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March 16, 2013 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

This year Easter Sunday falls on the sixth day of Passover week which begins on Tuesday, March 26, or Nissan 15.  The relationship between Passover and Resurrection Sunday is generally well known.  Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem on Passover which in the year 30 AD fell on a Friday.  His resurrection took place on the Sunday following.  Since Passover is a movable feast in terms of the day of the week on which it falls, the Council of Nicaea decreed in 325 AD that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal equinox.

The early Christians, who were largely Jewish, called the celebration of what today is called Holy Week simply Pesach, or Passover.  It included the institution of “The Lord’s Supper” which for Jesus and his disciples took place during their Passover meal just after sunset on Thursday evening.  Although there is a significant difference between what Christians call “communion” or “Eucharist” and the Passover meal, there are significant similarities that are worth mentioning as we approach Pesach.

Both Passover and Eucharist (which is the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’) are memorial celebrations.  They call to remembrance mighty acts of God for the salvation of his people.   Both ceremonies call their participants to consider themselves a part of the events commemorated.  Jewish families are asked to consider themselves as delivered from the bondage of slavery.  Christians are extorted to understand that it was for their sins that Messiah went to the cross.  Both rituals take the participants back to the roots of their faith.

This leads to a second similarity.  Both rituals unite a community of faith that is otherwise divided into many different denominations.  Passover is observed by all Jews everywhere.  It is observed by the Orthodox and the Reformed; by the religious and the secular.  Christians from all denominations, with few exceptions, break bread together in remembrance.

This is, of course, both good news and bad news.  These memorials are celebrated by some in a perfunctory manner.  They just don’t get it.  However, it is the power of the ordinances that holds out the hope that they may be drawn back to the richness of the faith that is in them set forth.  They call us not only to each other but to God.

A third similarity is that both ceremonies use the same central elements.  Central to the Passover meal are four cups of wine and three cakes of unleavened bread.  The Eucharist is celebrated with bread and wine.  This is not coincidental, since the Christian memorial was born out of the Jewish Passover.  Without minimizing the differences between the communions this fact speaks of the connection.

One aspiration for this sacred season is that our observances might draw us deeper into the realities that they portray.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that our rituals are a mere shadow of the substance of our faith.  Nevertheless, the shadow is there because the reality stands behind it.  Let us not be content with a shadow religion.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs