First Reading: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14

Institution of Passover

1 YHWH spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “This month shall be to you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; 4 and if the household is too little for a lamb, then he and his neighbor next to his house shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to what everyone can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You shall take it from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at evening. 7 They shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel, on the houses in which they shall eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and unleavened bread. They shall eat it with bitter herbs.

11 This is how you shall eat it: with your belt on your waist, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste: it is the Passover of YHWH. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and animal. Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am YHWH. 13 The blood shall be to you for a token on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and there shall no plague be on you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be to you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast to YHWH: throughout your generations you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever.

World English Bible

In this narrative, Moses related the instructions for the Passover to the people. There were six elements to the instructions: the time of year (12:2-3a), the food of the meal (12:3b-6, 8), dressing the door with blood (12:7), dress and way to eat the meal (12:11), the meaning of the meal (12:12-13), and the injunction to eat the meal (12:14).

The celebration of Passover has evolved over the centuries. In 12:2, Moses noted Passover would be celebrated in the first month of the year (Abib which is March-April; during the Exile, Jews adopted the Babylonian name for the month, Nisan). Yet, the celebration of the Jewish New Year is Rosh Hashanah, celebrated in the early fall. We really don't know exactly why the celebration was changed. Reasons for the shift are varied and speculative.

The food and ritual of the meal revolved around the lamb. The lamb was to be the choice of a family's flock and prepared as a community event. The instructions for preparation and the ritual dressing of the doorpost echoed a type of sacrifice. (Some biblical scholars speculate this celebration predated the Passover and was, indeed, a sacrifice celebration that ended in a meal of communion with God.) The blood of the lamb (representing its life) was placed on the door as a sign meant to defend against evil (specifically death). In other words, the lamb gave his life to save those inside the home. In the time of Jesus, the lambs for Jerusalem were prepared at the Temple. After the destruction of David's City in 70 A.D., the lamb was replaced with a shank born to remind Jews of their loss. And the other food of the meal took on greater significance.

By the time Jesus celebrated the Passover, the dress and eating arrangement of the meal had changed. The dress was everyday attire and the eating arrangement was the Greek fashion of reclining. Even today, the Passover meal is celebrated with the clothing and eating style that matches the popular culture.

The meaning of and injunction for the meal has not changed, however. Passover was a memorial meal that celebrated liberation from Egyptian slavery. As such, it proclaimed the birth of the Israelite nation. This was the meal remembered how God created his people! So, as long a Jews live on the earth, Passover will be celebrated, just as they have for the past three millennia.

How has your devotions changed? How have you maintained the spirit of those devotions? How do you honor God's people?