We believe in observing the New Testament Passover on the night of the 14th of Abib, the anniversary of the death of our Savior (Leviticus 23:5; Luke 22:13-14).
That Jesus instituted the new Passover symbols of the bread and the wine, and said of the wine "This is My blood of the new covenant" (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24), clearly shows that the Passover ceremony we are to observe is a New Covenant (New Testament) observance. Also, Jesus personally identifies this memorial ceremony (Luke 22:19) as "this Passover" (verse 15) and observed it on the date set aside in Leviticus 23 for annual observance on the 14th of Abib according to the Hebrew calendar.
Jesus Himself set the time of the New Testament Passover service on the night before His death. Paul confirmed that we are to keep it "on the same night in which He was betrayed" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 22:14-20; John 13:1-17)—at the beginning of the 14th of Abib. Jesus specifically applied the name "Passover" to this special memorial service (Matthew 26:18; Luke 22:8, 15). He gave His disciples instruction concerning how, when and where they should prepare for this new way of portraying the death of the Messiah (Luke 22:7-13).
The New Testament Passover is not just about the death of the "Lamb of God." It is also about His suffering (Luke 22:15). We are to remember the entire sacrifice that He made—both His suffering and His death. His suffering, death and burial all occurred on the 14th of Abib. The symbols of the bread and the wine replaced the sacrificial lambs from the Old Testament (Exodus 12), which were a type of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, as the Lamb of God, is "our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7). The bread and wine represent His total sacrifice—His suffering and His death.
Jesus' death occurred on the afternoon of the 14th of Abib, but His suffering began the night before His death while He was still with His disciples. "And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death'" (Matthew 26:37-38).
Our practice for remembering Christ's death as our Passover at the beginning of the 14th, the night Jesus was betrayed, and keeping the Festival of Unleavened Bread from the beginning of the 15th to the end of the 21st satisfies the directions given in Scripture. The biblical record is plain in this regard, and we have no difficulty discerning the correct sequence of events—Passover is followed by Unleavened Bread.
As Christ is our Passover, the bread and wine are reminders of His suffering and death. As Jews, Jesus Christ and the disciples had observed the Passover throughout their lives. But now there are new symbols. Christ showed His disciples the deep meaning of the Passover through the new symbols and through His ultimate suffering and death on the 14th day of the first month.
After telling His disciples to drink the wine, Jesus said, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). Christ's instituting the Passover symbols is consistent with His role as "the Mediator of the new covenant" (Hebrews 12:24).
In His sacrifice, He took on Himself the penalty for all mankind's sins (1 Peter 3:18). When we partake of the bread and wine, we recognize that His body and blood were given to cover our sins. Through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are reconciled to the Father. Reconciliation grants us access to the Father, making it possible for us to come boldly before His throne of grace to find help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It is because of His sacrifice that we can be healed spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally (Isaiah 53:4-5, James 5:14).
When we eat the bread, we symbolize Christ living in us (John 6:53-54). We also show our unity with Christ and with each member of the body of Christ—the Church (1 Corinthians 10:16), as well as our willingness to live by the word of God.
Jesus commands us to observe the Passover service in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19-20). Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 11:20-26 that the Church is to "come together" to "eat this bread and drink this cup." The purpose of this ceremony is to "proclaim the Lord's death till He comes"—representing the only way mankind can be reconciled to God the Father. Paul also tells us that we are only reconciled to God the Father by Jesus' death—that we are saved by His life (Romans 5:10).
The foot-washing part of the Passover service was established by Jesus. After first giving us a personal example of being a servant by washing His disciples' feet, He then told us: "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).
All three elements—the footwashing, the bread and the wine—are a part of the annual ceremony observed by the United Church of God, an International Association. This ceremony is observed only once a year, shortly after sunset on the evening at the beginning of the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, as established by the Word of God.
(For more details, request God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)
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