Since Sunday, after the episode in the temple, we did not show our faces in Jerusalem. They were looking for Jesus throughout the city and we were all in danger. Our friend, Lazarus, hid the twelve of us and the women in the basement of his inn in Bethany….
Lazarus: How’s life treating you in the rathole, guys?
John: Not bad, Lazarus. What else can we ask for? We have shelter, food and friends to talk with…
Lazarus: Uff…! I’m staying with you for a bit brothers, but damn it, tell me, what are you guys up to, huh?
Peter: We still dunno what the hell we’ll be doing tomorrow, Lazarus, because…!
James: Psst! Shut up, Peter! If you keep shouting, we’ll be playing dice in jail!
Peter: Okay, fine…. What shall we do tomorrow?
John: Well, partake of the Passover meal, like all good Israelites. We’ll celebrate the holiday hiding in a cave if need be, but we’ll celebrate, just the same!
Mary: Tomorrow will be Passover supper… Time really flies fast, doesn’t it, gentlemen…?!
Magdalene: You bet, Mam Mary……
Peter: Look, buddies, if we don’t move now, we’ll end up having no lamb at all for supper. Our good countrymen are first to buy the fattest lambs and when it’s your turn, you have no choice but the skinny ones.
It was getting dark but we didn’t light a lamp, so as not to attract attention. It was Wednesday, the 12th of Nissan. The next day, we Galileans who had gone up to Jerusalem for the holiday would partake of the Passover supper…
Lazarus: Friends, pardon me if this dampens your spirit, but I don’t think you should be celebrating supper here…
James: I agree with Lazarus. This inn is getting to be more dangerous by the day. Bethany is bursting with pilgrims. Tongues wag where there are so many people.
Lazarus: Sooner or later, with or without squealers, they’ll be coming to look for Jesus. The night of the Passover is the perfect time for it. They know where to find his kind. Will you take my advice? Go to some other place. I feel sorry for Martha and Mary, who’re just too willing to prepare the lamb for you. No, this place won’t be safe tomorrow, Thursday.
Susana: Well then, where the hell shall we go, huh?
Peter: I’ve got an idea!
John: Psst!… Don’t shout, Peter…
James: What’s on your mind, man?
Peter: I’ll talk to my friend, Mark. He’ll lend us his house. It isn’t big, but it’ll be just right for us.
John: That’s a silly idea, big nose. Mark’s house is very near the palace of Caiphas.
Peter: Exactly, John. Who’ll ever think that we’re that close to them? That’s the last place they’d go to search for us.
James: That’s right. Besides, if on a Thursday we all gather in front of the palace of Caiphas, then we can look over the place and start talking to people…
Susana: Haven’t you learned your lesson?… Or is it because you are all hare-brained that you don’t understand? And here you are planning another disturbance like last Sunday?
Jesus: Of course, Susana. On Friday we’ll all see Caiphas and the rest of the bigwigs of Jerusalem, and tell them to their faces what they should already know. Now that we’ve started, there’s no turning back.
John: That’s right, Jesus, but last Sunday shouldn’t be repeated. Your head is at stake, Moreno.
Jesus: Everyone’s life is at stake, John. But we must go on. Those who risk not, lose not, but neither do they win.
Lazarus: Right, Jesus, you must go on; but like a snake, you must be clever.
Mary: For God’s sake, son, do you think something bad’s going to happen…? Hearing you talk that way makes me nervous…
Jesus: Don’t be afraid, Mama. Everything will turn out fine, you’ll see. God will give us a hand. God will not fail us, I’m sure of that. The guardian of Israel doesn’t sleep and will never let us fall.
Peter: Well, everything’s arranged. Tomorrow, before dawn, John and I will talk to Mark and we’ll buy the lamb. The women should get up early too, so that they can prepare the food….
Lazarus: Those who stay please keep still, like a corpse. No one is to open his mouth until suppertime!
That Thursday, the sun was beginning to shed its golden light on the walls of Jerusalem when Peter and I arrived in the Temple. In spite of the time, there were already a hundred people in the vast white tiled esplanade and we just had to push our way through….
John: Hey, loud mouth, since you know so much about animals, choose the lamb yourself.
Peter: Take a look at that one, John! It seems to be good stuff… Come!… Hey, compatriot!
Woman Vendor: Yes?
Peter: Compatriot, how much will you charge me for that animal?
Woman Vendor: You can have it for fourteen denarii!
Peter: Fourteen what? Look, I could buy the whole flock for that! No, no, no, here, take these six denarii, and it’s finished!
Woman Vendor: Six denarii? No way! Give me twelve!
Peter: What? I’ll give you seven and that’s it!
Woman Vendor: Listen, big nose, since I find you to be kind of cute, let’s leave it at nine, and it’s a deal!
Finally, we bought our lamb. It was a year old male, a perfect animal, as commanded by the law of Moses. With him on our back, we scaled the marble steps, crossed the Beautiful Gate as we elbowed our way through the atrium of the Israelites. Hundreds of Galileans crowded the place, as they waited for their turn. Beside the stone of the holocausts, the priests, with their tunics drenched in blood, were cutting off the heads of the lambs one by one, before they were offered as sacrifice for the Passover….
Peter: Don’t push, compatriot, we’ll all be attended to!
An Old Man: Hey, you, Galilean… aren’t you one of those who were with the prophet of Nazareth last Sunday…?
Peter: Who, me?… Well, I… the truth is…
Old Man: Yes, you… and you too… I remember faces…. You can trust me, don’t worry…. I lost my voice shouting hosannas with all of you here in the Temple. That was the greatest day of my life, yes sir!…. Well, if you see the prophet, please tell him on my behalf that everyone in my barrio is waiting for the next time…. If we were a thousand last Sunday, there will be a hundred thousand of us the next time he raises his voice of protest. Oh well, no one will ever say that I didn’t see the Messiah before my death!
Susana: Magdalene, sweep the house clean! See to it that every nook and cranny is well cleaned, young lady…. Not a bit of dirt anywhere…
Magdalene: Pff!… Moses must have thought of this since it wasn’t he, but his wife who had to do the sweeping, naturally…
Susana: Look, Magdalene, go and bring Mary more water for the dough!
That morning of Thursday, while Peter and I were buying the lamb, the women went to see Mark’s house in the barrio of Zion, so that they could prepare the food for supper. Mark’s was a two-story house. We were to celebrate the Passover supper in a small room with white-washed walls and wooden floor on the second story of the house….
Susana: The dough is okay, Mary, look….
Mary: I think it’s too thick, Susana… put in a little more water. Unleavened bread gets hard.
Susana: Not as hard as your son’s head, Mary… I keep asking myself: how can it be that this Moreno whom I have seen come into this world, should be… should be the Messiah, like the people were shouting last Sunday? Don’t you think everyone in this country has gone nuts, Mary? What do you think?
Mary: I don’t know, Susana, I don’t know what to think… But look, it seemed our people also went crazy there in Egypt, when Moses took them out of it. It was madness for them to look for freedom….
Susana: You’re right there…. When people begin to seek freedom, God is in their midst… Oh my dear, I think it’s my faith that’s wavering, Holy God!
Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Susana, sat squatting on the floor, kneading the flour with water for the unleavened bread. According to the tradition of our parents, the bread that was eaten during the Paschal dinner was made without any leavening, in remembrance of the bread that the women of Israel had kneaded in great haste, with no time to wait for its fermentation, that night they left Egypt.
Peter: Hey women, here comes the king of the holiday!…
Mary: Don’t make so much noise, Peter!… No one should know that we’re even here…!
Peter: Well, well, since I came out of the noisy street, I simply forgot…. Say, what do you think of the lamb?… As you can see, it’s good stuff, but I got it cheap…
Susana: Magdalene, my dear, if you’re done with your sweeping, give Salome a hand in cleaning the lamb, come on…
Peter: Don’t throw away the entrails, Mary… Today, every part of it must be eaten, including the hoofs…!
My mother and Magdalene began to prepare the lamb. On the night of the Passover it was roasted on a fire, without breaking any of its bones. The lamb had to be eaten whole, including its entrails. The leftovers were not to be kept for the next day, but had to be burned at dawn.
Susana: Did you remember to bring some blood for the doors, Peter?
Peter: Here it is… Hey John, give me a hand, will you? Then we’ll go back to Bethany!… I want to see Jesus about this…
Magdalene: Tell us first!…
Mary: What’s up in the city, Peter?
Peter: They’ve been talking of no one else but your son, Mary. Everyone is asking where the hell he’s hiding. The moment he shows his face, the whole Jerusalem will stand up as one.
John: Yesterday, there were announcements in the streets, hoping to find an informer…. But no, the people are on his side. There’s no need to worry….
Susana: Okay, enough of this talk, let’s all get to work! You, Peter, work on the doors!
During the feast of the Passover, we painted the leaves and the thresholds with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, like our fathers did in Egypt. That was the blood of the alliance which Yahweh, God, had forged with the chosen people, when God saved them that night from slavery and gave them their freedom…
Magdalene: Uff!… It’s too spicy!… Let’s put in more onions…. Now it’s ok… The lamb will be most grateful for this sauce, more than the rain in spring… Besides, the salad is good medicine for hiccups…!
That afternoon of Thursday, Mark’s house smelled of recently baked bread and roasted lamb. Magdalene prepared the herbal concoctions which, according to tradition were supposed to be eaten that night. It was a kind of bitter salad in remembrance of the tears and sufferings of our ancestors in Egypt. Jesus’ mother and Susana made the hot sauce for the bread. It was colored red, the same as the color of the bricks made by the Israelites in Egypt when they were slaves of the pharaoh….
Mark: Well, let’s see what’s these women have come up with, aside from non-stop chattering…!
Susana: Everything’s ready, Mark!
Mark: Yeah, yeah, everything, everyone’s ready, including the guards! Oh, damn, why did I ever allow myself to be convinced by this big nose, Peter? Look what I have in my house… a bunch of agitators!… So, say a little prayer to the archangel, Michael, that he lend us his sword the moment they come to arrest us. Ayayay!
Mary: Psst, be quiet, Mark…! When are the boys coming? They ought to be here, by now….
Susana: They’ll wait until it’s a little dark. They should be careful. All gates of the city are well guarded…
Mark: Fine. Have you forgotten anything?
Magdalene: Can’t you see? The lamb will be ready any moment now!
Mark: Tonight, what’s as important as the lamb is the wine. Have you forgotten that?
Magdalene: The wine! That’s right! We have no wine!… Now, where can we get some wine?
Mark: Take is easy, woman, take it easy… Downstairs I’ve got a jar full to the brim!… We can drink to our hearts’ content, and there’ll be enough for a toast with Elijah in case he comes…! Tonight we’ll all raise our cups high and drink to the freedom of our people…!
Susana: Yes, we can raise our cups, but you lower your voice, Mark. My goodness, you’re creating a scandal here, man…!
Notwithstanding the fear and the risk, we were all happy that night, ready to celebrate the greatest feast of the year. We were hoping against hope that God would extend his hand to us, and once and for all, break the chain that enslaved our people.
The Feast of the Passover was the most solemn feast of Israel. It was celebrated on the first month of the Jewish year, the month of Nissan (corresponding to the middle part of March and April in our calendar). The feast lasted for seven days, but days 14 and 15 of Nissan was considered the day of the Passover, with the celebration of the Passover supper. How this feast was celebrated was transmitted from generation to generation and has been recorded in the book of the Exodus (Ex 12:1-28).
For centuries before Christ, the Feast of the Passover was linked to the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Ex 13:3-10). In its origin, before Moses, it was a feast of the shepherds (where lamb was eaten) and that of the unleavened bread, a feast of the farmers (where bread from the new harvest was eaten). After the time of Moses, these popular feasts became definitely associated with the liberation of the people from slavery in Egypt. This was what Israel continued to commemorate for the following centuries until the time of Jesus. The Passover was something like a feast of national independence. It was a patriotic and at the same time, a profoundly religious celebration. For the people of Israel, it was the hand of God that paved the way for the liberation of their ancestors.
The highlight of this feast was the Passover supper, at the center of which was the lamb. In Jesus’ time, the lamb was usually purchased in the atria of the Temple and was offered as sacrifice right there. The priests, appropriately dressed for the rite, beheaded the lambs, one after the other, before the altar. These lambs were brought to the atria by the Israelite men. After the blood had been shed before the altar, as a pleasing sacrifice to God, the victims were returned to their owners, who brought them to their houses or directly to the available ovens, to be roasted collectively in the streets.
The lamb was eaten in accordance with Jewish practice, within the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city. At sunset, which was the start of a new day for the Israelites, the families, groups and neighbors, gathered together for the solemn supper. Since houses were small and there should be at least ten persons for every lamb, supper was also celebrated on the patios, terraces and even on the roofs. Jerusalem, with many pilgrims around, was an impressive picture of a festive atmosphere. It was the most solemn night of the year. In primitive times, supper was held inside the Temple, in the esplanade, but about a hundred years before Christ, this custom was stopped due to the multitude congregating in the capital. Symbolically, the doors of the Temple remained open wide during the whole night of the Passover.
During the Paschal days, the marketplaces of Jerusalem were filled with typical products needed for that particular supper. Lettuce was the prescribed vegetable for the salad of the night. Other vegetables like chickory, watercress, artichokes and other bitter herbs could also be used. The bitterness was a remembrance of the pain and tears of the people when they were slaves in Egypt. The ritual marmalade of the night was called “jaroset,” which was made of different kinds of fruit (figs, dates, raisins, apples, almonds), several condiments (cinnamon, especially) and vinegar. It was served as an appetizer by spreading it on bread. Its color and consistency reminded the Israelites of the clay that their ancestor slaves had used for making bricks in the enormous construction projects of the pharaoh.
The bread that was eaten during the seven days of the feast was kneaded without leavening. This bread was called “massot” or “unleavened” bread. It was also prescribed that all nooks and corners of the houses must be swept clean so that not even a bit of leavening be left inside. The primitive thinking saw in the process of fermentation of bread a symbol of decay and death. Thus, the practice of eating the “purest” of all breads during the feast. The unleavened bread was made in the form of a cake, somewhat thick. This reminded the Israelites of the bread they had brought along during their escape from Egypt, whose dough had not had time to grow and ferment.
Some Israelites possibly continued with the ancient custom of signing with blood of a sacrificed lamb the doors of the place where they gathered for supper. On the night that Israel left Egypt, that blood was the sign that distinguished the houses of the oppressors from those of the oppressed, so that God could free the latter and punish the former (Ex 12:2-13).
The book of Acts mentions the first Christian communities who gathered to pray in the house of Mark (Acts 12:12). On the basis of the above, an ancient tradition pointed to Mark’s house as the place where Jesus celebrated the supper of the Passover on the eve of his death. Since it is impossible to locate this place in present-day Jerusalem, another more recent tradition situates the “last supper” in a spacious room on the second floor of a temple built on Mount Zion, in the southeastern part of the city. Below this building, the Jews of today venerate the tomb of King David. Neither one or the other has historical authenticity.
At present, the Jews continue to celebrate the feast of the Passover every year, with rites similar to what Jesus knew with respect to food, prayers, songs, etc. We Christians establish a direct relationship between this celebration and the Eucharist. Passover (“pesaj” in Hebrew) means “passage.” Yahweh passed through Egypt on the night of the liberation: Yahweh, passed through the houses of the Hebrews that were marked with blood and castigated the Egyptians. Thus, the liberated people were able to cross the waters of the Red Sea (the color of blood) toward a new land. Jesus, by the blood of his life, passed from death to life. The Christian community, in the Eucharist which is a memorial of this blood that was shed for our freedom, continues to celebrate the passage of Jesus and his own passage from death to life (1 Jn 3:14).
(Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13)