Oy vey! What's all this talk about Chametz?

Sound the alarm! Passover is approaching. Break out your to do list.

This week, if you're a Christian, you're mentally preparing Easter dinner, perhaps ordering a spiral ham, decorating eggs, and making sure you have something nice to wear to Church. Easter Sunday may be one of the only two days per year that you actually attend church. If you're Catholic, eating meat on Friday isn't allowed, and you're probably going to attend the stations of the cross vigil.

If you're Jewish, you've got a set of dishes, cutlery, and a special seder plate, which have never seen chametz (yeast), at the ready. You've sprayed, polished, and vacuumed every surface that could have a trace of chametz on it. Matzoh and gfelte fish are stockpiled.

And all of this is just a fraction of what we do to prepare in celebration of Israel being released from bondage in Egypt. Or Jesus rising from the grave. Or...you're celebrating something weird about a Germanic chick named Eostre and her fertile bunnies. 

This is why atheists think we're all nuts.

So where did Passover/Easter come from? Let's go back to its origin: 


We first should understand that, at some point in time, the nation of Israel called Egypt their home, and were living peacefully. It wasn't exactly the land of milk and honey they were promised, but it was okay. For a while. Israel was honored by the Egyptians, at first, because of a wonderful Hebrew called Joseph.

But eventually, a new Pharaoh was in power, and everything changed for the worse. In fact, it got so bad that Hebrew midwives were instructed to kill all newborn Hebrew sons upon delivery. Slavery and oppression were the best the children of Israel could hope for on any given day. Moses came from this time period, and after much ado (read Exodus if you want to learn more), he was able to lead Israel out of bondage with God's help.

Pharaoh was understandably reluctant to let his slaves go. Who would do all the dirty work? It would be an economic disaster. It wasn't until a series of plagues, the worst of which was on Passover, that he finally relented. It cost him his firstborn son - and the firstborn of every man and beast in Egypt from households that did NOT obey God's commands.

Even though the Hebrews were in Goshen, right at the edge of Egypt, none of the plagues affected their households. In other words, the plagues PASSED OVER God's people.

And that's why we pretend a giant bunny is hiding eggs filled with candy in your lawn, folks!

It sounds pretty silly when you say it like that. But, if we told the kids that we're going to slaughter and eat a lamb, then smear its blood on the lintel, so that the firstborn male of the household remains alive, they'd cry. Not good.

So how are we to celebrate Passover, according to God and, more importantly, why?

If we go to Exodus 12:17-20, this is how God established Passover as a moed (appointed time), with some simple instructions about observing the Feast in perpetuity. I made the key point bold so you could see it easier, as if God saying 5 times in three verses isn't enough of a hint.

17 ‘You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. 18 'In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 ‘Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. 20 ‘You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”

No leavening. Got it. But why is leavening such a big deal?

Matzoh. Bleah...
Leavening is essentially yeast. The definition of yeast is "a microscopic fungus consisting of single oval cells that reproduce by rapidly budding, and are capable of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide." Yummy sourdough bread is made with "candida humilis," a species of yeast which commonly occurs in sourdough and kefir cultures. Wild yeast is present in the air in most households, even if the home is clean. Yeast is a fungus, which causes breakdown, or decay. Sometimes the results are pretty delicious, like this lovely loaf of Zeupfe, the making of which got me thinking about yeast to begin with.

I wanted to make a special loaf of bread for my Swiss husband. As I was busy mathematically converting 115 grams of fresh compressed yeast to the equivalent in active dry yeast, I started to feel guilty about using yeast this close to Passover. While this probably seems ridiculous to you, the lines between Judaism and Christianity are getting kind of blurry for me. But never mind that, for now.

As I was measuring ingredients, I spilled tiny grains of yeast on the counter, some of which dropped to the floor. My tile floor has a rustic pattern of exactly the same shade of beige as yeast, which would make those grains awfully difficult to find. Well, that got me wondering how, if you're a practicing Jew, how could you possibly be expected to remove every single particle of yeast (including bread crumbs) out of your house? You'd be cleaning for days, and probably still miss something. What's the purpose of that practice, anyway? 

It seems silly.

Unless, of course, you realize that yeast is a fungus which spreads easily and leads to decay. And then you realize that yeast represents sin. And God already knew that even the tiniest speck of sin in our lives can spread rapidly, without us even knowing it's there, corrupting other aspects of our lives, and ultimately leading to decay. Then it doesn't sound silly at all.

So, if God asked Israel, with their dirt floors, lack of running water, and not a single Dyson vacuum in sight, to remove yeast (sin) from their lives completely, did He really expect them to succeed? Doesn't it seem awfully unfair that God would tell the Hebrews while they were wandering in the desert for 40+ years, that a mere crumb of leavened bread (sin) in a bowl cleaned without the Heavy Duty cycle of a dishwasher, could cut them off from Israel forever, if that bowl were used for the Passover meal? That doesn't sound consistent with God's love for His people.

But take note: God still expected them to try. And also note that it isn't the success or failure of the removal of yeast (sin) that results in the Passover. Rather, it's the blood of the lamb without defect that provides protection, and ultimately results in Israel being released from bondage.

As for the practicing Jews of today, don't you think that if our Amazing Creator gave us the gift of delicious San Francisco sourdough, that He also knew yeast (sin) is in the very air we breathe? No matter what we do, we cannot ever, ever, remove yeast (sin) completely?

Wait a moment. That's what He's been saying all along, isn't it? The Gospel is in Exodus. If you don't understand the Old Testament, you can't possibly understand the New Testament. 

In spite of all we do to become "clean," we will always need a Savior to cleanse us from sin, no matter how hard we try. All those warnings about leavening (sin) is God telling us that there's a danger of a microscopic, well-camouflaged agent of decay, which can bring about serious decay in our lives, including being cut off from Him forever.

God has been telling us that while He wants us to do the very best we can to remove all traces of leaven (sin) from our lives, He's also provided a solution (lamb's blood) when we goof up. We will never be able to completely remove sin, but we have to try.

So here's what we're really commemorating on Passover:

Israel is in captivity in Egypt
We are captives in this world
Pharaoh is the captor
Satan is the captor
Chametz is in their homes
Sin is in our lives
Chametz could prevent their escape from captivity, and would separate them from their nation forever
Sin leaves us captive to Satan, and separates us from God forever
The Hebrews couldn’t remove all the chametz from their homes completely
We can’t remove sin from our lives completely
God provided a way for liberation
God provided a way for salvation
A lamb, without defect, was sacrificed and consumed
Jesus, perfect Lamb of God, was crucified
The blood of the lamb on the lintel and doorposts protected Israel from God's wrath
The blood of the lamb on our lives protects us from death, as payment for sin
The Hebrews were released from Egypt because they believed and obeyed
We will reach Heaven because we believe and obey
The Hebrews were baptized by going through the Red Sea, leaving Pharaoh behind
We are baptized by the fire of the Holy Spirit, leaving Satan behind

All the other preparations, whether Hebrew, Gentile, or pagan in origin, don't mean much in this context, do they?

Maybe it's time we started listening to God, and observing the most important day (for both Jews and Gentiles) of the year the way God asks us to.

Passover preparation starts on Nisan 10 (the same day that Joshua crosses the Jordan) and the actual Feast is commemorated on Nisan 14. Scripture says we are to keep vigil that night:

Exodus 12: 40-43
40 Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It is a night to be observed for the LORD for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the LORD, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.

Jesus also says to keep watch, several times, which means it's important.



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