 40 can sometimes represent a period of probation, trial, and chastisement, so it’s appropriate that Lent lasts for 40 days, based on the amount of days Yeshua spent fasting in the desert after his baptism by his cousin, John, whose Hebrew name, by the way, was Yochanan. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. The rain that caused the flood in Noah’s day fell for 40 days and nights. Moses spent 40 days and nights fasting on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone upon which were written the 10 commandments (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18). After the Israelites sinned against God by worshipping the golden calf, Moses fasted another 40 days and nights to beg for God’s forgiveness (Deut. 9:17). If someone committed a crime, and was sentenced to a beating, the limit was 40 lashes. The 12 spies sent by Joshua to check out the Promised Land took 40 days to do their reconnaissance work (Num. 13:25). It was 40 years from the crucifixion of Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman hands. I could go on and on with more reference verses, but I think you can see that a time period of 40 years often means probation, trial, and chastisement.
The time of year for Lent and Passover is significant: both take place in spring, which is a time for hope, rebirth and renewal. Like a baby in the womb that takes time to grow, so 40 days is an appropriate and symbolic time period for Lent. Passover represents freedom from physical slavery, and culminates in the symbolic resurrection of the Israelites through the birth of this new nation, a new land, with a new set of laws. Lent is that period of preparation, climaxing in the resurrection of Yeshua that epic Sunday morning, representing our freedom from spiritual slavery, caused by sin and the power of sin.
God wants us to celebrate His feasts so that we don’t forget what He did for us. The Torah, or the Old Testament, isn’t just rules and regulations to spoil your fun in life. The flesh is a mess and that’s why Yeshua had to pay the penalty for our sins, which is death, but also for the power of sin. Fasting during Lent is a symbolic way of identifying with Him on that cross when He suffered, bled and died for us. He gave His life for us- can we give a small part of our life back to Him? The heart of God is for us to have a pleasant, beautiful life, a blessed life. That life comes with a desire to be obedient to God.
As Jews prepare for Passover, and as Christians prepare for the Good News of the Resurrection by observing Lent, let us appreciate the saving grace in both faith traditions. For both are blessed by God, in ways we cannot fully fathom. The survival of the Jewish people, as a prophetic and priestly community dispersed throughout the world, is an amazing miracle. Without the Jews, there would have been no Yeshua. Without Yeshua, there would be no church. The global witness of the Church, as a vessel of sacrificial service to humanity, is a manifestation of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness. Yeshua is the union that binds Judaism to Christianity. In true fellowship, we rejoice in our similarities and celebrate our differences in love.
I’ll leave you with this question. How can we use this time of Lent and Passover to inspire us to send more light into the world?
I will conclude my time with you by singing a traditional Hebrew song that comes from this wonderful verse from Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
Join hands and sing along!
Thank you all for being here!