In Part I of this series, we examined Lamb Selection Day, which we Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday (though technically, since the selection happens on Sunday evening, it is actually on Monday in the Jewish calendar).

In this, Part II, we will examine some more of the traditions of Passover as practiced in the first century – in very similar manner as is done today – with the intention of examining some significant details relevant to Christianity.

Removing the Leaven

For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread (Exodus 12:19-20)

In Hebrew practice and tradition, on the seventh day before Passover, all families would search their houses for yeast (in some Jewish families, a paternal figure would hide bits of bread for the children to search out and find – which may have been borrowed later by Christians in ‘Easter Egg Hunts’. We do not have evidence, though, that this particular tradition was practiced in the first century). All yeast found in the houses would be brought to a central place and burned.

Yeast is used throughout the scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments – as a symbol for sin. While the elimination of yeast was a remembrance of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt so quickly that there was not time to make bread with yeast, this elimination is also symbolic of systematic removal of all traces of sin in one’s life. Keeping in mind that it is always important to keep sin out of our lives, it is this purposeful searching that it done at Passover that seeks ALL the sources by which it may have crept into our lives.

The Hebrew people used Scriptural examples from the era of the Kings to remind them of this practice. Both King Josiah (II Kings 23:1-25) and King Hezekiah (II Chronicles 29-30) took care to cleanse their entire kingdoms of the sin of idolatry as a way of preparation for Passover. In doing so, each gained favor in the eyes of the Lord for their desire to obey the teachings of the Scriptures, which had been neglected prior to each of their reigns.

The Apostle Paul also reminds us of this need to remove the yeast from our lives at the time of Passover:

Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (I Corinthians 5:6-8)

The Setting of the “Last Supper”

In the gospels, we read of the supper shared by Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room. This room, most likely in the Essene Quarter of the Upper City (and possibly called an “upper room” because of its location, rather than it being on the second floor of a dwelling place), would have looked nothing like DaVinci’s painting of the Last Supper.

For at least 200 years prior to the Last Supper, it was customary to eat the Passover meal while reclining, and archaeological evidence supports the tradition that in the first century, this meal would have been shared around a tricilinium, a short 3-sided table arrangement with the fourth side open to allow food to be served. (This, in itself sheds a great deal of context to the Last Supper that we won’t have time for in this article.)

After going to the Temple at the end of the day to sacrifice the family lamb selected four days previously, Jesus and his disciples would have returned to the Upper Room to prepare the meal. In that year, this would have been Thursday evening. Josephus claims that 500,000 lambs were slaughtered in the Temple at Passover, though some scholars believe it have been sacrifices for 500,000 people comprising a fewer number of family units. Still a large number of lambs, nonetheless!

It is this family Passover meal that Jesus and his disciples would have celebrated on that Thursday/Friday night 2,000 years ago. Then, less than 24 hours later, Jesus would become the Passover Lamb for all of Israel (into which we Christians have been grafted, per Paul’s writing in Romans 11).

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