Our family celebrated Passover this year in the traditional way, by having a Seder dinner. It has been a fascinating thing to research, after we embraced the Biblical directive to celebrate it “throughout your generations, aa a statute forever”
This year I had beautiful new dishes to celebrate with, and somehow, even though I know that the dishes you use don’t matter, they really do make my heart glad!
They aren’t traditional Jewish dishes, but instead portray Christ as our Passover Lamb. The candlesticks say, “I am the Light of the World.” The matzo (bread) plate says, “I am the Bread of Life.” And the Seder plate, besides having places for the traditional emblems, also has several New Testament Scriptures. I just love them, and loved this special time with family, remembering our Lord.
There is one part of the Seder tradition, though, that is a mystery. During the course of the evening, the father takes the middle piece of bread from the stack on the bread plate, breaks it in half, and hides half of it. This piece of unleavened bread, which is wrapped in a napkin and hidden away, is called the afikomen.
The mysterious part is that no one seems to know for sure exactly why this is done, or what it symbolizes! The Jews have done it for centuries, but though there are many explanations, none are definite.
All through the rest of the Passover Seder, the symbolism is obvious and carefully explained. From the lighting of the candles being the light of God in our midst to the bitter herbs which remind us of the bitter life of slavery, each element of the meal has a deeper meaning. But the afikomen? No explanation offered.
Oh, there have been many Judaic scholars who have tried to reason why there are three pieces of bread on the plate…perhaps that they symbolize the priests, the Levites, and the people, or perhaps Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…but they have never been able to explain why the middle one is broken and hidden until later, when it is brought out and enjoyed for “dessert.”
Even more interesting is that the word “afikomen” is actually a Greek word–it doesn’t come from the Hebrew tradition. The custom of hiding the afikomen isn’t written in the passages where Passover was first instituted, and it doesn’t seem to have been observed until sometime during the first century.
Isn’t that a coincidence? ** (I don’t believe in coincidences.)
Sometime during the first century, after Jesus had died, been resurrected, and ascended to heaven, someone began breaking the afikomen and hiding it away. Since the early believers continued observing Passover just as they always had, isn’t it possible that Christians added the afikomen tradition? And somehow, through God’s sovereign intervention, the Jews adopted and preserved the practice?
Especially since the Christian church later want through an anti-Semitic period and “cleansed” itself of anything that seemed too Jewish, including observing the Passover, I think this is an amazing example of how God keeps His ways, even when His people stray.
Now, years later, when many Christians have realized the error of vilifying the Jews and are rediscovering the traditions of God’s people, we find a Jewish tradition that doesn’t make any sense to them.
But to us as Christians, it makes Perfect Sense! We instantly see the symbolism of three pieces of bread, with the middle one broken, then laid away wrapped in a cloth, and later brought out again to much rejoicing. It really couldn’t be any more perfect, could it?
As for the puzzle of the Greek word afikomen, many scholars have simply defined it as “dessert” or “that which comes after.” However, it could also be translated as “He who comes after.”
Somehow, discovering this was just a pure joy to me. How awesome our God is, to have kept this little secret down through the ages, so that we 21st century followers of the Way could uncover it as we explored His word and the history of His people. What a beautiful affirmation to me that indeed, His ways are past finding out! O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Not only His wisdom of what IS and what HAS BEEN, but also of WHAT WILL BE.
Bring out the afikomen! Unwrap it and rejoice!
He is RISEN.