Ma Nishtanah


מה נשתנה, הלילה הזה מכל הלילות
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה הלילה הזה, כלו מצה
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות הלילה הזה, מרור
שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת הלילה הזה, שתי פעמים
שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין ובין מסובין הלילה הזה, כולנו מסובין

How is this night different from all other nights?

That question, ma nishtanah, is the foundation of the four questions that explain the symbolism of the ritual of the Passover celebration.

For a while now, I’ve had my own version of the ma nishtanah — Why is this ritual different from all other rituals? Not regarding Passover, which I’ve known little about, but regarding the Christian sacrament of communion, or the Lord’s Supper, or eucharist. At its purest, Christianity is a religion of little ritual, which in and of itself makes what ritual there is fascinating. But I also knew that communion had its roots in Passover, making it a rare carryover of a Christian practice from Jewish ritual.

We observe communion because Jesus commanded it. But why? He was generally pretty unconcerned with preserving the trappings of “religion,” interested far more in the heart than in ritual. So why His concern about this ritual?

During my church journey, I’ve spent some time observing how different congregations observe communion, and come away with my own thoughts on the matter. In fact, just my choice of word there reflects the beliefs I’ve come away with. (I’ll save most of those for a couple of weeks, since The Rite of Communion is week 15 of my Reconstruction project.)

But I knew that I was going to hit a wall at some point until I could learn more about the Passover observance, and that I would learn that best by experience, rather than reading. I tried to participate last year, but that fell through, so I was really excited about doing it this year.

I went to Flint River Baptist Church to hear a messianic Jewish rabbi lead a Passover seder. Heck, just that right there makes it a good evening. It was, for me, a neat celebration of my view of the church of Huntsville. This had nothing to do with my primary congregation, Sojourn, and it was a blessing to participate in a coming together of members of two other congregations, two other practices of faith. It’s beautiful to see the walls we put up come down, and to worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In fact, I couldn’t help but imagine that the seder captured some of the diversity of the faith in the first century. Here was a man who had grown up, like Paul, as a Jew and a student of the Torah, breaking bread with Gentiles who had never known what it truly is to live under the law.

I could go on for quite a while about the relationship between the two rituals and the meanings, but, really, that last paragraph was the most important thing I got out of the night. In relating his personal journey, the rabbi said he came to know Christ less through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John than through the gospels of Abraham and Moses. As he learned about the life of Christ, he recognized the story from the same stories told in the seder. He recognized the story of the slaughtered Lamb, whose blood is deliverance from death.

It’s easy as Christians to view the Old Testament as a sort of prequel to the New Testament, another story that provides background and context to the real story. I’ve even heard it said that the faith begins with Christ. And while He is the foundation, He is also the fulfillment of something much older. And the sacrament of communion points to that. It is a reminder both of the ancient promises and of their completion.

Even before the original Passover, the deliverance from the tenth plague, God ordered that there be an rememberance of what he was about to do that would be observed forever.

“This do in remembrance …”

One Response

  1. Thanks for this! Is there somewhere around oxford MISS where the Seder will happen this year april 18th.
    I would sure like to know!

    Blessings!

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