Home Menu

A Celebration Unlike Any Other

Greenwich Village is at once a familiar name to most Americans, but to someone not from New York City, "the Village" becomes a maze of narrow, chopped up streets, crowded sidewalk cafes, and a world set apart from anything familiar. After numerous trips to the City to visit my brother, Will, I was fairly adept at navigating from Mid-town to Soho and from the West Village to the East. But on this day, unlike any other in my experience, the Village became almost surreal, taking me back five thousand years.

It was the Jewish celebration of Passover and Will and I were to be guests in the home of a Jewish family who lived on the Upper West side of New York City high above Central Park. Our assignment was to bring macaroons for dinner. Neither of us had the foggiest notion of what a macaroon was, but we were determined to get enough for fifteen and to do so in time to be at dinner promptly at sundown, the beginning of the Passover.

As we wove our way through the bustling, Village streets, the closer we came to Balducci’s grocery the more I became taken with the significance of this celebration to the Jewish people. The mood in the streets was festive, even expectant, as faithful Jews from all over the City converged on Balducci’s to make last minute preparations for the Passover celebration. As the crowd of Jews thickened, I thought to myself, I wonder if all these folks are coming to buy macaroons?

Our plan was to go inside, look around, find the macaroons, make our purchase, and leave. As I walked through the door of Balducci’s, never before, nor since, have my senses been so overloaded as they were that afternoon. We were swept into the aisles, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip, and back-to-front with what must have been every Jew in New York City. All of them seemed to know exactly what they were doing while we looked for something we didn’t even know how to spell in a store unlike anything we had ever experienced.

On our second or third ride on the wave of shoppers we asked a stock clerk where to get off to buy macaroons. Following the direction of his finger, Will and I stopped at the bakery counter and told the baker, "We are here to buy macaroons." Thankfully, a macaroon was simply a macaroon. The baker didn’t give us a choice of flavors, styles, colors, fillings, etc. Instead, he just nodded and asked how many we wanted. "Enough to feed fifteen," we stated with confidence. With another nod, he reached into the glass display case and placed fifteen small cookies into each of two bags, sealed the tops, punched the cash register a few times and pronounced that we owed him $27.

I glanced around at the faces beside me to see if they offered a clue that might indicate Will and I were being taken by a ruthless and opportunistic baker. They were expressionless. I couldn’t believe it! Twenty-seven dollars for thirty cookies. I couldn’t get an exact number doing the math in my head, but thirty cookies divided by twenty-seven dollars was close enough to a dollar per cookie that I thought of them as pure gold. Once outside Balducci’s, we walked with a new spring in our step, not because we were feeling lighthearted, but because we were twenty-seven dollars lighter and anxious that someone might accost us to get our macaroons, never mind our money. I looked at Will and said, "These must be really nice cookies." It never occurred to either of us to eat one before dinner. After all, these were an investment.

Passover was instituted by God to remind Israel of how He had delivered them from their bondage in Egypt, protected them from the death angel, called them to holiness, and promised them a Messiah. The Passover meal is filled with symbolic elements that have guided Jewish thought through this celebration for almost five thousand years. It is a night for family, friends, and the less fortunate to gather together and share their memories of the past and hopes for the future. There is singing, toasting, laughing, and much ado about who God is and who His people are.

As a matter of fact, it was this celebration that Jesus and His disciples were participating in when they gathered for their last supper together. It is this event that we commemorate when we—the church—meet to share in the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. As you will recall, Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal, but the gospel writers fail to tell us which one was responsible for the macaroons.

Customarily, the head of the family presides over the evening’s festivities, and in the instance of Jesus and His disciples, Jesus did the honors. You must realize that this celebration is a prescribed ritual. While there may be small variations in the way one family conducts their Passover celebration from another family, the fundamental elements of the evening are consistent. Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the same ritual, the same basic way, with the same words, the same food, and the same songs all of their lives. While it was a grand evening, everything was predictable, or at least it always had been. But on this night, Jesus would make this celebration like no other.

Much is made of John recounting how Christ washed His disciple’s feet after Passover dinner, and rightly so. But this was only the last in a series of mind-boggling, extraordinary events. By the time Jesus got to Peter’s feet, Peter’s mind was in data overload, as I would imagine all of the disciple’s minds were. He was probably the only one who could think of anything remotely coherent to say in light of all that they had witnessed at this Passover. The others watched dumbfounded.

As is prescribed in the Passover ritual, at a particular point in the evening, the head of the house takes three pieces of unleavened bread that have been carefully wrapped and separated in a linen napkin and unwraps the middle piece of bread which is called matzah. He breaks that piece of bread in two, replacing half back in its place with the original two pieces of bread and carefully wrapping the other half in a separate piece of linen. He then takes that half of matzah and hides, or buries, it somewhere in the house. Once it is hidden, he gives instruction to the children and youngest members of the family to search for this hidden piece of bread. To the one who finds it, a gift is given, but not right away. The gift will be given fifty days later at another significant Jewish celebration.

We understand that the three pieces of bread are symbolic of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It is the middle piece of bread representing the Son that is broken in the Passover celebration. It was the middle piece of bread that Jesus took and broke on that night with His disciples. It was this piece of bread that Jesus gave to His disciples and said, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." To the men in the upper room, there was no question that Jesus was saying He was the middle matzah.

No doubt the words of Jesus would ring in the disciple’s ears as the youngest of them searched for the buried bread. "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all" (Mk. 10:15). The significance of the gift for the one finding the piece of bread would probably not dawn on the disciples until they found themselves gathered in another upper room fifty days later when they were filled with the Spirit at the celebration of Pentecost. So this is the Passover gift, they must have thought.

It is customary for the head of the house to give instruction at a prescribed moment in the evening for someone to go to the door and see if Elijah is outside. The Jews understood that Elijah was to come before the Messiah would be sent from God. The hope of Israel is to look out the front door, smeared with the blood of a sacrificial lamb on that first Passover in Egypt, to see if this Passover might be the one when Elijah appears. Do you suppose the earlier words of Jesus came to mind when He instructed that one of the disciples should look outside for Elijah? "If you care to accept it, he [John the Baptist] himself is Elijah" (Mt. 11:14). Elijah had come.

By this point in the evening, I had long since forgotten the macaroons. My mind was reeling as the Passover celebration unfolded. Most of the people in our upper room, high above Central Park on the Upper West Side of New York City, were atheists. They celebrated Passover because it was the Jewish thing to do. Will and I were the only Believers. In fact, we were the only Gentiles in the room. As current events were being discussed, I was desperately trying to connect scripture to the rituals being observed.

Over the course of the Passover evening, four cups of wine are observed to commemorate sanctification, plagues, redemption, and praise. As our host for the evening began the ritual for the third cup of wine, so Christ would have begun repeating words that had been spoken for three thousand years. But then, He added something more. Something never before said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor. 11:25). He declared to me, and to His disciples two thousand years ago, that the third cup of wine was symbolic of His redemption.

How easy it was for me to celebrate the fourth cup of praise having the entire scope of the New Testament before me. How overwhelming it all must have been for His disciples. This Passover celebration was unlike any other. For me, it was the beginning of a celebration that God crafted five thousand years ago. For them, it was the fulfillment of a celebration they had commemorated for three thousand years. For both it confirmed that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One, the Messiah, the Middle Matzah, the Cup of Redemption who is worthy of our praise.

Somehow, I can’t see the disciples remembering to eat the macaroons as Christ washed their feet after dinner. I can’t see them sticking a couple in their pocket as they headed out to the Garden of Gethsemane. Their minds were too full of other events in the evening. And as I turned my collar up against my neck to block a wind blowing in across the Hudson River and walked toward the subway station, macaroons never crossed my mind. In the final analysis, however, Will and I did not pay too much for the macaroons.

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.