Growing up, I thought of the Passover Feast as a memorial primarily of God's mercy. God sent the Angel of Death to punish the wicked, and the righteous marked themselves by putting blood on the doorposts of their houses. When the Angel saw the blood, he passed over that house, sparing those inside. The Passover feast would therefore be a quiet feast, a somber feast commemorating God's great, and undeserved, mercy.
Reading through the Hallel Psalms (113-118), which were traditionally sung at the Passover feast, shows us that the ancient Hebrews saw this feast very differently. The Passover feast was a time to rejoice, a time to remember a great victory and to praise God for a great salvation. For example, Ps. 116 begins in verse three, “The cords of death compassed me and the gates of Sheol got hold of me.” Then the writer records their plea for help, and we see God’s response in verses 5-8. “Gracious is Jehovah and righteous, Yea our God is merciful. Jehovah preserves the simple: I was brought low, and he saved me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul, For Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears.” Verses 12-13 praise God for his salvation.
Psalm 118 is nothing but a paean to God for the victory he brings. “Out of my distress I called upon Jehovah, Jehovah answered and set me in a large place,” verse 5. Verses 10-13 speak of being surrounded by enemies, but easily destroying them, “They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: In the name of Jehovah I will cut them off,” verse 12. God is joyfully praised throughout this Psalm for the salvation he brings to his people.
Psalm 114 portrays the almost arrogant boasting of a people who had just escaped from generations of slavery because their God had set them free. God was on their side, they knew it, and who could stand in their way?
So it is obvious that the Passover was more than a solemn dinner, it was a joyous feast celebrating the wonderful victory God had wrought to free his people from bondage to the Egyptians. It was not a memorial to not being killed; it was a celebration of being set free to live!
Sometimes we turn the Lord's Supper into the same solemn, somber feast I had mistaken the Passover for. We huddle soberly and focus on the horrible suffering Christ went through on our behalf. We literally bow under the burden of guilt, knowing it was our sins for which he died. The Lord's Supper thereby becomes a sad, almost depressing reminder of the monumental sacrifice our Lord made for us when we did not deserve it, not even a little.
Wait a moment! The Lord's Supper was built out of the Passover feast. That's what Christ and his Apostles were eating when he instituted the new feast. Christ was declared to be our Passover in 1 Corinthians 5. Our feast ought to resemble the celebration we have just learned about, should it not? Just like the ancient Hebrews, we were enslaved to a horrible enemy, in our case sin. Just like them, the gates of Sheol had hold of us. As we were being overwhelmed, God sent his Son to work an awesome salvation. Instead of being freed from slavery we have been freed from sin and the paralyzing fear of death. The Hebrews writer calls God's efforts on our part a “great salvation.” (Heb 2:3) Paul revels in our victory over death in 1 Cor. 15: 53-57 “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Isn't it obvious that our Passover feast should be a jubilant celebration, just as the shadow feast of the Old Law was? Our God, through his great love for us, had mercy on us, sacrificed his Son for us, and defeated all our enemies. We stand clean from the filth of our sin due to the magnitude of this victory. As the psalmist boasts in 118:6, “Jehovah is on my side, I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Or Paul in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Instead of continually mourning our old ways of life that made God and Christ's sacrifice necessary, let us rather rejoice and celebrate the new life we are privileged to live because God won so great a victory.
For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me (Gal 2:19-20).
For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him (1 Thess 5:9-10).
the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:26-27).