Why is This Night Different?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been participating with a community of fellow travelers in a 40 Day commitment to prayer and reading scripture. This past week we read the book of Luke…before that we read Isaiah, Micah, Haggai, Hosea, Mark and part of Matthew. It has been pretty intense – Rachel and I have been deeply affected by this experience.
I put this post together based on some comments I made in our worship gathering yesterday (January 31). Hopefully you will find it beneficial…
Jesus and his disciples are gathered in the upper room for the Passover. This is a religious celebration that they’ve participated in every year for their entire lives. Everything about this event had meaning. Even as children they had a role to play in the ritual. There were questions that they would ask their father – they’d ask about the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, even the way in which they sat around the table. The answers given were the same each year and they’d likely have been able to give it word for word. The herbs reminded them of the bitter enslavement they experienced in Egypt, the unleavened bread recalled the haste of their departure. It wasn’t just stories about their ancestors in Egypt – THEY were slaves in Egypt and this was the hour of their deliverance.
The “4 Questions” of the Passover Meal (Seder)
Asked by the youngest person (usually youngest son) at the table:
1) “Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either bread or matzoh, but on this night we eat only matzoh?”
ANSWER We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they took the breads out of their ovens while they were still flat, which was matzah.
2) “Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only bitter herbs?”
ANSWER We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
3) “Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip our herbs even once, but on this night we dip them twice?”
ANSWER We dip twice – (1) green vegetables in salt water, and (2) Maror in Charoses, a sweet mixture of nuts and wine. The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of tears with gratefulness, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes sweetening the burden of bitterness and suffering to lessen its pain.
4) (original) “On all other nights we eat meat which has been roasted, stewed, or boiled, but on this night we eat only roasted meat.”
ANSWER I don’t have the exact wording of this answer – it hasn’t been used since the destruction of the 2nd Temple in AD 70. Sacrifices offered to God would have been roasted – thus the Passover lamb was to be roasted to remind the people of the sacrifice made on their behalf.
4) (contemporary – changed after the destruction of the temple and thus the sacrificial system in AD 70) “Why is it that on all other nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat in a reclining position?”
ANSWER We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal symbolized a free person, free from slavery, and so we recline in our chairs at the Passover Seder table to remind ourselves of the glory of freedom.
It is this meal that Jesus reinterprets and reframes for the disciples – Jesus was to be the Passover lamb and this night really and truly was their night of exodus to be experienced anew each time they ate the meal together. Jesus was the bread, Jesus was the cup and whenever they ate and drank they were again to live this night of deliverance. The time was upon them, the events that Jesus had alluded to for 3 years were about to take place…everything was coming to a head.
When the disciples were sent out before they were sent to the children of Israel and they were to expect to receive hospitality. The Israelites they went to were to provide resources and protection, food and shelter, warmth and companionship. But now things were about to change. They’d been sent out before and lacked nothing. But now they were being sent to the wolves…so to speak. They would be carrying this gospel beyond the house of Israel – to the whole world. This is an especially important theme for Luke, one that we’ll see stressed again and again throughout Acts.
And it is within this context of the new phase of live for both Jesus and his disciples that they are reminded of their experience being sent out with nothing and yet lacked nothing. Now as they are sent out – or scattered – they were to go prepared for whatever would come their way – they were to take purse (money) and bag and even a sword – meaning that they could expect to encounter troubles (interestingly, I believe it is only Luke that includes this story). They should be wise and they should not expect to receive the same welcome that they did before. In fact, they should expect that just as Jesus would soon be arrested and murdered, they too would receive harsh treatment.
It is certainly true that the Jewish people had themselves not been entirely hospitable – they were after all about to kill Jesus. But remember, that was driven by the religious leaders. The people: the poor and the lame as well as many who were wealthy, were incredibly interested in what Jesus had to say – even if they eventually decided his words were too hard to put into practice.
As usual the disciples miss the point – they ask if two swords is enough, apparently still waiting for Jesus to give them the signal to begin fighting and usher in an earthly kingdom. Jesus’ terse response seems to carry a sigh. The point isn’t that they are to go get swords (which were still a common item for travelers – not just warriors), the point was that just as the Israelites in Egypt and the participants in the Passover, they needed to realize that the hour of action, the hour of deliverance was upon them and they were to be ready for it.
Following the night of sorrow and prayer in the garden, when Jesus is arrested, he is still obviously against violence in the name of this overthrow of the empire. The seed of a new empire has been planted and hope for a Lord other than Caesar will spread. It spreads life to life and house to house until whole neighborhoods, communities and cultures are infected. But it doesn’t begin with violence or force. It begins with a person. It began with God walking in the garden God created, walking with Israel across the dry ground where the Red Sea was supposed to be; with Jesus walking the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem. It spreads to our own life and then to the lives of the very real people with whom we find ourselves experiencing community. Only then do others begin to take notice.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear…