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Jewish Holidays and the Christian

by Tim Keesee

If you have any Jewish friends, you may have heard them talk about celebrating Rosh Hashanah or fasting for Yom Kippur. You may have also heard them talk about eating Passover meal with their family. The latter you can probably relate to from hearing Sunday school lessons about God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (YOHM keePOR), however, might be unfamiliar to some, apart from seeing the names printed in day planners or calendars. The two holidays go together, bookending the Ten Days of Repentance during which Jews repent of their sins over the past year and make amends with those they have wronged. Rosh Hashanah, a day of rest and reflection, marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and Ten Days of Repentance. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on September 8. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar, Jewish holidays fall on different dates in the Western calendar from year to year.

Yom Kippur ends the Ten Days with a day of fasting and prayer. Most Jews eat a large meal the evening before and begin fasting at sundown the day before Yom Kippur. The synagogues are at their busiest on this holiday, similar to Christian churches on Christmas or Easter.

Passover carries deep meaning for the Jews, a remembrance of God’s deliverance of their nation out of Egypt. Christians can appreciate the symbolism of the Passover meal as a reminder of God’s grace to deliver. The fact that Jesus chose the Passover meal as the Last Supper with His disciples seems significant. The disciples were obviously very familiar with the themes presented in the rituals—bitter herbs representing the harsh slavery of Egypt (Exodus 1:14), bread symbolizing life and salvation (John 6:33), unleavened to represent humility (Deut. 16:3).

It is well known that the bread and wine represent Jesus’ body broken for us and his shed blood. But the symbolism extends beyond that. The Last Supper was another Passover for the disciples, but the meaning was deeper this time. Foreshadowing of the redemption to come, God delivered the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt 1,500 years prior to this night—the night that Jesus would sacrifice Himself to bring that redemption to the world.

Jesus chose the bread and wine from the Passover meal as symbols for His disciples. In addition to representing His death on the cross (I Cor. 11:26), these elements carry other implications about His sacrifice. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread of Life. Bread was a staple food in the ancient world—a necessary daily provision essential to life. Bread is a fitting symbol because Jesus’ death on the cross provided grace for all and eternal life.

The wine is a symbol of His blood but also of God’s wrath to be poured out on sin (Rev. 14:10). The wine that Jesus and His disciples drank did not taste anything like the grape juice Christians use in modern communion services. In order to fully grasp the symbolism, it is important to remember that the wine Jesus told His disciples to drink was bitter, not sweet like grape juice. Jesus drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to.

Passover and communion are intimately related. Though not essential like communion, celebrating Passover is appropriate for Christians to do in remembrance of the legacy of God’s grace.

Christians should bear in mind Jewish holidays and customs because they are rich with truths about God but come from a different perspective than most Christians have been exposed to. Craig Hartman of Shalom Ministries in NYC has written a book Through Jewish Eyes, which explores the Jewish origins of Christian faith and why Jewish heritage is important to Christians.

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