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The Mishnah Account
As detailed in the earliest Jewish record of ordinances--the Mishnah--the service of the Passover Supper was exceedingly simple. Indeed, the impression left on the mind is, that, while all the observances were fixed, the prayers, with some exceptions preserved to us, were free. Rabbi Gamaliel, the teacher of St. Paul, said (Pes. x. 15): 'Whoever does not explain three things in the Passover has not fulfilled the duty incumbent on him. These three things are: the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs. The Passover lamb means that God passed over the blood-sprinkled place on the houses of our fathers in Egypt; the unleavened bread means that our fathers were delivered out of Egypt (in haste); and the bitter herbs mean that the Egyptians made bitter the lives of our fathers in Egypt.' A few additional particulars are necessary to enable the reader to understand all the arrangements of the Passover Supper. From the time of the evening-sacrifice nothing was to be eaten till the Passover Supper, so that all might come to it with relish (Pes, x. 1). It is a moot point, whether at the time of our Lord two, or, as at present, three, large cakes of unleavened bread were used in the service. The Mishnah mentions (Pes. ii. 6) these five kinds as falling within the designation of 'bitter herbs,' viz. lettuce, endive, succory (garden endive?), what is called 'Charchavina' (urtica, beets?), and horehound (bitter coriander?). The 'bitter herbs' seem to have been twice partaken of during the service, once dipped in salt water or vinegar, and a second time with Charoseth, a compound of dates, raisins, etc., and vinegar, though the Mishnah expressly declares (Pes. x. 3) that Charoseth was not obligatory. Red wine alone was to be used at the Passover Supper, and always mixed with water. *
* Of this there cannot be the slightest doubt. Indeed, the following quotation from the Mishnah (Pes. vii. 13) might even induce one to believe that warm water was mixed with the wine: 'If two companies eat (the Passover) in the same house, the one turns its face to one side, the other to the other, and the kettle (warming kettle) stands between them.'
Each of the four cups must contain at least the fourth of a quarter of an hin (the hin = one gallon two pints). Lastly, it was a principle that, after the Passover meal, they had no Aphikomen (after-dish), an expression which may perhaps best be rendered by 'dessert.'
The 'Giving Thanks'
The Passover Supper itself commenced by the head of 'the company' taking the first cup of wine in his hand, and 'giving thanks' over it in these words: 'Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, who has created the fruit of the vine! Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God King of the Universe, who hast chosen us from among all people, and exalted us from among all languages, and sanctified us with Thy commandments! And Thou hast give us, O Jehovah our God, in love, the solemn days for joy, and the festivals and appointed seasons for gladness; and this the day of the feast of unleavened bread, the season of our freedom, a holy convocation, the memorial of our departure from Egypt. For us hast Thou chosen; and us hast Thou sanctified from among all nations, and Thy holy festivals with joy and with gladness hast Thou caused us to inherit. Blessed art Thou, O Jehovah, who sanctifiest Israel and the appointed seasons! Blessed art Thou, Jehovah, King of the Universe, who hast preserved us alive and sustained us and brought us to this season!' *
* Such, according to the best criticism, were the words of this prayer at the time of Christ. But I must repeat that in regard to many of these prayers I cannot help suspecting that they rather indicate the spirit and direction of a prayer than embody the ipsissima verba.
The First Cup
It was evidently at this time that the Savior in His self- humiliation proceeded also to wash the disciples' feet (John 13:5). Our Authorised Version wrongly translates verse 2 by, 'and supper being ended,' instead of 'and when supper had come,' or 'was begun.' Similarly, it was, in all probability, in reference to the first cup that Luke gives the following account (Luke 22:17): 'And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves'--the 'cup of blessing,' which was the third, and formed part of the new institution of the Lord's Supper, being afterwards mentioned in verse 20. In washing their hands this customary prayer was repeated: 'Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, who hast sanctified us with Thy commandments, and hast enjoined us concerning the washing of our hands.' Two different kinds of 'washing' were prescribed by tradition--'dipping' and 'pouring.' At the Passover Supper the hands were to be 'dipped' in water. *
* The distinction is also interesting as explaining Mark 7:3. For when water was poured on the hands, they had to be lifted, yet so that the water should neither run up above the wrist, nor back again upon the hand; best, therefore, by doubling the fingers into a fist. Hence (as Lightfoot rightly remarks) Mark 7:3, which should be translated: 'For the Pharisees...except they wash their hands with the fist, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.' The rendering of our Authorised Version, 'except they wash oft,' has evidently no meaning.
These preliminaries ended, the Passover table was brought forward. The president of the feast first took some of the herbs, dipped them in salt water, ate of them, and gave to the others. Immediately after it, all the dishes were removed from the table (as it was thought so strange a proceeding would tend to excite the more curiosity), and then the second cup was filled. A very interesting ceremony now took place, It had been enjoined in the law that at each Passover Supper the father was to show his son the import of this festival. By way of carrying out this duty, the son (or else the youngest) was directed at this particular part of the service to make inquiry; and, if the child were too young or incapable, the father would do it for him.
The Son's Question
The son asks: 'Why is this night distinguished from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread, but on this night only unleavened bread? On all other nights we eat any kind of herbs, but on this night only bitter herbs? On all other nights we eat meat roasted, stewed, or boiled, but on this night only roasted? On all other nights we dip (the herbs) only once, but on this night twice?' Thus far according to the earliest and most trustworthy tradition. It is added (Mishnah, Pes. x. 4): 'Then the father instructs his child according to the capacity of his knowledge, beginning with our disgrace and ending with our glory, and expounding to him from, "A Syrian, ready to perish, was my father," till he has explained all through, to the end of the whole section' (Deut 26:5-11). In other words, the head of the house was to relate the whole national history, commencing with Terah, Abraham's father, and telling of his idolatry, and continuing, in due order, the story of Israel up to their deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the Law; and the more fully he explained it all, the better.
This done, the Passover dishes were brought back on the table. The president now took up in succession the dish with the Passover lamb, that with the bitter herbs, and that with the unleavened bread, and briefly explained the import of each; for, according to Rabbi Gamaliel: 'From generation to generation every man is bound to look upon himself not otherwise than if he had himself come forth out of Egypt. For so it is written (Exo 13:8), "And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which Jehovah did unto me when I cam forth out of Egypt." Therefore,' continues the Mishnah, giving the very words of the prayer used, 'we are bound to thank, praise, laud, glorify, extol, honor, bless, exalt, and reverence Him, because He hath wrought for our fathers, and for us all these miracles. He brought us forth from bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning to a festival, from darkness to a great light, and from slavery to redemption. Therefore let us sing before Him: Hallelujah!' Then the first part of the 'Hallel' was sung, comprising Psalms 113 and 114, with this brief thanksgiving at the close: 'Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the Universe, who hast redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt.' Upon this the second cup was drunk. Hands were now washed a second time, with the same prayer as before, and one of the two unleavened cakes broken and 'thanks given.'
Rabbinical authorities distinctly state that this thanksgiving was to follow not to precede, the breaking of the bread, because it was the bread of poverty, 'and the poor have not whole cakes, but broken pieces.' The distinction is important, as proving that since the Lord in instituting His Supper, according to the uniform testimony of the three Gospels and of St. Paul (Matt 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), first gave thanks and then brake the bread ('having given thanks, He brake it'), it must have been at a later period of the service.
Pieces of the broken cake with 'bitter herbs' between them, and 'dipped' in the Charoseth, were next handed to each in the company. This, in all probability, was 'the sop' which, in answer to John's inquiry about the betrayer, the Lord 'gave' to Judas (John 13:25, etc.; compare Matt 26:21, etc.; Mark 14:18, etc.). The unleavened bread with bitter herbs constituted, in reality, the beginning of the Passover Supper, to which the first part of the service had only served as a kind of introduction. But as Judas, after 'having received the sop, went immediately out,' he could not even have partaken of the Passover lamb, far less of the Lord's Supper. The solemn discourses of the Lord recorded by St. John (John 13:31; 16) may therefore be regarded as His last 'table-talk,' and the intercessory prayer that followed (John 17) as His 'grace after meat.'