Some Thoughts On The Social Aspects Of Passover

When we look at Passover from its earliest OT observance [1] to its contemporary observance, one of the aspects that is most intriguing is the social environment of the Passover as it is discussed in the Bible.  This is all the more striking since the Passover is not a festival where there is a great deal of socializing.  Indeed, our observance of the Passover, at least within my own experience and travels over the course of the two decades or so that I have been baptized and thus able to participate in the Passover, as well as the few years before that as a teenager when I observed it, has been remarkably solemn and generally taciturn.  Yet there can be a great deal of social importance and social communication even by nonverbal means, and the Passover certainly provides us with that in large amount.  Let us therefore turn to an examination of some of the social aspects of the Passover to reflect on them a little.

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from a former employer overseas that sought to provide some guidance to Burmese speaking brethren around the world on how to observe the Passover alone or with a family.  Although, lamentably, I cannot read Burmese, I was intrigued by the similarities in concern for shut-ins and isolated people unable to attend Passover with a larger group.  Throughout history, of course, it was common for people to celebrate the Passover in small groups.  Exodus 12:3-6 tells us, for example:  “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.  And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb.  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight.”  We can see from this that the OT Passover was designed to be a family affair, and those of us for whom a household would be too small to kill and eat a lamb for ourselves (as tasty as lamb is) were supposed to join up with larger families as a way of resolving that isolation.

Of course, the habit for most of us participating in the Passover is a social one involving congregations.  While it has normally been my own habit and tradition to eat (and read) alone before the Passover, this year will be a bit different for me, in that I am driving my roommate to the Passover and then enjoying my day off tomorrow with some friends who have a tradition of eating out together after the Passover since they have to start serving for the Passover so early in the afternoon, before it is reasonable to eat dinner.  Of course, the matter of food and the Passover was a problem as far back as biblical Corinth, as it is written in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22:  “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.  For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.  Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.  For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.”

Now, while I must say that I have never been to a Passover where drunkenness was an issue–due in large part both to the general sobriety of conduct of my brethren and I and to the fact that it would be extremely difficult to be intoxicated in the thimble-sized servings of wine at the Passover–I have often had cause to reflect the divided nature of congregations in the context of Passover.  When I was a guest at Passover in 1995, it was obvious that the congregation was divided over questions of doctrine.  When I took the Passover in Santiago, Chile in 2009, it was striking that the ordained deacons and elders took their footwashing apart, which struck me as rather contrary to the practice of Jesus Christ and not an example I have seen repeated elsewhere.  Of course, for reasons of decency and propriety the ladies and gentlemen are separated for the footwashing ceremony, but given the general awkwardness of footwashing in general, I cannot imagine how awkward it would be otherwise.  Yet the awkwardness of Passover accounts in large part for my own intense reflectiveness this time of year.  Perhaps that is true for other people as well and not only myself alone.

[1] But see, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Some Thoughts On The Social Aspects Of Passover

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    My understanding of the Passover in Corinth was that some of the brethren were coming to the service already drunk. They had started the “party” earlier (Christ had eaten the meal with the disciples beforehand.) When I looked up the derivation of the word “gluttony” I found, surprisingly, that the subject did not address the matter of overeating. The definition dealt with taking the holy things of God lightly. The primary root pronounced it “vile.” Paul was calling their behavior “gluttonous”–one of the seven deadly sins.

    • I must admit I’ve never come to a Passover drunk, nor have I seen anyone who was obviously drunk at such a service, but I suppose that is a problem that some areas/people might wrestle with.

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