Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures said, “I’m thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so a sponge was soaked in it and put on a hyssop branch and held up to his lips.
Growing up, I remember that each year, a family from Chicago would come to our farm and butcher a lamb shortly before Easter. The Dad butchered the lamb right on the farm and would not cut the lamb up. They also kept some of the lamb’s blood. It all seemed a bit strange to me.
It was not until years later, when I was a pastor and preparing for Holy Week did I realize what this family was doing. They were Jewish and they were preparing for the Passover Meal. The first Passover Meal was celebrated hundreds of years before Christ, when Moses was trying to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Pharaoh would not let his main work force, the Israelites, go. God sent nine plagues to the Egyptian people. After each plague, Pharaoh’s heart just got harder and he continued to refuse to let the Israelites go.
It was time for the tenth and final plague: the killing of the oldest son in every family. To ensure that the eldest son in Jewish families was not killed, each Jewish family butchered a lamb and kept some of the blood. They roasted the entire lamb over a fire and bake bread with no yeast in it. Finally, they ate the Passover Meal standing, with their sandals on and their walking sticks nearby. For as soon as Pharaoh released them, they were to leave town.
But there is one other part of the story. Each Jewish family was to take some of the blood from the lamb, use a hyssop stick and paint blood around the doorframe of their house. As the Angel of Death passed over the land, it would “pass over” the homes with blood around the doorposts. Instead of the eldest Jewish son dying in every family, the lamb is sacrificed. The blood is the symbol of the sacrifice and a reminder that there was a cost, even for Jewish families.
Fast forward to Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus professes he is thirsty. How interesting that a sponge on the end of a hyssop branch is dipped into sour vinegar and offered to Jesus. Is it simply ironic? Of course not. The hyssop branch points us back to the original Passover meal. Rather than a lamb being sacrificed this time, Jesus becomes the sacrifice for our sins. His blood replaces our blood, just as the lamb’s blood replaced the eldest son’s blood at the time of the first Passover.
How I wished I had understood what this Jewish family was doing when they came to our farm. It would have been interesting to know more about their Passover traditions. I think of this family every time I prepare a Seder Meal for Maundy Thursday. More importantly, I pray that I see the sacrifice Jesus made for me then and now.
O Lord, you are the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sins of the earth. As Holy Week gets closer, may this only become more real for me. Amen.
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