Resurrection and redemption

“On that night we were redeemed, and on that night we shall be redeemed.”

The Passover Seder is made up of two halves, roughly divided by the festive meal itself. The first part commemorates the redemption from Egypt as we retell the whole story of the departure from Egypt, starting with “Avadim hayinu, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem our God took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” The second half concludes with the famous line, “Next year in Jerusalem!” our declaration of hope for the final redemption, when Jerusalem will be restored as the holy city and the source of Torah for all the nations.

According to Rabbi Yitzchak Sender in The Commentators’ Haggadah, the second half of the Seder begins after the meal and the third cup of wine, when we pour another cup for Elijah the Prophet, and open the door to see if he’s arrived yet. (There’s lots of additional explanations for opening the door at this point, of course.)

For those who weave the Yeshua story into their retelling of the Exodus story, the first half of the Seder can represent the coming of Messiah, culminating in his death, as he described it over the third cup: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The second half of the Seder looks forward to Messiah’s return, when he will fulfill his mission and bring the final redemption that the whole Seder anticipates. The point that holds together these two halves of the redemption story is the resurrection of Messiah, which we portray with the Afikoman, the half of the matza that is separated from the rest, wrapped up and hidden away—buried—during the meal, and then brought back into our midst before the meal can conclude. It’s an ancient tradition with a variety of explanations, but it’s not hard to see it as a symbol of Messiah’s resurrection, which took place during Passover.

The most recent Moment magazine is dubbed “The Messiah Issue” and poses this question to its “Ask the Rabbis” panel: “Are Jews Still Expecting a Messiah?” The panel of rabbis represents the whole spectrum of Judaism, except for the Messianic black sheep, of course, and gives a whole spectrum of answers. But throughout the discussion there’s an unspoken agreement that Yeshua can’t be the Messiah because the world is still such a mess. Besides, according to one rabbi, “In contrast to Christians who assert that the Messiah has come, Jews would never be satisfied with any applicant for the job. Messianic claimants have all fallen short in the past and will in the future. Waiting around for messianic redemption is therefore a distraction from life’s immediate challenges. Our focus should be on bringing redemption in our own lifetime and with our own two hands.” (Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer, The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, New York.)

I guess it would be true that Yeshua can’t be the Messiah if he only comes once (God forbid). He has to return to bring the final redemption, and his resurrection guarantees that he will. To claim that Yeshua isn’t the Messiah because the world isn’t redeemed yet is like saying that Israel was never redeemed from Egypt because the final redemption hasn’t happened yet. Passover, both the traditional and Messianic versions, looks back at God’s great act of redemption and forward to redemption to come. Both redemptions are real, and the resurrection of Yeshua ties both together and guarantees that the task of redemption will be completed in the end. Next year in Jerusalem!


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