“What a lovely building,” I said, as my husband and I drove by the cute little Victorian-era church in our new neighborhood of Kingwood, Texas. “I wonder what it looks like inside, maybe we could visit on Sunday?” We were actively looking for another church home where we could worship and serve the Lord in our new neighborhood. We had been deeply involved in leadership in our former church, and all of us were feeling the void.
Chapel in the Forest was an Assembly of God church nestled in the woods of Kingwood not far from our new house. Over the years, we had been led to several new churches on our journey of faith as a result of following a trusted friend or believer. We had never been what you would call “church shoppers.” We both felt the conviction in our spirit that it was time to look for a new spiritual home, but this time, there was no one around to give us a referral. No one, that is, except God—and His mighty hand was most assuredly in our journey.
Our girls were fourteen, ten, eight, and four when we all dressed up and ventured out to the lovely little chapel, unaware of the visual impact our large family would make as we visited that day. The small church was packed. There was no large band like at our old church. No special effects and no laser lights. Just an awesome message and Spirit-filled praise and worship music supplied by an anointed duo who also happened to be the pastor and his wife. He played the piano like a virtuoso, and I’m telling you,—she could really sing.
We felt an immediate connection with the pastor and his family. It was apparent to us from the day we met that this was an anointed man of God. Pastor Bron and Darlene Barkley were just a little older than Paul and me. They had a son, John Paul, age ten—the same age as our Cindy. We smiled when Pastor Bron later told us the young boy had tugged on his sleeve when we entered the church for the first time and said, “Dad, look at all the pretty girls!” (Today, that “young boy” has been married to our daughter, Kristen, for almost 17 years and is father to four of our 19 grandchildren.) However, back then we had no idea of the great plans God had in store for all of us.
After attending the nostalgic appearing church for a couple of weeks, the pastor surprised his congregation with an announcement.
“I’ve invited a Messianic Rabbi to conduct an authentic Passover celebration at our church!” His excitement grew as he told us more. “Not only are we going to experience an authentic Passover Seder, but our brother-in-the-Lord is going to share his testimony of how he found Jesus—Yeshua—as Messiah in his own Jewish tradition!”
Pastor Bron’s excitement was contagious, and I was intrigued.
Although I’ve grown to love what Yeshua loves, back then I knew very little about this cherished feast of my Lord, or about any of what many call “the Jewish feasts”, for that matter, but I really wanted to know more—much more. I was growing increasingly interested in the first century roots of our Christian faith, partly because the pastor frequently referred to Jesus by His Hebrew name of Yeshua, and partly because there was a stirring deep in my soul drawing me toward the pure ancient history of our faith.
I knew that it was Passover was when the Lord met with His disciples for a final meal and revealed a Kingdom mystery to them. We called this event “the Last Supper,” but to the Jewish people, this sacred time has always been known as Pesach.
But what did it mean in Scripture when Jesus spoke to the Apostles and said, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you, I will no longer by any means eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (Luke 22:15-16 WEB)?
In preparation for my first Passover Seder, I spent a lot of quiet time contemplating the seemingly cryptic message Jesus shared with his closest friends on that last night. As we pulled into the parking lot of the church on the evening of Passover, I had a new level of expectation. “It feels like we have an actual appointment with God—like He’s in there waiting to meet with us.” I said to Paul.
I had heard that the formal Passover celebration is very beautiful. The service is called “the Seder” which means “order,” and that it followed a very specific pattern of tradition. However, the transformation of the Fellowship Hall took me by surprise.
We were greeted with intricately appointed tables clothed in white linen. There was a beautiful silver plate in the middle of each table with colorful and interesting foods. Next to the centerpiece plate was a stack of very large crackers (called matzah). Each place setting had four small cups of grape liquid placed in a straight horizontal line above the plates. Some churches actually serve wine, but ours substituted with grape juice. At the head table, a lovely set of silver candlesticks with white tapers stood majestically over the formal spread.
We were introduced to Rabbi Eliezer Urbach and his wife Sarah as we took our seats.
The sun was slipping below the horizon when Sarah started the Seder by singing a Hebrew prayer as she lit both candles. I felt a tingle go through my body as a tangible presence fell like a blanket upon the entire room. When the rabbi began to speak, I sensed this night would be a memorable experience.
“Welcome to our Passover Seder. Tonight, we have gathered to tell the story that has been repeated every year for more than 3,000 years. We are remembering an event when God acted on behalf of His people, rescuing them from bondage in Egypt. As followers of the Messiah, we are also remembering another time when God acted, rescuing all people from spiritual bondage. It took place during the annual celebration of Passover and is a continuation of the story of God’s love.”
He was immediately captivating, and his long white beard and wrinkles echoed of great wisdom and many life experiences. Thinking back of him dressed in that white linen tunic, he looked a lot like Gandolf from The Lord of the Rings.
“The platter at the center of your table is called a Passover Seder plate, and the food arranged on it is deeply symbolic.” He spoke with great reverence, and I was more than curious about the meaning behind a boiled egg, a lamb shank bone, a small bunch of parsley, a root of some kind, an apple and nut mixture, and what appeared to be some very pungent horseradish. He then explained that each cup of juice was equally symbolic.
“Please lift your first cup and join me in a prayer of Sanctification. Drinking the Cup of Sanctification symbolizes our desire to enter into the holy presence of God. As described in Leviticus 23:2, 5, and 6, we are meeting Him at this special appointed time.”
“You see! I knew we had an appointment!” I whispered to Paul.
As I listened to Rabbi Eliezer explain how the evening would proceed, I had the distinct feeling that a veil was being lifted from my eyes—like I was awakening from a kind of spiritual amnesia. It would become a familiar feeling over the coming years as the Lord revealed more to me about His plans for my life.
Then, the rabbi folded his hands over his heart, tilted his head and looked around the room. His gaze stopped on a young boy at the next table as he smiled and gestured toward him. “At this time, it is customary to bless the children. Would you allow me to bless you?” The child nodded as the gentle rabbi laid his hand on the boy’s head and said a blessing in Hebrew. I didn’t know the Hebrew language at the time, but I sensed what was being said was very powerful, and those timeless words of blessing brought my own children to mind and a lump to my throat.
After a ceremonial washing of hands, the rabbi picked up the Passover Seder plate. He held it up and explained with great passion the symbolism of each of the foods. I couldn’t help but notice how much love this man seemed to have for God and His Word. He reminded us how hard the conditions were for the Hebrews while they were slaves in Egypt. He added that before we could understand the need for deliverance ourselves, we needed to know the hardship of being in bondage to a slave master.
The rabbi closed his eyes and shook his head. “Haven’t we all experienced our own bondage… our own weaknesses? Don’t we all need deliverance from the evil one?” He picked up a sprig of parsley from the Seder plate, dipped it into a bowl of salt water and tasted it. He motioned for us all to do the same.
“The tradition of this act is to show how God brought the children of Israel safely through the salty Red Sea and made them a new nation, symbolized by the green vegetable. However, as we taste the saltiness, let it also remind us of the tears of the Hebrew slaves. How many tears did these people shed? How many tears have we all shed?” He paused briefly before continuing. “Life is full of disappointments, tragedies and hardships—yet one day our Deliverer will wipe the tears from all of our eyes.”
We had only just begun the evening, yet it was a profound experience that brought tears to the eyes of many of us as we participated in this ancient tradition. I sat there mesmerized by the rabbi’s gentle candor and deep compassion.
He then picked up a beautiful white satin bag called a tosh that had three compartments each holding a single matzah cracker. Explaining that the middle matzah represented the physical manifestation of God in His Messiah, our Salvation, he went on to say the other two represented the Father who sits on the throne of Heaven and His Holy Spirit who resides in our hearts. He carefully took out the middle matzah and held it up for all of us to see.
“This unleavened bread symbolizes that the Messiah was without sin.” He pointed to the brown stripes and the piercings on the cracker and recited this prophetic word from Isaiah 53:5 (WEB), “But he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed.”
I learned that it has been a tradition over many centuries to break this center matzah in half. After he broke it, he wrapped half of it in a linen cloth and purposely placed it beneath the plate of an unoccupied seat at the end of the head table.
Well, that’s a bit odd, I thought.
He didn’t bother to tell us why he did such a strange thing but did mention that the wrapped half of the middle matzah is called the Afikomen which translates literally as “the dessert” and prophetically as “the return of Messiah”. Seeing our collective confusion about his strange action, he looked at the plate and smiled. “Have no fear, we will get to that later.”
The other half he passed around for all to take a piece and eat. As we took part in a very familiar ritual of eating the cracker, I thought of communion, when the rabbi profoundly spoke.
“Our Messiah, Yeshua came the first time as Deliverer, which is why we eat this half of the middle matzah that represents Him in this way. Many of my ancient people, the Judeans recognized Him as God’s incarnate Messiah and that is why you, my Gentile brothers and sisters, sit here today…delivered. My people went to the nations and shared Him with your ancestors. Many of them suffered, and most were martyred. But look around this room – our family now includes you. The more they were persecuted the more they grew.”
I had never thought about the dramatic effort of the Jewish believers obeying the Words of Jesus, breaking protocol and going to the nations to share the revelation of Israel’s Messiah with them. I never really thought about how we (the Gentiles) came to know Jesus in the first place. That we are now “included” in this renewed and better Covenant that was originally cut with Abraham, in whom would be called the Fathers of Nations – even my nation.
Then, Rabbi Eliezer dropped what I perceived as a bombshell as he pointed to the wrapped matzah under the plate and said, “He seems to be hidden now, but He will come back another time, not as Redeemer but as Judge and King wrapped in righteousness and glory.”
Wow, I thought. How can all these Jewish traditions of Passover be so rich in prophecy of Jesus? This entire experience was blowing my mind.
The next part was odd but later in the evening it would make sense. To our curiosity, he had us dip our pinky in the second cup called the Cup of Plagues and shake a drop of juice on our plate. One drop for each plague as we called out “blood, frogs, bugs, wild animals, lice, dead cattle, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the first born.” He told us not to drink from the cup at this time. Grimacing from the strange exercise, I didn’t really want to.
“This is called the Haggadah,” he said as he held up a well-worn little book. “Haggadah means narration or recital. It is the name given to the text used for narrating the story of the Exodus, which is the core of the Seder ceremony. Stories are a powerful way of communicating a message, and the central activity of Passover is the retelling of a story that was an actual rehearsal of God’s perfect plan of world redemption. A rehearsal that pointed to God one day providing the Lamb that would be slain for all people, Jew or Gentile. The main thrust of celebrating Passover has always been to remember the great deeds of the Lord and to teach them to our children in hopes that when the Perfect Lamb came, they would recognize Him.”
He was a gifted teacher as he proceeded to tell of the great story of the Exodus from Egypt. He read about how the bread was to be made quickly and without leaven because there was no time to allow it to rise. He spoke of how each family was to take a small lamb into their home for four days and allow it to bond with the family. They were to inspect it during that time to make sure it had no defect or blemish. The wise man stopped and looked up with his eyes wide open and asked a profound question.
“Wasn’t Yeshua, the Lamb of God “inspected’” before the Passover by the religious leaders to see if there was any sin or blemish in Him?” He shook his head and returned to the story. He explained how the innocent lamb was to be slaughtered, and its blood applied to the doorways of every Hebrew home. He mentioned that it was to be roasted and not a bone was to be broken. As he told this story, a distinct change to his countenance occurred as he paused and glanced heavenward, smiling at a picture that was obviously in his own mind. “I’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb,” he said quietly.
I may not have known much about Jewish customs and ancient traditions at the time, but I knew that for a Jew to accept Jesus as Messiah was a life-changing transformation. For this man of God to publicly share that affirmation with us was exceptionally profound—and I was deeply moved by his transparent admonition.
I was also enthralled by his wisdom, vulnerability, and story-telling ability. He was connecting a lot of dots for me as I was being bombarded with revelation.
The Israelites were made free from the tyranny of Pharaoh when they crossed the Red Sea, and they were “baptized into the death of the waters” so they could be reborn to serve God in freedom! Likewise, those of us who trust in Yeshua, our Deliverer, are baptized into His death and reborn to serve God by the power of the Holy Spirit. For the first time in my life, I was feeling a kindred spirit connection to my Jewish brothers and sisters in a way I had never before experienced.
Shaken out of my reverie, I heard the rabbi say, “Now, you may pick up what was your Cup of Plagues, for it has become a Cup of Deliverance. Taste with great thankfulness the sweetness of your freedom.”
The Seder went on as we all ate a piece of matzah with the bitter horseradish to remind us of sorrow and suffering. Then we were told to eat the matzah with both, the bitter horseradish, and the apple and nut mixture called Cheroset to remind us that our bitter sorrow becomes sweet in Messiah.
Every act had spiritual significance, and every object had symbolic meaning.
It was finally time for the “supper” part of the Seder. We were served matzah ball soup and baked chicken on a vegetable and rice pilaf. We had glorious strawberries and macaroon cookies for dessert. The meal was joyful and delicious, and as it came to an end; there was a growing expectancy in the room as we waited and wondered about what was next.
The rabbi stood, placed his hands on the table and once again called our attention to a Scripture he had read earlier in the evening. “God’s Word tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 23 through 25, … that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread. When he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in memory of me.” In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink, in memory of me.”
He invited us to join him as he reached for the third cup.
“This is the long cherished and prophetic Cup of Redemption my dear brothers and sisters. It has long been the most desired cup of the Passover Seder. We drink it after supper just as Scripture tells us, and it is the very one Messiah Yeshua declared represented His blood, His sacrifice, His power—a cup that would redeem all who desired to drink from it in covenant with Him…”
You could have heard a pin drop as our eloquent guest paused and looked expectantly at us before asking the question. “Do you desire to drink this cup?”
Shouts of Yes! and Amen! rang out as we all drank, some of us with tears unashamedly coursing down our cheeks.
The rabbi then turned and asked the children a question.
“Does anyone remember where I hid the wrapped piece of matzah?” Several piped up and pointed to the empty place setting with the upside-down plate hiding the Afikomen. “Correct! Who will bring it to me?” Several raised their hands. He motioned with both hands to all the children to come forth. About ten kids raced over and several grabbed at the matzah wrapped in the linen cloth. The rabbi held his out his hand as one of them placed it in his palm. Then, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of quarters. Giving each child a quarter he said, “This is a tradition handed down by my fathers, to give you a piece of silver or a “ransom” for finding the Afikomen. It is called ‘the promise of the father.’ Normally this ransom is given to the children fifty days later but since I probably won’t see you in fifty days, I will just give it to you now.”
Looking up at the crowd, he then quoted Scripture from 1 Peter 1:18,19; “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain course of life received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
As the children returned to their seats he continued, “How much better is the reality than the tradition–-the rehearsal? Can we even fathom the love of God? Because of the blood that was shed by His Son, the perfect sacrifice, a promise of the Father came down fifty days after the resurrection of our Lord on the Day of Pentecost in the form of his Holy Spirit—God’s gift. The Scripture calls it a “deposit” for what is to come. His very Presence, to live inside the hearts of man until The Perfect comes clothed in Majestic Glory.”
I watched as he kissed the shrouded unleavened representation of the coming King of Kings and placed it back upon the table on top of the tosh bag. We all seemed to be soaking in the imagery.
Hearing Scripture accompanied by so many profound historical accounts, object lessons, and emotional stories made the Word of God come alive that night. It was like getting a glimpse of what it may have been like on that world-changing night some two thousand years ago. This meal was an interactive and tactical lesson of what God has done! I couldn’t help but wonder why so many churches chose not to keep this ancient tradition alive?
As if hearing my thoughts, Rabbi Eliezer explained that the tradition of the Passover Seder continued for several more centuries after Yeshua ascended but was eventually cut off by the world emperor, Constantine the Great.
I still had my Bible open to 1 Corinthians 11:25, and suddenly I saw something I had never seen before “…this do, as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.” It suddenly dawned on me that the sacred rite of Holy Communion (that we associate this verse to) had not yet been instituted by the church, so what was Yeshua talking about? “…as often as you drink it …”
Drink what? I thought. Then I understood the context. He was talking about the cup after supper! He was talking to His Jewish disciples saying that “as often as you drink this third cup of Passover do it as a memorial to me!”
The entire night was a memorial to Jesus—Yeshua. A Passover memorial that needed to be repeated over and over for generations. Paul and I were both so glad to be introduced to this sacred tradition by such a wise and passionate man. And we vowed to partake in this sacred celebration on the next Passover…and the next…because, Jesus explicitly said as often as we drank that third cup, we should remember Him.
Remembering is important. Tradition is important. The historical roots of our Christian faith are important. I was filled with excitement, questions, and a newfound desire to explore all the feasts of the Lord I had heard about but never really thought much about—at least not in “the time of Christ” context.
As he walked over to the empty place setting, the rabbi looked tired. It had been a long night—an emotional night. I felt the evening winding down, but it wasn’t over yet.
“This is the traditional empty seat called Elijah’s seat. The Word says, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. At the end of our Passover Seder, our tradition is to allow a child to open the door to let Elijah in. Would someone like to do this honor?”
Hands sprung up all over the room. The selected child ran to the back door of the Fellowship Hall and boldly opened it the way only a child could. A crisp wind blew in, and everyone began to laugh and comment about the strange coincidence—which in retrospect wasn’t a coincidence at all.
As that prophetic wind blew into our gathering, Rabbi Eliezer lifted the last cup and shouted, “This is called the Cup of Praise. Drink it and be merry everyone! And who knows, maybe next year we will be drinking it with Him in Jerusalem! Hallelujah, for the Lord, our God, is worthy to be praised!”
As we all drank this final cup, majestic chords from the piano filled the room as our pastor played Worthy is The Lamb, a beloved worship tune that echoed the rabbi’s closing words. Indeed He is glorious and worthy to be praised—as certain today as it was in ancient times—and as certain as it always will be.