The word “memorial” has never been a favorite of mine. I always associated it with death, either by way of a quasi-funeral service or a cold piece of stone marking a grave. Even the sound of the word seemed heavy and sad. But, like so many things, that perception has changed over the years.
The older I get, the more impressed I become by God’s concern and compassion for the forgetfulness of His people and His grace in setting up memorials. Our Passover celebration is a case in point.
Before the Passover even occurred, God had already commanded that the day be kept as a memorial! Exodus 12 outlines God’s instructions to Moses concerning His rescue plan for the enslaved Israelites. You know the story, and how it was when it came down to the last and most terrible plague. God gave Moses precise instructions on how to ensure the safety of His people against the coming judgment. And when He had finished giving the details for this first Passover, He said, (verse 14) “So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.”
While the memorial aspect of Passover was not to overshadow the actual event, neither was it to merely look back on a historical event. God is not interested in nostalgia or a purely sentimental recounting of history. The reason God is so concerned about our memories is that the past isn’t pass?; that is, what happened is not over and done with.
Instead, these events can still help keep us on course and guide us into tomorrow—if we remember their lessons. As we look at the first Passover, issues of obedience, trust and God’s provision are paramount. And when our circumstances today seem to tell us otherwise, remembering the past, what God has done, can be a dynamic part of our spiritual life—an important offensive maneuver in our life-long spiritual battle. The memorial is not so much to keep God’s miracles alive to us, but rather to keep us alive to His miracles. God’s plans and His purposes and His ways of bringing things to pass do not fade and die. It is our ability—and in part our will to realize their significance for our daily lives—that naturally tends to grow cold and wither. So God, in His wisdom, prescribed feasts and festivals that keep memories in our present to help nourish our souls and teach us His ways.
As Jews who follow the Messiah Y’shua, we are doubly blessed because Passover brings together two pivotal events in our lives. First there is God’s redemptive history in the life of our people, the Jewish people, beginning with the Exodus. Even as He removed us from the land of Egypt and the tyranny of Pharaoh, He has continued to either remove us from lands and despots who did not allow us to worship Him, or He has removed those who would destroy our people—the Hamans, Hitlers and Husseins of this world.
We can also be encouraged by the promises yet to be fulfilled when our people will be free as one to worship God in the Land He promised. Perhaps part of God’s future deliverance will be to free us from our own indifference. How many of us repeat the words, “Next year in Jerusalem,” when we have no desire to leave the lives we have carved out for ourselves throughout the Diaspora? These words, not from Scripture but from rabbinic tradition, remind me that Scripture foretells a time when we will return to the Land. While the time has not come for all of us to regather . . . I believe it will come one day.
Secondly, we can personally attest to God’s redemptive work in our lives through the Redeemer Himself. When Y’shua celebrated Passover with His disciples in the upper room, He pointed to an event that was about to happen, His death, and told His disciples to memorialize that event by remembering Him each time they ate the unleavened bread and took of the cup. Did He honestly expect them to forget these cataclysmic events that were about to occur? Today we know that the memorializing was not only for His disciples; it has deep significance for us, their spiritual descendants.
Jesus knew that the disciples were unlikely to forget the shed blood and the broken body of their beloved Master. He also knew that He would appear to them as the risen and living Lord. But He wanted them to remember His death in its proper context. And He wants us to understand the context, too. When faith fails, perhaps it is not so much for lack of cognitive memory as the missed connections of events that began before we believed and will continue to unfold whether or not we believe.
A context that is bigger than us, and a history and a future that exist regardless of our “little” lives, is what we find in the Passover Seder and in the Lord’s Supper. Faith is always reaching for something bigger, something greater than the individual. Yes, redemption is as personal as if each of us was brought individually out of Egypt, and as personal as the salvation each one of us has found in Y’shua. But it comes to us personally because of the greater context of who God is and what He has purposed for a world He so loved. And we can memorialize it because it is so big . . . whereas if it were only about us, only about an individual, it would be so tiny as to slip from our grasp and blow away like a grain of sand.
What God gives as a memorial, let us keep so that we might stay alive to God’s dealings, and so that we might not forget our place in the bigger picture. As we celebrate the Seder, and as we take the bread and cup, we are identifying ourselves, not only as individuals who have been redeemed, but we are also declaring the God who has graciously included us, both in the history and the future of His redemptive plan.
Do you have Messianic Passover traditions or ways of memorializing what God has done that you would like to share with the mishpochah? You can post them electronically on our website by going to: http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/havurah/10_02/02 and clicking on “comments” on the right side of the page. We might be able to print one or two comments in future editions of Havurah.