Passover is a solemn feast that celebrates the freedom of the Hebrew people from the bondage of Egypt, recounted in the book of Exodus. A traditional family banquet consisting of a series of home rituals, such as the Passover Seder (Ex. 12,1-14), commemorates the release from captivity of the Jews, led by Moses.
It is one of the most important festivities of the Hebrew calendar and it lasts for eight days, starting on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which in our modern calendar would correspond with the last part of the month of March and the first part of the month of April. But it is also corresponds with Easter, one of the two most important celebrations for Christianity. Easter remembers Christ’s crucifixion and his glorious resurrection.
Prior to Easter
Jesus had taken a forty-day journey of fasting and preparation in the desert. That time is represented in the Christian faith as “Lent” – a journey of reflection that allows the time to review, discern, transform and live. It is also a time to recognize that this grace of following Christ is costly.
Just before Easter, Jesus experienced the definitive moment that crowned his coming to earth: he realized he would be condemned for the sins of humanity, even though he was absolutely innocent of all evil.
This took place in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 36-50). As Jesus was meditating and praying, he felt anguish.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus sensed that the end was coming. He knew what would happening soon. His Heavenly Father had told him. He knew he was going to be betrayed. Did the betrayal begin with his trusted men sleeping instead of watching and praying?
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
Soon Judas delivered him for 30 pieces of silver. His life was worth only 30 pieces of silver! Jesus loved Judas, he knew he had to be the “bad guy” in the story. He had compassion for him, but the prophecy had to be fulfilled.
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Beginning the Jewish Passover
It was the beginning of the end … or a new beginning. It depends how you read the story. Jesus was brought before Caiaphas, the high priest. With him were the teachers of the Law. He was later brought before Pilate. Peter denied it three times as the Scriptures say (Matthew 26: 69-75). “I do not know that man!” While this was happening, Judas repented. He had confessed his sin, but the priests ignored him. Then he hanged himself, full of remorse and pain. Jesus appeared before the governor, and he asked him: “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
He was accused by the chief priests and elders. But Jesus did not answer anything. He remained silent. Pilate asked the people if they wanted him to release the best-known criminal of those days, Barabbas, or Jesus, who was called the Christ. The people asked for Barabbas. They were put up to this by the priests who saw in Jesus an enemy and a blasphemer. They did not understand that he was the Messiah.
When he was taken to Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”), he hung on a cross next to two thieves, insulted, despised and mocked. The day darkened. Jesus gave a great cry saying: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Which means: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt.27: 46b). And soon he died. There was a great earthquake and the veil of the Temple in Jerusalem was torn. Joseph of Arimathea, one of his followers, buried Jesus. Since Jesus had predicted that on the third day he would be resurrected, the chief priests and the Pharisees came before Pilate to ask him to seal the tomb. “Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead” (Mt.27: 64).
At the dawn of the first day of the week Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the sepulcher. There was a great earthquake and an angel spoke to them.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
They ran to tell the disciples, who went to verify the sayings of the women.
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Saved by grace
The beautiful, historical account we find in the Bible means we can be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. Easter is why Jesus became a man. He suffered like no other human being. I am excited to think of the Son of God’s sacrifice for me. It is a sacrifice that he made for you also, and for every person in this world, from its creation to the end of time.
The entire purpose of humanity is consummated in this act of supreme love – of taking my place on a filthy cross to die like a vile criminal, to be resurrected in glory and to give me peace forever. This love is wonderful. Priceless! It cannot be sold or bought. It is received by faith and by grace. There is nothing I can do to buy it. The price was already paid and there is no other price to improve the offer. I invite you to reflect on the value of the death and resurrection of Jesus in your life. In this Easter season, may we become intimate with the One who gave everything for each one of us. And may we tell the whole world once more: Jesus, the Messiah, is risen!