The Thursday morning bible study group I attend recently paused from our current study of the book of Daniel (which I'm really enjoying -- it's so great to get more in depth in the scriptures than time allows in our regular Sunday School classes!) to get ready for Easter with a Passover celebration. A local Israeli Jewish woman, Limon, agreed to lead us. She said she always enjoys doing this because in her regular Passover observance, the ritual is always led by a man and she likes the opportunity to lead a group in the prayers and instruction.
Immediately after our arrival we participated in the ritual of washing of the feet (Limon said that this is not done in the regular Jewish Passover, but our bible study leaders wanted to include it in remembrance of Jesus' Last Supper). My feet were washed -- and massaged (what a treat!) and then we were asked to do the same for another attendee. We sat on cushions on the floor during the ceremony.
Limon had prepared a multi-page handout, with the prayers and recitations written in English and Hebrew, and some of the ceremony is recited in Aramaic, as well. The service included ritual washing of hands -- two times -- and drinking of 4 glasses of red grape juice. In view of the morning hour and the quantity of liquid to be consumed, the bible study leaders had decided to go with non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice instead of wine. I was grateful for that! Limon taught us some of the songs performed and led us in the prayers and we took turns reading the instruction part of the lesson. She taught us some of the songs the Jews would sing on Passover.
We ate matzo - the bread of affliction --, plain and then with horseradish (to remember the bitterness of life in slavery) and parsley dipped in salt water (the parsley is a symbol of spring and hope and the salt water a symbol of the tears shed). After most of the ceremony, we shared in a delicious meal with many of special foods that Jews would be eating at a Passover dinner this week. There was a beautiful spirit among the women as we were taught of some of the ritual and ceremony that has endured through the centuries, some of which Jesus would have experienced at his final Passover celebration right before his death.
My thoughts have been on the final days of my Savior, Jesus Christ, this Holy Week. I was so moved by Elder Jeffrey Holland's talk on this subject at my church's general conference last Sunday. If you haven't listened to or read this powerful talk, I encourage you to do so for an eloquent reminder of the sacrifice and redeeming power of our Savior and what it means for all of us. We're spending Easter weekend in Ghana, and I'm hoping we'll find an Easter Sunday service to attend -- and I wish my Christian readers a happy and meaningful Easter weekend and a wonderful Passover to those of you who may be joining in that celebration. In the meantime, I will reflect on some of these prayers from the Passover celebration:
At the beginning of the service:
"Blessed are you, L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe, who has chosen us ... and made us holy through His commandments and has given us in love, festivals for happiness, feasts and festive seasons for rejoicing.... Blessed are You, G-d, our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion."
And at the end of the service, after the 4th cup of wine is poured and the door opened:
"May slavery give way to freedom.
May hate give way to love.
May ignorance give way to wisdom.
May despair give way to hope.
Next year, at this time, may everyone, everywhere, be free!"
May this be the prayer of the world this Passover and Easter time!