Harrowing Of Hell
April 13, 2017

Passover Reformulated

Preacher:  The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

It was Tuesday morning.  Jesus approached Peter and John and asked them to go and prepare for the Passover meal. They were confused.  Passover preparation day was supposed to be on Friday. But they nodded as Jesus continued, saying: “When you have entered the city, you will see a man carrying a jug of water; follow him into the house he enters and say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you,

“Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the Passover meal with my disciples?”’ He will show you a large room upstairs that is furnished.  Make the preparations there.” (Luke 22:7-13) As I said, it was Tuesday morning, which was why this request was so odd to John and Peter.

As we unpack this request tonight we will see it as just one more example of how, during the last week of Jesus’ temporal life, all things begin to collapse in upon him, like an angry thunder storm gathering in the sky. A torrent of division, and hate, and fear, and brokenness gather up to pour down upon Jesus. And yet, he just stood there in the shadow of the towering clouds knowing that the water that would flood at his feet would prepare the ground for new life.

John and Peter’s confusion about this Passover preparation was just one of a number of examples we see of the profound divisions that Jesus came to heal. In this case it was the division between the Essenes and the Pharisees.

You see, John and Peter, like the rest of the disciples, except Judas, who was a Zealot, were Pharisees, and the Pharisees followed a lunar calendar, which scheduled their Passover for the coming Saturday. The Essenes, on the other hand, followed a solar calendar which placed Passover on that Wednesday. It never occurred to John and Peter that Jesus might be including “those other people,” in their most sacred celebration of Passover.

Here is what happened: because Jesus told them to follow a man with a jug of water, John and Peter thought it reasonable to go to the spring of Gihon. It was the only spring near Jerusalem, and certainly if there was a man carrying a jug of wate he would be found easily enough there, after all, men didn’t carry water, women did. The only plausible reason a man might carry water was if he were an Essene monk… single and celibate.

And there he was, filling his jug, then turning around he headed up an ancient flight of stone steps into the city. John and Peter followed through the gate, and then off up into the Essene Quarter.  The monk disappeared into a house; and they followed. Inside they met the Abbot, the owner of the house. He might have been expecting them, or he might have just quickly discerned that the “teacher” they were speaking of was Jesus.

Everyone knew Jesus was in town.  He had been teaching for days at the Temple.  And, what’s more, his older brother James was quite likely staying at the guesthouse. James was an Essene monk, and a well-known ascetic. Later he became the first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem. Church tradition holds that James never lost faith in Jesus. In fact, when Jesus died, James proclaimed a fast that he would not break until he saw, first hand, the new life Jesus had promised.

So, the Abbot showed them the upper room, and Peter and John set about cleaning it so not one speck of food or dust remained. I can imagine, as they cleaned and talked they figured out that they were going to celebrate Passover with the Essenes. After all, Jesus wouldn’t have asked them to prepare the room five days ahead of time. And besides, he had also instructed them to take ritual baths before the sun set. That was an Essene ritual as well. And so we see collapsing in on Jesus divided ritual coming together around him.

This Pharisee / Essene chasm was a small division that symbolized the greater division between humanity and God that Jesus came to heal. We see this pattern of healing reconciliation in many of the stories we encounter during Holy Week. We see it between Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate.  They were bitter enemies, who, through their common contact with Jesus became friends.

We see it at the foot of the cross between Jesus’ biological family and his chosen family of disciples.  He says to the Beloved Disciple: “This is your mother,” and to Mary, his mother: “This is your son.” We see it in the Passover meal itself, as calendars and rituals and denominations are brought together in the person of Jesus.

Let me explain: when John and Peter were finished cleaning, they went out and bought the Passover meal.  It was simple fare based on a menu passed down for 1500 years.  There would be bread and bitter herbs, and a bowl of salt water, an egg, parsley, apple compote, and wine served from a special cup. But, because it was Tuesday, there would be no lamb.  The paschal lambs, specially raised with no blemish or broken bones, would not be brought to Jerusalem until Friday, when they would be sacrificed at the Temple and distributed to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The paschal lamb was the centerpiece of the Passover meal. It symbolized Passover itself, for it was the blood of the lamb that the Israelites wiped upon their doorposts of their houses that signaled to the angel of death to pass over them as he brought death to all the firstborn Egyptian boys. In the turmoil of this horror, the Israelites ate their lamb, quickly, with their shoes and coats on, ready to run when Moses gave the signal. That was the story of Passover retold over and over again for 1500 years. It was the story of how God acted to free the Israelites from their Egyptian overlords.

But there was no lamb at the Passover meal Peter and John prepared. There was only Jesus, and in him the Passover meal was recreated. The bread became the presence of his personhood and the blood the vitality of his spirit. The overlord that fled who had held the Israelites, and I hazard a guess all people, was the sin of idolatry… that is putting the creation ahead of the creator.

Jesus put the personhood of God front and center. To remember this reordering Jesus said: “Eat this bread; and drink this wine, in remembrance of me.” Which is why even now, to this very day, we say: It is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

That Tuesday, as the sun set the disciples arrived for the Passover meal. But so too did Jesus’s family; Pharisees and Essenes together, men and women gathered. And as the Passover was about to begin, I imagine the guesthouse Abbot asked if they had ritually bathed as Essenes were required to do.  They had.  Jesus had instructed them to do so. And yet, only as a fastidious Essene monk could do, he pushed the point: “Did you walk through the city to get here?” he asked. They had.   “Well, your feet are unclean.”  Jesus said he would take care of it.

Jesus then wrapped a towel around himself and turned the purity ritual into an act of service.  “As I serve you,” he said, “So you are to serve one another.” Purity excludes.  Service includes.  And here we see yet another example of how Jesus takes something that was broken, brings it upon himself, and makes it whole.

All things were collapsing in upon Jesus during Holy Week. He accepted it, even the pain of it, because of his love, his passion for us. Like a star out of balance that collapses in upon itself, the gravitational force of Jesus pulls all things, and all history, and all ritual, and communities, and calendars, and time and space in upon himself, and then, like a Supernova, explodes it into new life. That is the resurrection. It is an explosion of love that changed everything.

Tonight we in particular remember that Passover meal and how Jesus recreated it into the Eucharist to be a weekly reminder of how much we are loved by God.