Celebrating the Passover in Lockdown Mode. Part 1

I have been following reports on the coronavirus issue mainly through the CNN channel and of course, I also visit the local stations to see what is happening around us. The CNN pictures this morning indicate that the geographical location and religious context where the Passover celebrations began is in lockdown mode. The streets of Jerusalem are empty, and shops are closed. What the CNN report indicate is that perhaps, for the first time and living memory, one of the biggest Jewish festivals is being celebrated behind closed doors.

This is a festival that has its origins in Israel’s covenant history and the relevant text that provides the details of how the Passover was instituted and its purposes is found in Exodus 12.
The text reads in part:
The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs…This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in our hand. Eat it in haste; it the Lord’s Passover…The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt Exodus 12:5-7, 11, 13).

This is a passage that I am certain many preachers will quote from during services with the help of media technology today and tomorrow. In the midst of the covid-19 plague that has kept most people locked down and confined, God’s word that “when I see the blood, I will pass over you” comes in handy with assurances that, this modern version of the angel of death, will also pass over. So, may it be. Amen!

We may however need to apply the text in some additional sense. To all intents and purposes, the very first Passover may have been celebrated in lockdown mode too. It came on the heels of very drastic moves on the part of Yahweh as he inflicted plague after plague on Pharaoh to soften his heart. Pharaoh’s heart was so hardened that at some point, Moses would have wondered whether this king of Egypt was a human being or a deity. That it took the death of firstborns including those of animals for Pharaoh to release the Israelites from their enslavement tells much about the terrorizing effects of the drama around the first Passover.

Everyone was terrified by the developments, I presume, and so these were not ordinary times. In fact, people often wonder why Pharaoh is blamed for his intransigence if indeed it was the Lord who hardened his heart as the writer of Exodus indicates. Writing from a human viewpoint, it was unthinkable that the resolve of a human being could be so strong, that in the face of such suffering, he would still hold on. At that point, the author had to simply conclude that Pharaoh’s attitude was beyond the level of human intransigence and therefore by conjecture, it must be Yahweh himself who had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It would not have made sense otherwise, that the God who wanted Israel’s release, would also be the same person to harden the heart of the person who ought to take the decision to “let my people go.”

In the end, human resolve could not stand the might of the Almighty God and Pharaoh had to give in and release God’s people. Evil would seem to thrive in some circumstances, but it never has the last word, as far as God is concerned. That is what we learn from biblical salvation history. There is no doubt that there is a prophetic connection between the first Passover and the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether the Jews saw this connection between the two events separated by such a long period of time, is a matter still being debated. But it is striking that the same qualities that that the Passover Lamb was supposed to have in Exodus were also ascribed to Jesus Christ. He is described as one whose blood is precious, “a lamb without blemish or defect” and who was “chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these times for your sake” (I Peter 1:19-20).

In similar fashion to the inaugural Passover event, of which Jesus Christ is the fulfilment, there were self-imposed lockdowns. The Friday on which Jesus was crucified was not a “Good Friday”! It could never have been, and it hit Judas that he had made a terrible error of judgment. There was evil everywhere and those who have not had the opportunity to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ ought to do so. When it came out, some Western commentators damned the film as being too violent, but that was the truth: Jesus died a violent and humiliating death! He died a man of sorrows. Gibson gave an accurate film representation of exactly what happened to our Lord on the day he was arrested. Jesus was so brutally beaten that, as Isaiah had prophesied many years before,
“He had not beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2b)
Isaiah continues:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
He was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3).

What all this means is that the events of the day, if we are to apply the state of the Suffering Servant to the Christ of God, were so violent that some people who could not stand it, simply stayed locked down! His disciples deserted him, and Peter betrayed his Master.
Thus, when on the Cross, Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, he was only being human. It is theologically incorrect to argue that God deserted his Son. God does not desert his children in times of crisis. It is the children who may feel deserted. “He who watches over Israel,” the Psalmist says, “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). God did not desert Jesus. On the cross, Jesus felt the excruciating pain as a human being would feel under those circumstances, and he reacted the way any normal human being would be expected to do. He felt deserted!

The Psalmist answers the question of God’s whereabouts during times of crisis when he writes: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil you are with me.” His name is Immanuel, God with us. So, the crucifixion was celebrated in lockdown mode and this continued until the morning of the resurrection! When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus returned to deliver the goods news of the encounter with Christ, the others were inlockdown mode. When Jesus himself appeared to them and breathed on them the Holy Spirit, they were also in lockdown mode: “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). The first Easter was celebrated in with the disciples locked down. Thus, throughout the crucifixion and resurrection, the terror of the times and violent and uncertain nature of the developments meant that many were in lockdown mode.


Today, we are also in lockdown mode. It is not the best of circumstances, but God knows what he is doing. I do not believe that coronavirus was inflicted on the world by God. He also did not reveal its coming to most of our self-acclaimed prophets because they would have made prophetic capital out of human suffering. God is not going to keep us in lockdown mode forever. Neither the story of the Israelites nor that of the disciples ended in permanent lockdown mode. For in Deuteronomy 26 when they brought their first fruits to the place of worship, they testified among others:
But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So, the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders (Deut. 26:7- 8).

The eventual release meant a lot to Israel and in their later history, this event was celebrated like no other! So, after making the confession from their sufferings in Egypt, the worshipper was supposed to place the basket of first fruits “before the Lord your God and bow down before him” (Deut. 26:10). The end game in the Lord’s deliverance is to “bow down before him” in worship.
My personal definition of salvation is this: “God’s rescue function in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I look forward to the day when following our release from this lockdown, each of us would bring his or her first fruit, not because we want to buy his favor by the quantum of our giving, no, but rather to celebrate the God of our salvation in worship, honor and praise for great things he would have done.
When the disciples eventually emerged from their lockdown mode, it was because the news of the resurrection had been confirmed: “The Lord is risen indeed, and he has revealed himself to Simon” (Luke 24:34). The enemies of Jesus had now been put to flight. From that moment on, the day of terror was translated to a Good Friday and the resurrection was no longer celebrated in locked down mode with some running out of the city. We have abused the meanings of these events and I believe that celebrating it in lockdown mode offers us an opportunity to reflect on the true means of Good Friday and Easter, so that we can celebrate the ones that lie ahead of us with meaning to the glory of God. In God’s salvation history, lockdown mode is never a permanent condition!

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu
Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana kwabena.asamoahgyadu@gmail.com

In the end, human resolve could not stand the might of the Almighty God and Pharaoh had to give in and release God’s people. Evil would seem to thrive in some circumstances, but it never has the last word, as far as God is concerned. That is what we learn from biblical salvation history. There is no doubt that there is a prophetic connection between the first Passover and the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether the Jews saw this connection between the two events separated by such a long period of time, is a matter still being debated. But it is striking that the same qualities that that the Passover Lamb was supposed to have in Exodus were also ascribed to Jesus Christ. He is described as one whose blood is precious, “a lamb without blemish or defect” and who was “chosen before the creation of the world but was revealed in these times for your sake” (I Peter 1:19-20).
In similar fashion to the inaugural Passover event, of which Jesus Christ is the fulfilment, there were self-imposed lockdowns. The Friday on which Jesus was crucified was not a “Good Friday”! It could never have been, and it hit Judas that he had made a terrible error of judgment. There was evil everywhere and those who have not had the opportunity to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ ought to do so. When it came out, some Western commentators damned the film as being too violent, but that was the truth: Jesus died a violent and humiliating death! He died a man of sorrows. Gibson gave an accurate film representation of exactly what happened to our Lord on the day he was arrested. Jesus was so brutally beaten that, as Isaiah had prophesied many years before,
“He had not beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2b)
Isaiah continues:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3).


What all this means is that the events of the day, if we are to apply the state of the Suffering Servant to the Christ of God, were so violent that some people who could not stand it, simply stayed locked down! His disciples deserted him, and Peter betrayed his Master.
Thus, when on the Cross, Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, he was only being human. It is theologically incorrect to argue that God deserted his Son. God does not desert his children in times of crisis. It is the children who may feel deserted. “He who watches over Israel,” the Psalmist says, “neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). God did not desert Jesus. On the cross, Jesus felt the excruciating pain as a human being would feel under those circumstances, and he reacted the way any normal human being would be expected to do. He felt deserted!
The Psalmist answers the question of God’s whereabouts during times of crisis when he writes: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil you are with me.” His name is Immanuel, God with us. So, the crucifixion was celebrated in lockdown mode and this continued until the morning of the resurrection! When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus returned to deliver the goods news of the encounter with Christ, the others were in
2

lockdown mode. When Jesus himself appeared to them and breathed on them the Holy Spirit, they were also in lockdown mode: “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). The first Easter was celebrated in with the disciples locked down. Thus, throughout the crucifixion and resurrection, the terror of the times and violent and uncertain nature of the developments meant that many were in lockdown mode.
Today, we are also in lockdown mode. It is not the best of circumstances, but God knows what he is doing. I do not believe that coronavirus was inflicted on the world by God. He also did not reveal its coming to most of our self-acclaimed prophets because they would have made prophetic capital out of human suffering. God is not going to keep us in lockdown mode forever. Neither the story of the Israelites nor that of the disciples ended in permanent lockdown mode. For in Deuteronomy 26 when they brought their first fruits to the place of worship, they testified among others:
But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So, the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders (Deut. 26:7- 8).
The eventual release meant a lot to Israel and in their later history, this event was celebrated like no other! So, after making the confession from their sufferings in Egypt, the worshipper was supposed to place the basket of first fruits “before the Lord your God and bow down before him” (Deut. 26:10). The end game in the Lord’s deliverance is to “bow down before him” in worship.
My personal definition of salvation is this: “God’s rescue function in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I look forward to the day when following our release from this lockdown, each of us would bring his or her first fruit, not because we want to buy his favor by the quantum of our giving, no, but rather to celebrate the God of our salvation in worship, honor and praise for great things he would have done.
When the disciples eventually emerged from their lockdown mode, it was because the news of the resurrection had been confirmed: “The Lord is risen indeed, and he has revealed himself to Simon” (Luke 24:34). The enemies of Jesus had now been put to flight. From that moment on, the day of terror was translated to a Good Friday and the resurrection was no longer celebrated in locked down mode with some running out of the city. We have abused the meanings of these events and I believe that celebrating it in lockdown mode offers us an opportunity to reflect on the true means of Good Friday and Easter, so that we can celebrate the ones that lie ahead of us with meaning to the glory of God. In God’s salvation history, lockdown mode is never a permanent condition!

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