But we went out from Pilippi after the days of the Festival of Matzot.
–Ma’asei HaShlichim (Acts) 20:6
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
–1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
–1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)
D. Thomas Lancaster, in his Torah Club Vol. 6 commentary on Acts 20-21:14 states that Paul and his party had been trying to make it to Jerusalem for Passover, but various difficulties interrupted their trip.
Paul and the delegates immediately scuttled their plans. They did not dare board any vessel departing from Cenchrea together. They gave up hope of arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover. It was too dangerous.
-Lancaster, pg 651
But apparently, even in the days of the Second Temple, Jews in the diaspora commemorated the Passover in some fashion without traveling to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice according to the Torah of Moses. So where was Paul for Passover that year?
Paul, Timothy, and Luke made their way backwards into Macedonia. They visited Berea and came to Thessalonica by Purim. They arrived in Philippi on (sic) time for Passover.
Paul decided to spend Passover with the believers of Philippi. The Philippians had far fewer Jews in their community than Gentiles. There simply were not many Jews in Philippi, so Paul decided to use the occasion of the feast to teach the Philippians the observances of Passover. He could teach them how to conduct a Seder according to apostolic custom in remembrance of the Master.
-Lancaster, pg 652
I’m not quite sure how Lancaster draws these conclusions, but it makes a wonderful picture of the Jewish apostle to the Gentiles teaching them a precious gift from the Master.
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
–Luke 22:14-20 (ESV)
It is unlikely that what we think of today as “taking communion” actually existed as a Christian practice in the days of Paul. It is far more likely that Paul and other apostles to the Gentiles, taught the believing God-fearing people of the nations of the Passover and the covenant of the Master that is commemorated in his body and blood on Pesach. We see in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, that they also knew and understood the Passover language and symbolism, supporting the idea that at some point, it was relatively common for Jewish and Gentile believers to observe Passover in the diaspora together.
One can imagine the disciples in Philippi pressed in tightly around the triklinium table of Lydia the purple dealer. Over the seven days of Passover, they celebrated the resurrection of the Master together and began to count the days of the Omer leading to Shavuot.
A few days ago, I wrote about my personal trepidation regarding the approach of Passover and the anticipation of leading a Seder with my family. I’m proceeding a little more optimistically, especially after discovering the sudden appearance of boxes of matzah in the kitchen pantry. But it’s the renewed realization of Paul and his Passover with the Gentiles in Philippi that reminds me that a Christian commemorating the Pesach isn’t just a “nice custom” for us, it’s a responsibility.
A Jewish person in Israel offered this comment on my blog:
But you have an opportunity for a fuller appreciation of it, for its additional implications for those who remember Rav Yeshua as reflected in its symbolisms. You may indeed identify with those few Egyptians who were willing to risk censure from their own people and join with the Jews who were eating lamb and matzah, and painting blood on doorposts, in order to flee with them in a mixed multitude. You may savor the metaphor of fleeing likewise from sin, having attached yourself to follow Rav Yeshua as an exemplar of Israel. If you choose not to remain in the Israeli camp throughout 40 years of desert wandering, you may settle somewhere along the way for a separate existence that nonetheless eschews idolatry and respects Torah values. I don’t really know if it was possible in that time to be intermarried, remain among Jews, and yet remain distinct by not becoming absorbed into the Jewish commonwealth. Ignoring Torah instructions in that era as some Jews did was a recipe for being destroyed in some quite unpleasant fashion. Thankfully today a non-Jew among Jews isn’t under quite the same pressure.
And today, there are believing Gentiles not only commemorating Passover with Jewish families, but leading Seders as well. I thought it appropriate to offer up this sort of “meditation” since tonight, as you read this, is Erev Pesach, and Jewish (as well as a few Christian and intermarried) families all over the world will be sitting at their tables, reciting from haggadahs, eating bitter herbs, asking four questions, and at the end of the evening, shouting with earnest desire, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
I have desired to visit Jerusalem and particularly to pray at the Kotel during my lifetime. If God is gracious and it is within His desire, then this will occur. If not, then one day in the world to come, I will offer a sacrifice at the Temple and eat at the feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the presence of the King.
May this Pesach meal be in honor of my Master and may I give thanks that because he gave himself, his body, his blood, his suffering, that I can turn away from sin and turn to God as a partaker of salvation and redemption, and call myself a son of the Most High.
Chag Sameach Pesach!
8 thoughts on “A Passover Seder in Philippi”
Chag Pesach Sameach ! חג פסח שמח
Thanks, marko. Same to you.
It is my sincere hope that you have a Blessed and Joyous feast this Pesach, James. I hope that this week you may be freed again, and that you will find yourself in the Peace of G-d, which transcends all understanding.
My love to you, in Yeshua.
Blessings to you and your’s, Nate.
Amen and amen! I hope you get to go someday to the Holy Land … you’d be so blessed!
I agree, James. I see it as an obligation to “zachor,” that is, keep the memory alive, as well as because it is a mitzvah. The obligation to remember is paramount for me, not obedience, especially as a Gentile. Being obedient as the result of having a strong heartfelt desire to remember is, for me, the beauty of it all. I’ve done group seders for fifteen years, with Catholics and Protestants and, to a lesser extent, Evangelicals, in pursuit of calling others to “zachor,” remember. Hag Sameach to you and yours…
Thanks, Dan. Same to you.