What’s the Story – Passover

Those of you with any background in Judaism or even a couple of Jewish friends or relatives might be scratching your heads this weekend as the Old Testament story in church turns to the topic of Passover. “Isn’t that in the Spring?,” you might wonder. “I thought there was a different holiday in the Fall.”

Your gut is right. However, in Judaism, like in Christianity, there is an ongoing tension between when in the yearly cycle of holidays a particular celebration occurs and when in the ongoing cycle of retelling the history of God’s people the story of a celebration comes up. Thus, while Passover is a Spring holiday for Jews – being tied both to this narrative and the yearly lambing cycle of ancient agrarian Israel – its story comes this weekend for Christians who have been reading steadily through the major stories of the Old Testament this summer. Don’t worry, though, we’ll come back to it again in the Spring. One cannot accurately tell the story of Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion without working through the story of the Passover again.

As far as any “hidden details” of the story that I might be able to reveal to you, there are very few. In a style that will become increasingly familiar if you continue reading through Exodus and into Leviticus and Numbers, the author of this text is seemingly obsessed with every little detail. From the days of the month on which the celebration will be held to the exact cooking preparations for the meal to contingencies for smaller families, it appears that no stone has been left unturned. And this is important, not only is the celebration of the Passover the principal event of the Jewish experience (some suggest that the “first of months” reference in the passage is about being first in importance rather than first in counting), but the details of the celebration are important cues to recalling and interpreting the history itself. If you’ve ever shared in a Passover meal with Jewish friends or family members you may recall that the details ARE the story and that, to borrow a line, “God is in the Details.”

While Passover is not a specifically Christian celebration, we can, I think, learn something important from its ordinance and subsequent celebration. For those of us in Liturgical Traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran and others), the work of the liturgy can appear fussy and overly determined at times. “Where is the room for the spirit?,” some ask. “Don’t you ever pray ‘from the heart’?” Yes. But the details matter, too. Not because they are more or less pleasing to God. This is not a matter of works-and-salvation. But as the story and enduring legacy of the Passover show, liturgical details have a tremendous power to carry meaning across time and space, from the ancient customs of our forebarers right into our own churches and homes.

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