Additional Resource Material for this Sunday
Ideal for catechetical and liturgical dramatization of today's gospel.
April 13 - Passion Sunday (Cycle B)
The Lamb and the Unleavened Bread
(Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13)
The Feast of the Passover was the most solemn feast of Israel. It was celebrated on the first month of the Jewish year, the month of Nissan (corresponding to the middle part of March and April in our calendar). The feast lasted for seven days, but days 14 and 15 of Nissan was considered the day of the Passover, with the celebration of the Passover supper. How this feast was celebrated was transmitted from generation to generation and has been recorded in the book of the Exodus (Ex 12:1-28).
For centuries before Christ, the Feast of the Passover was linked to the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Ex 13:3-10). In its origin, before Moses, it was a feast of the shepherds (where lamb was eaten) and that of the unleavened bread, a feast of the farmers (where bread from the new harvest was eaten). After the time of Moses, these popular feasts became definitely associated with the liberation of the people from slavery in Egypt. This was what Israel continued to commemorate for the following centuries until the time of Jesus. The Passover was something like a feast of national independence. It was a patriotic and at the same time, a profoundly religious celebration. For the people of Israel, it was the hand of God that paved the way for the liberation of their ancestors.
The highlight of this feast was the Passover supper, at the center of which was the lamb. In Jesus’ time, the lamb was usually purchased in the atria of the Temple and was offered as sacrifice right there. The priests, appropriately dressed for the rite, beheaded the lambs, one after the other, before the altar. These lambs were brought to the atria by the Israelite men. After the blood had been shed before the altar, as a pleasing sacrifice to God, the victims were returned to their owners, who brought them to their houses or directly to the available ovens, to be roasted collectively in the streets.
The lamb was eaten in accordance with Jewish practice, within the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city. At sunset, which was the start of a new day for the Israelites, the families, groups and neighbors, gathered together for the solemn supper. Since houses were small and there should be at least ten persons for every lamb, supper was also celebrated on the patios, terraces and even on the roofs. Jerusalem, with many pilgrims around, was an impressive picture of a festive atmosphere. It was the most solemn night of the year. In primitive times, supper was held inside the Temple, in the esplanade, but about a hundred years before Christ, this custom was stopped due to the multitude congregating in the capital. Symbolically, the doors of the Temple remained open wide during the whole night of the Passover.
During the Paschal days, the marketplaces of Jerusalem were filled with typical products needed for that particular supper. Lettuce was the prescribed vegetable for the salad of the night. Other vegetables like chickory, watercress, artichokes and other bitter herbs could also be used. The bitterness was a remembrance of the pain and tears of the people when they were slaves in Egypt. The ritual marmalade of the night was called “jaroset,” which was made of different kinds of fruit (figs, dates, raisins, apples, almonds), several condiments (cinnamon, especially) and vinegar. It was served as an appetizer by spreading it on bread. Its color and consistency reminded the Israelites of the clay that their ancestor slaves had used for making bricks in the enormous construction projects of the pharaoh.
The bread that was eaten during the seven days of the feast was kneaded without leavening. This bread was called “massot” or “unleavened” bread. It was also prescribed that all nooks and corners of the houses must be swept clean so that not even a bit of leavening be left inside. The primitive thinking saw in the process of fermentation of bread a symbol of decay and death. Thus, the practice of eating the “purest” of all breads during the feast. The unleavened bread was made in the form of a cake, somewhat thick. This reminded the Israelites of the bread they had brought along during their escape from Egypt, whose dough had not had time to grow and ferment.
Some Israelites possibly continued with the ancient custom of signing with blood of a sacrificed lamb the doors of the place where they gathered for supper. On the night that Israel left Egypt, that blood was the sign that distinguished the houses of the oppressors from those of the oppressed, so that God could free the latter and punish the former (Ex 12:2-13).
The book of Acts mentions the first Christian communities who gathered to pray in the house of Mark (Acts 12:12). On the basis of the above, an ancient tradition pointed to Mark’s house as the place where Jesus celebrated the supper of the Passover on the eve of his death. Since it is impossible to locate this place in present-day Jerusalem, another more recent tradition situates the “last supper” in a spacious room on the second floor of a temple built on Mount Zion, in the southeastern part of the city. Below this building, the Jews of today venerate the tomb of King David. Neither one or the other has historical authenticity.
At present, the Jews continue to celebrate the feast of the Passover every year, with rites similar to what Jesus knew with respect to food, prayers, songs, etc. We Christians establish a direct relationship between this celebration and the Eucharist. Passover (“pesaj” in Hebrew) means “passage.” Yahweh passed through Egypt on the night of the liberation: Yahweh, passed through the houses of the Hebrews that were marked with blood and castigated the Egyptians. Thus, the liberated people were able to cross the waters of the Red Sea (the color of blood) toward a new land. Jesus, by the blood of his life, passed from death to life. The Christian community, in the Eucharist which is a memorial of this blood that was shed for our freedom, continues to celebrate the passage of Jesus and his own passage from death to life (1 Jn 3:14).
(Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13)
from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 3 (Chapter
This book offers a new approach to appreciating the life of Jesus. The first part of the Chapter is in dialogue form in an up-to-date conversational language. This makes the reader realize that Jesus was once a very ordinary guy, a typical man in his time. The last part of each chapter contains an explanation of the biblical references, thus giving one the perspective for reflection.
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