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As If We Were There

by Tim O'Hearn

The Passover Haggadah, the “telling” of the Passover story each year, quotes the passage in the Talmud that says to retell the story every year as if the events of the story happened to those present. Thus the readers use the words “we” and “us” rather than “they” and “them” in recounting the story. This makes the story fresh and personal each year. Why do this, and what can we get out of this practice?

It is very easy to make the Bible a book of ancient history. These events happened to others thousands of years ago. What have they to do with us today? We become like the “wicked child” of the four children mentioned at the seder, who asks, “What does this mean to you?” He is called wicked because he pictures himself outside of history and separates himself from the people of the book. These events don’t effect me. They have no meaning to me. The message is not for me.

Many, many Christians take that attitude toward the event of the Torah. “Why study the Old Testament? What is in it for me?” That was the same attitude of some of the Jewish leaders that talked to Jesus. “They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (John 8:33) Ignoring their subservience to Rome, they even forgot their history. They did not approach Passover as if they had been there. Otherwise they could never forget that they were slaves in Egypt, not to mention Babylon, Persia, and Greece.

We Christians, some of whom participate, at least in part, in a Passover seder every week, should also remember the events of Passovers past as if we had been there. Obviously we should remember the events of a Passover a mere two thousand years ago as if we had been there. We are told that if we eat and drink “not discerning the Lord’s body,” then we are eating “unworthily.” (1 Corinthians 11:29) That word, “discerning,” means to make a distinction of the Lord’s body, to see it clearly. Paul says, then, that if we don’t consider ourselves as if we were truly at the cross then we are not in a worthy attitude to eat of our Passover lamb, Jesus the Messiah.

Even Christians, though, should picture themselves at that earlier, original Passover as well. Why? For one of the same reasons that we should picture ourselves at the cross. We need to understand that, even if our ancestors were not part of that Passover, we were in slavery and God took us out “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” What did Jesus answer to those men who said they had never been enslaved? Did he remind them of Egypt, or of Babylon? No. He told them, “Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” That means every one of us was in bondage in Egypt. We were all enslaved with no hope of redemption. But God gave us more than hope; he gave us freedom. The same God who freed Israel from Egypt and Babylon “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” has not had his arm shortened, nor his hand weakened. The Pharaoh of the exodus and Belshazzar were mere men, albeit powerful men. God is stronger than men, and God is stronger than man’s greatest enemy.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55-57)

(Passover begins April 6, 2004)