Passover - it's all about freedom

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

As a Christian, I'm looking forward to going to a community Passover seder at a nearby synagogue.

I've attended for the past several years, seeking a renewed understanding of this commemoration of the biblical account I remember from Sunday School - when Moses led the Israelites, enslaved by Pharaoh, out of Egypt to freedom (see Exodus, chapters 7-12). This Passover seder is probably the same observance that Jesus and his disciples shared just before his crucifixion.

Each element of the seder plate symbolizes part of the Exodus story, commonly including a shank bone (sacrificial lamb), bitter herbs (harshness of slavery), salt water (tears of suffering), charoset (a spicy mixture of nuts and fruit representing the mortar used to build the pyramids), matzoh (bread that is unleavened because the Israelites didn't have time to let it rise in their haste to escape), parsley (hope and renewal), and a boiled egg (new life).

Traditionally there are four cups of blessing. As each is served, prayers of thanks are recited, including psalms. Part of each blessing goes like this: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine."

I wonder what it must have felt like in that upper room as Jesus and his disciples tasted each cup of blessing, sharing this treasured observance that had been remembered for centuries. Jesus' followers must have supposed they were there for something important. The defining moment came at the last cup. Here Jesus broke the unleavened bread, took the wine, and said, as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke: "This is my body" and "This is my blood of the new testament."

What is recorded about this event certainly seems mysterious. But I think that in addition to recounting the story of the Israelites' redemption from enslavement, Jesus was also declaring the concord between God and His creation. In my study of Christian Science, I have contemplated several possible spiritual interpretations of this Scripture.

What if Jesus was trying to tell the disciples about the spiritual reality and omnipotence of God, and the unreality and powerlessness of materiality and death? I imagine perhaps that he wanted them to think of that cup of blessing in a different way than they had before. He was proclaiming a "new testament" - that is, making a new promise to them - built on Passover's lesson of freedom. He defined a "Holy Communion" - a sacred unity with God.

The Gospels tell of Jesus' resurrection three days later, when, for the disciples, his words must have finally sunk in. Despite attempts to destroy his body, he was now whole; although his blood had been shed, he was alive again. He was able to achieve this because of his understanding of divine unity.

When Jesus said, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30), I believe he was imparting a radical message of freedom, insisting that we are all one.

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, put it this way: "As a drop of water is one with the ocean, a ray of light one with the sun, even so God and man, Father and son, are one in being" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 361).

At the seder I attend, the idea of enslavement is compared to the sins that shackle us. We are invited to consider our afflictions and then recognize that God liberates us from bondage. I'm convinced that whenever we choose to honor this freedom, we see that God's total redemption from every sort of tyranny is already accomplished. This realization brings hope, harmony, better health, and better relationships.

When the Passover meal comes to an end, participants declare with joy their undying hope for peace: "Next year in Jerusalem!" I expect that if more people of all faiths would share in a seder, we could each appreciate more deeply an affirmation of the unity of God and all creation - constituting a profound freedom that belongs to everyone.

God is with each of us as we work out our own awareness of this eternal truth - an awareness that can transform the world. No matter where we are, in confidence we can join in prayer with Jews around the world: that this recognition of each individual's innate freedom will help bring peace.

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