Lent, Seder, and Preparing for Execution - Updated

DaVinci: Last Supper

DaVinci: Last Supper

I had a question a couple years ago during lent: How did Jesus prepare for the cross and empty tomb? During lent, we spend time preparing our hearts for Easter, reflecting on our sin, and living with the knowledge that we bear part of the blame for what happened on that dark Friday.  Just like us, it is quite clear in the Gospels that Jesus knew exactly what was coming in the final days of his life.  He knew there would be arrests, trials, crucifixion, and ultimately resurrection.  So, what did he do before all these events transpired?  

He ate the seder meal with his disciples celebrating Passover.  Every aspect of this meal pointed to what was about to happen.  The sacrificial lamb that was slaughtered to deal with the sin of the family was then consumed and nourished them.  The many cups of wine that symbolized the sanctification of God’s people, God’s judgement of sin, their hope for redemption and their life of praise all pointed to Jesus.  It was all then tied to God’s history of redeeming his people and fulfilling his promises throughout history.

This is the meal we reference once a month when, before communion, we say “On the night that Jesus was to be betrayed, he took the bread, broke it, and after he had given thanks said, ‘This is my body which is broken for you...’” Jesus fulfills all the signs and symbols that are wrapped up in the Passover seder meal and then imbues them with a whole new meaning.  The meaning that we celebrate with the sacrament of communion.

What does this say to us about our lenten preparation? Whether you are fasting, meditating on the accounts of the last days of Jesus, or some other practice, it is important to focus not just on the practice itself, but on the meaning behind it.  

This season is about being repentant.  We fast as a way to express our sorrow for our sin and overindulgence.  We fast because as we limit things that are indeed necessities, we are more mindful of our true dependence on God.  We fast because we are called to live self-controlled lives and do not.  We meditate on the passion of Christ because share in both the guilt of the crucifixion and the salvation it provides.  

This month may we prepare with repentant hearts and celebrate with Joy as our repentance turns to Joy with the salvation provided by our living Christ on Easter.

If you are interested in celebrating the Seder meal with us on March 28 at 5:30pm, you can register online by clicking here

Update:

After receiving a great email from one of my readers, I think it would be helpful to clarify (or muddy) the statement above about the link between the Gospels and Seder.  If you want to read a little over 5,000 words on the subject there is a great article here.  Here is the gist.  For a long time people have equated several elements found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke to be pointing towards the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples being the passover meal.  That was supported by quotes from a first century historian (Josephus) and several references in rabbinical texts.  I find all of those references compelling, but the most current scholarship casts those into doubt.  

On top of that, Seder, as modern Jews practice it,  was not formalized until about 40 years after Jesus' death when the temple was destroyed.  However, I think that the references in the rabbinic literature at the very least point to rabbis bringing together practices that had been developing in the community, adding some new ones and writing it all down.

It is my personal belief that you can see elements of the seder that were present in the (pre-seder) passover meal and that was the meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before he was to be betrayed. That means that celebrating the passover can have many great benefits for us as believers.  Not only does it remind us of our Exodus story, but it gives insight into communion and the Gospel accounts. 

We will be celebrating the Jewish meal, remember our story in the exodus, and looking at the parallels with Jesus last supper.  I hope you will join us.

What is Lent?

ash wednesday.jpg

For the forty days (excluding Sundays... more on that later) prior to Easter, Christians observe the season of Lent.  This is a time of introspection, repentance and preparation for Easter.

Its earliest observance was tied to the baptism of new believers into the community of faith.  That's right.  In some of the earliest years of the church, you did not make a profession of faith and instantly become part of the church.  Instead, you were required to go through intense moral examination by the community as well as a period of repenting and fasting.  Then, on Easter Sunday, you would be baptized and fully enter into the community of faith.

Our modern expression has expanded from those who are becoming part of the community to the church as a whole.  It all begins with an odd ceremony: Ash Wednesday. During this special worship service, worshippers come forward and receive the sign of the cross in ashes on their forehead.  

The symbol of ashes is quite profound.  They have been used throughout time to symbolize repentance and mourning. It is this unique combination of meaning that brings clarity to the idea of repentance. True repentance has at its root a mourning over the profound disconnection created by sin, and when worn on the forehead as a sign of repentance, as we do on Ash Wednesday, the ash is a sign to others around us that we are taking time to mourn the loss created by sin and reconnect with God.

That is the focus of lent.  We repent.  We reconnect with God. This repentance and reconnection is most often practiced by fasting from something significant and spending that time in prayer.  This spiritual practice is one that can feel very alien to a culture that is not known for its self-control.  However, that means that it can be a particularly powerful practice as we seek to minimize the indulgence we usually give to our every whim, hunger, and desire and turn our eyes from self to God.  

As we fast during the week we look forward to Sundays. Each Sunday in Lent is to be thought of as a mini-easter and most who fast, lift the fast during this time.  Though we are to keep the somber, reflective mood of this season, we know that we do not live in a pre-Easter world anymore. It is because of this wonderful reality that we temper the reverence of this season with joy and anticipation each Sunday before Easter.

I hope that this Lent is one that fills your world with the recognition of sin, the blessing of forgiveness and a reconnection with God.

If you would like more information on lent, check out these other articles: