The Scene Picture the scene in any religious Jewish household. Indeed, picture the scene in that prepared upper room in Jerusalem where the Lord reclined with His disciples for the Passover meal we now call “The Last Supper.” After the first cup is passed, the youngest family member 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 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 we dip them twice?” 1
The original instruction given to Moses in 1491 BC says: “And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, ‘What mean ye by this service?’ that ye shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of The Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when He smote the Egyptians and delivered our houses’” (Ex. 12:26-27 KJV).
While the development of the elaborate ritual of the Passover meal may well obscure some of the meanings of the actual Messianic one (1 Cor. 5:7-8), there are other things we do well to note. We see an extended family together for the meal, with the young children encouraged to question their elders. We may draw several conclusions from this: families should eat together, at the least weekly as suggested by the Sabbath meal; the meal should be a social occasion where family members talk together; children should be encouraged to ask questions; and the adults should answer them and engage them in conversation.
When a family (even the extended family) comes together for a meal, it should be a joyous occasion, a time of bonding. But today families are becoming more and more fragmented. Many families don’t eat together. Instead, children and adults sit around the television with plates on their laps. This divides family members one from another and makes the TV the center of the meal and the source of entertainment. The harmful effect of television is discussed by Neil Postman in his book entitled, Entertaining Ourselves To Death, a book which ought to be read by all parents.2
Families need to be together face to face. It is also good that all generations be included. Grandparents have a valuable role in a family. They are an asset we are in danger of losing.?We complain of a widening generation gap, yet we do little to correct this and we lose a significant resource.
Churches can help with this growing problem of fragmentation by hosting and enjoying fellowship meals together. The local church is, after all, a form of the extended family and this ought to be encouraged (1 Tim. 5:1-3). A church that does not gather together occasionally for meals is losing out on a way of building fellowship, of encouraging friendships and of welcoming outsiders into the church family. According to Edersheim, at the first century Passover it was the custom for families to always make room for the poor and those who had no family to welcome them.3
Years ago, as a learning exercise in a school where I worked, we made the 11 year-olds eat lunch at tables away from their friends. All sat with strangers. Later, we asked them what they thought of the experiment. They said it was weird and unpleasant. Our goal was to teach them that mealtime was a social occasion and a chance to make new friends.
We also invited our local police officer to have lunch each week with a different group of pupils. We wanted to change young people’s attitudes toward the police, and build friendliness and trust instead of suspicion and hostility. Some years later, I taught that officer’s son in a local college. He told me his father valued that time with the children.
Eating together helps build both old and new relationships, encourages an exchange of views and leads to deeper discussion and mutual trust. The favorite words of some parents at the meal time are, “Be quiet and eat your food.” Such an attitude is counter-productive.
Children want to tell us about their experiences, and they want help making sense of the confusion all around them. Before they learn to talk they grab things, hit them, shake them and perform all sorts of experiments as they learn to make sense of their world. They are already developing attitudes and values.
With talking comes the urge to tell anyone who will listen all the exciting, frightening, pleasurable or painful experiences they’ve had that day. I had this conversation recently:
“Grandad! I fell down today, my leg hurt, and it bleeded.”
“What happened then?”
“Teacher took me to the First Aid room.”
When children have the ear of attentive adults, they go on to ask more questions such as, “Why do we bleed? Why is blood red?” And this may lead to an opportunity to talk to them about our Savior.?
To deny children our interest and attention is to deny them love and a response to the natural instincts which God has built into them. And this may stunt their intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth.
As parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, elders and deacons in the local church let’s try to make questioning, learning and teaching exciting for all those in our care. This is what the Passover meal teaches us.
1. Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Time of our Lord.
2. Neil Postman, Entertaining Ourselves to Death?
3. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
By Roger Penney
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org