Saturday I went to a special service at a church I don’t regularly attend, honoring the in-laws and their family tradition of having a blessing said over their Easter meal. A deacon spoke a message about family, traditions and why traditions are observed. He said that their religion is a religion of traditions, passed down from generation to generation and shared among family and friends and welcomed guests. He then spoke a blessing on our families, our homes, and our food that we will share on Sunday.
I’m a proud protestant, and this means that I favor breaking tradition when it becomes religion done for religion’s sake, a litigious liturgy of lawful legalism, the letter of the law that loses the spirit of the law. That said, there is nothing wrong with tradition, when tradition honors family and honors God. And includes others in the celebration, allowing them to see for themselves and learn. Life as a family is supposed to be a celebration (and yes, sometimes celebration includes alcohol. It’s kind of my little joke, inasmuch as alcohol helps to relieve tension, because trust me, family is frequently tension.)
Back to honoring family and honoring God and including others in the celebration: At its’ heart, the law of Moses does each of these. Consider the first 4 commandments: Honor God. Love God. Worship God. Consider the fifth: Honor your mother and father. Love mom and dad. (I think it’s loving to wish that if your mum or dad are jerks that they would learn to be more loving, or at least leave you the hell alone, if you’re a kid with an abusive dad or mum they are probably ignoring six through ten.) And, consider the sixth through the tenth- fully half of the commandments center around how to treat other people. Or I should say, how not to treat other people, these commands say not to do bad things: Lying, cheating, stealing, killing…all the things that caused country music. (It’s a joke, ok? I LIKE country music.)
I have a high respect for tradition when it points people toward love of family and God and others. And as a Christ follower I’m well aware that our Christian traditions have their roots in Jewish tradition. Catholic and Christian traditions have both adopted something called Communion, which is rooted in the Jewish Seder, or Passover meal.
During the traditional Passover Seder the youngest child capable is given a scripted list of four questions to ask. It’s tradition, educating everyone who attends and including even the youngest children with the capacity to understand the answers to the questions. And the father answers the questions so everyone understands the history of the Hebrew people and how God intervened on their behalf when they were slaves in Egypt.
Exodus 13: 14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.'”
The ritual Seder meal is considered sacred, and guests who do not believe did not traditionally partake:
Exodus 12:43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal:
“No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it.
Similarly, in the Christian tradition, the Communion ritual is considered sacred, and guests who do not believe and people with sin still celebrated in their hearts can watch, but are cautioned against partaking:
At the church in Corinth, they got it wrong, just amongst the believers themselves, so Paul set them straight in his letter to them. See I Corinthians 11. Did you read it? It’s more than a little bit frightening. People only think God in the New Testament is all love and no correction toward our behaviour. Not so. But He’s patient with us, since we’re just invited guests and not practicing Jewish people. God really is the same God in the Old Testament and the New, but I think He forgives ignorance more than false piety.
Jesus’ first sermon was that people should “repent.” If there’s no such thing as sin, and no such thing as any eventual punishment for sin, why would he bother to tell people to turn from their sins (toward him).
There are several elements of the traditional Seder meal that point toward Jesus, from the blood on the doorposts in the shape of a cross to the lamb that was cooked in haste for the meal, to the cups of wine and the traditional handling of the bread. The unleavened bread is divided into three (representing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.). A third is hidden (Jesus in the tomb) and the children search for it, and everyone celebrates when one finds it.
If you clicked the link, you’ll understand. The text from Luke 15 shows me that whoever finds the truth, a lost one who is found, whether an invited guest or one who should actually be a member of the family already, is celebrated.
Jesus was heralded as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We celebrate his victory today. Jewish families will celebrate the Passover in April, we Christ followers are a little early this year. At Jesus’ crucifixion, it was the time of the Passover.
The letter of the law is rigid, impartial and a bit heartless. It’s the truth, without love. It excludes people, not just from partaking of the feast, but from attending as well. And, it leaves you either hungry or sore. (Did you notice Exodus 12:44? Ouch!) The spirit of the law in the Old Testament was intended to make Israel stand out, special, different. It was to protect them, too. And, with the tradition, or law, of the Seder meal, it was to point them to Jesus. The spirit of the law gives life.
Why is this night different? Why is Easter special? Because Jesus sets us free from sin and eternal death.
So here’s my open invitation to join me in my now explained tradition (that doesn’t necessarily require one to make a painful sacrifice): “Look! The Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!”
“He is not here. He has risen.”