Under what circumstances do we keep the Passover? To be sure, most of us will be keeping the Passover this coming year under different circumstances than we normally do. At least in my own experience since being baptized slightly more than a month over two decades ago, I have kept the Passover in several congregations, including Eagle Rock, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Santiago (Chile), Chaing Mai (Thailand), Portland, and Hood River. In some of those congregations there have been a variety of ways in which the ceremony was kept, but in general it was solemn and serious as it ought to be. This year it appears as if the ceremony will be kept where I live, and the logistics of that have led my roommate and I to figure out what supplies need to be obtained. To that end I purchased a basin to be used for the footwashing today and will purchase some matzo when I go shopping next because I was unable to find it at my usual supermarket this afternoon.
Ultimately, though, the main conditions of keeping the Passover are more of a spiritual nature than of a physical nature. Through the course of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, there are a variety of conditions that are set for properly keeping the Passover, which is termed here as the Lord’s Supper, but not (as Paul makes plain) a meal of the normal kind like one would associate from a potluck. If you will, please turn to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and let us look together briefly at the conditions that are listed for someone to keep the Passover correctly. First, we must keep it in a spirit of unity and love for our fellow brethren who are a part of the body of Christ. The Passover is not a place for people to eat and drink enough to be gluttonous or drunk. It is not a place for people to show off their wealth or to suffer privation, for as Paul states, people should eat in their homes before coming together as a larger body. At times, as is the case here, the unleavened bread and wine are taken at home, but usually after one has already eaten. Those who conduct themselves so as to make others feel ashamed are failing the first test of taking the Passover properly in building unity among one’s brethren.
The second condition that is placed on the Passover is that it is done in remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. Specifically speaking, what we are dealing with is a memorial that is taken on the anniversary when the New Covenant Passover was established by Christ the evening before His crucifixion. Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul had spoken about the need for brethren to be an unleavened lump of dough without the leaven of malice and wickedness, and in order to properly honor God, both the unleavened bread and wine needed to be taken as a way of eating in a real but not physical sense the body and blood of Christ. It should go without saying (although Paul certainly did not let it go without saying), that this is something that should be taken with the utmost seriousness. The solemnity of the Passover in large part relates to the fact that we are becoming the body of Christ in large part through the eating of the bread and wine, which joins us to both the Messiah as well as everyone else who similarly eats the bread and wine in memorial of the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.
It is not surprising that Paul then moves to discuss the solemnity of the Passover and how it is that we can take it seriously, namely through examining ourselves. Since we are taking the body and blood of Christ in a spiritual way inside of us when we eat the unleavened bread and wine, to do so in flippant manner is to bring judgment upon ourselves. And just as having Christ in us as believers is real, so too is the judgment when we do so without having taken it seriously. Paul states that the judgment we receive when we do not take the bread and wine seriously is for our benefit, so that we are chastened and not condemned. The chastening is designed to help us to take such things more seriously in the future, although Paul states that the price for having taken the Passover for granted may in fact be not only weakness and sickness but also death. And in such a time as ours, such matters are not far from our thinking anyway. It is under these conditions, namely taking the Passover as the Bible commands and taking every aspect of it as seriously as it ought to be taken, that we are to observe this most solemn and serious ceremony.