We have a confluence of religious calendars this year during Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Days of Unleavened Bread. It doesn’t always happen like this, that Easter and Passover are the same week. But since it did, I’m going to write about them together. I hope that I can impart some wisdom.
-5 Palm Sunday
The original Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus of Nazareth made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, happened on the tenth day of the first month. In Judaism, The tenth day of the first month was when the Passover lamb is selected and brought into the household. When Jesus sent his disciples to find the colt of donkey, every Jewish family in Judea and the Holy Land was selecting a lamb without spot or blemish that they would take into their house for four days (or share with their neighbors, if one family or the other was too small). The parents would examine the lamb to determine its fitness to be their passover lamb and the children would bond with it as a pet. Jews don’t slaughter a lamb at Passover anymore because they don’t have the Temple in Jerusalem or a Priesthood to do so properly.
When Jesus (I feel odd, writing Jesus, because I think of him by his Hebrew name, Yeshua) anyway, when Yeshua rode into Jerusalem, hundreds of his followers had lined the road leading up to the Messiah’s Gate and they were waving palm branches and laying the palm fronds and their cloaks down on the road before him to honor him.
There’s no association of palm branches with Passover. None that I know of anyway, but I’ve only been doing this for thirteen years, or so. There is however another Jewish Holy Day in which palm branches are waived: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths. Sukkot wraps layer upon layer of meaning and I will write about that next fall when it comes around again. But for now, a part of the observance is to wave the branches of three particular trees and a fruit called etrog (looks a lot like a lemon) before the Most High. One of the branches is a palm branch. Sukkot is when the first Temple was dedicated. It is a time of proclaiming the Kingship of the Most High God. So, when, Yeshua’s followers waived the palm branches they were proclaiming both his reign and his Divinity as the Son of God.
-6 The Eve of Passover
Passover marks the first day of unleavened bread. It is the evening of the most famous seder in Judaism: the Passover Seder. The day of Passover is the fourteenth day of the first month. Remember that lamb that all the Jewish families took into their house on the tenth? Well, on the twelfth or thirteenth, as many as could would walk to Jerusalem and bring their lamb to the Temple for the Priests to slaughter and then they would roast it for the Passover seder.
The Passover Seder is the meal in which Jews recall how the Most High, the God of Abraham, defeated the deities of the Egyptians and brought Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an out-stretched arm. It is a very personal holiday because it symbolizes how the God of all creation seeks out His People. In the pagan religions, people seek out their own deities. In Judaism and Christianity, He seeks us. There are bitter herbs to remind of the bitterness of slavery. There is salt water to remind of the tears. We shake ten drops of wine onto the Seder plate, one for each of the plagues with which the Most High smote Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Ultimately what Passover reminds us of is painting the door post of the house with blood of the Passover lamb so that when the Angle of Death roamed through the land of Egypt smiting the firstborn of man and beast, he would pass over the households marked with the blood of the lamb.
In ancient times when a warlord or King conquered a new province, he would send his vanguard through the new land to instruct his new subjects to paint the symbol of the new king on the outside of their houses and businesses. Any who failed to paint the symbol of the new king would be destroyed when the rest of the army came through. Painting the doorpost of a house with the blood of the Passover lamb was also a symbol of accepting the kingship of the Most High. And His Angel of Death came through the land of Egypt to exact the price of those who did not submit.
The Rabbis say that the Death Angel worked his way backward through generations striking the babes and then the young and so on. Thus, when Pharaoh told Moses to take his people and their possessions and get out of the land of Egypt, no more to be slaves, it could have been compassion for all the families who had lost a member and who would lose a member if Israel stayed.
So, Passover marks the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. But it also marks celebrating and proclaiming the Kingship of the Divine, the Reign of God as King of the Universe.