Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 7, 2003
Why not matzos on Holy Thursday
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Every year around this time, some friends of mine buy a box of matzos. There wouldn't be anything unusual about that if they were Jewish, but they're not. They're Catholic and they serve the matzos at dinner on Holy Thursday, an idea I find very appealing.
There's nothing unusual about Jewish and Christian holy days occurring near one another. Hanukkah and Christmas usually fall within a few days of each other. But Passover and Easter, with the rest of Holy Week, are linked by much more than the proximity of time: the Passover Seder itself was the meal Jesus shared with his apostles the night before he died. The Last Supper was a Jewish feast.
This year - 2003 for Christians, 5763 for Jews - the first day of Passover is actually on Holy Thursday. What seems strange to me is that although Christians know from the Gospels about the Last Supper and the Seder connection, many ignore it. And that's too bad.
At heart, the Passover story is one of redemption. The eight holy days celebrate God's intervening in human affairs to free the Israelites from slavery and suffering in Egypt. The book of Exodus contains the amazing drama of Moses and Aaron standing before the Pharaoh proclaiming, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Let My people go.'" Pharaoh's refusal led to the 10 plagues, culminating in the last: the death of all firstborn.
That first Passover night, the angel of death "passed over" the houses of the Jews who had marked their doors with lamb's blood. Then, because they had to rush to begin their journey, they had no time to bake regular bread. Instead, the Jews made matzoth, flat wafers from flour and water, without yeast that bake quickly. Hence the other name for Passover: the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
Though time and circumstance have created some changes, for thousands of years these holy days have been celebrated in much the same way by Jews around the world. The rituals included the telling of the Exodus story and a plate of ceremonial food including a roasted egg and a roasted bone, symbolizing sacrifice. God's blessing is invoked, wine and bread consumed and thanksgiving offered to the Lord.
The stress on continuity comes straight from the Bible: "This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance" (Exodus 12:14).
For Christians, these rich sacred traditions speak not only of the beliefs and customs of "our 'elder brothers' in the faith of Abraham," as Pope John Paul has said, but of Jesus himself, who respected and fulfilled the practices of his own Jewish heritage. Surely, seeing his Last Supper in the light of Passover can open our eyes to the vibrancy of Christian beliefs.
We discover the institution of the Eucharist using prayers of blessing and thanksgiving as well as the meal's indispensable bread and wine - "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). For Christians, the Last Supper points to Jesus' sacrifice of himself through his death on the cross for our liberation from the bondage of sin.
These days religions are frequently in the news, sometimes positively, too often, not. It's time we looked more deeply into our own faith as well as trying to learn more about different beliefs. There is no reason to disguise our differences. They are real. Yet if we see ourselves as children of God, can we look on others as anything other than our brothers and sisters? Brothers and sisters don't think or act or believe exactly the same way, but they love and respect one another because that's what families do. Just ask our Father.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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