The first Passover was a new beginning, the critical moment when Israel became a free nation. Each family had selected a lamb (or goat) for slaughter, four days in advance – a young male, healthy and in its prime. It had been killed midway through the month (at full moon), at some point between 3pm and 6pm, and some of the blood had been smeared around the doorway into the house (Exodus 12:1-7). The meat from the lamb had been cooked and eaten – but they were specifically instructed not to break any of the bones (Exodus 12:46). That night the firstborn sons of Egypt had all died; but the Israelites, safe under the protection of the lambs’ blood, had been spared. The next morning, they had left their old life of slavery behind them for ever, and marched out into the wilderness towards the Promised Land.
The annual Passover festival has kept the memory of those events vividly alive for over three thousand years. But when Jesus came to Jerusalem for His last Passover, He Himself took the place of the lamb. He entered the city as Messiah four days before His crucifixion, and died on the cross at some point between 3pm and 6pm (Mark 15:33-37) without his bones being broken to hasten His death (John 19:22,23).
All that the original Passover lamb did for Israel, Christ has done for us (I Corinthians 5:7): He has passed judgement on the world, shielded us from God’s wrath, redeemed us from slavery, and made us a holy people. And He has commanded us to re-enact the Lord’s Supper as our own special meal of salvation, just as the Israelites were commanded to eat the Passover meal every year to commemorate their deliverance.
Passover was immediately followed by the feast of Unleavened Bread, when nothing containing yeast was to be eaten for seven days. This was not an afterthought, but an integral and compulsory part of the festival. Unleavened bread was food for travellers; and Israel was from the outset a pilgrim people, committed to a journey with God. It is the same for Christians: redemption goes hand in hand with transformation. Tempting though it is to cling to our previous patterns of behaviour, we must root them out of our lives (just as the Jews remove all yeast from their homes) and leave them behind. “Let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Corinthians 5:8)