The timeless festival - yesterday and today
Pesach, commonly known in English as the Passover, has a history that could pre-date the time of Exodus. An argument could be made that this festival(s) may be the oldest in the world, and pre-dates the pagan additions that were added to it. Pesach appears to be the merging of two ancient spring festivals celebrated by shepherd's and farmers. This ancient celebration included a freedom from bondage and a hopeful anticipation of what is to come.
The ancient shepherd's festival included slaughtering a lamb to appease God for the upcoming lambing season. The ancient agricultural festival celebrated the farmer's freedom - no longer being a slave to his land. He has toiled in the fields for six months (Sukkot-Pesach), caring for the land without seeing any fruits for his labor, then comes Pesach. It is around this time that the field is transformed and the farmer reaps his reward.
There is some debate as to why this ancient festival was called Pesach, but in short, Pesach means to 'pass-over,' or 'skip-over.' Some have argued that the passing/skipping over referenced the lambs that were skipped over, while others have argued that the skipping was representative of the shepherd's festive dancing, mimicking the lambs. In either case, we can clearly see how Israel's firstborn was skipped over in the Exodus event.
Pesach: Pre-Dating the Exodus
The Pesach (Passover) festival is of ancient origin, and falls near the full moon of the vernal equinox. The beginning of spring is considered sacred to many nomadic peoples and ancient religions. Practically thinking, it makes more sense to believe that Israel was not a stranger to some form of a spring festival(s) prior to Yahweh's instruction to Moses.
Julius Wellhausen... argued that sacrifice found its roots in the need for secure access to "fruitful soil ... the basis at once of life and religion." The biblical Passover must have evolved from the fusion of two ancient types of sacrifice: pesach, exemplifying pastoral bounty, and matzot, representing agrarian abundance. Abel's sacrifice of firstlings from his flock illustrates the first. Cain's offering "from the fruit of the soil" embodies the second.
Nomadic families slaughtered their pesach offering, a firstling from the flock, at sunset in the spring... To ward off evil spirits, blood from the animal was smeared on the entrance of shepherds' dwellings.Edited by Lawrence Hoffman, David Arnow, My People's Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries, Volume 1, pg. 10
Passover probably originated as a shepherd's festival, celebrated in the Spring (March-April), and designed to insure a successful lambing season. As a result of the exodus experience, Israel adapts it to commemorate the conviction that the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night.Mercer Commentary on the Bible, Volume 1, pg. 199
Pesach is a spring festival that was originally observed to 'appease God', hoping to gain favor for the coming year's pasture. It was believed that if Pesach was correctly observed, no plague would come, which can be seen in teaching as late as the book of Jubiless. It is unclear how/when the festival began, but there is a growing consensus that it pre-dates the Exodus. However, it is plausible that Yahweh simply restored/renewed the festival to Israel just as he restored the Sabbath to them (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23-30).
Pesach: A Renewed Festival for Israel
It appears that Yahweh told Moses to instruct the Hebrews to celebrate Pesach before the Exodus events/plagues. While not definitive, we can decipher this from Yahweh's command to take the Hebrews three days journey into the wilderness to serve Yahweh. When Pharoah refused, the Hebrews celebrated Pesach in their homes (in Egypt).
Exodus 5:1-3, And afterwards Mosheh and Aharon went in and said to Pharaoh, “Thus said Yahweh Elohim of Yisrael, ‘Let My people go, so that they keep a festival to Me in the wilderness.’ ” And Pharaoh said, “Who is Yahweh, that I should obey His voice to let Yisrael go? I do not know Yahweh, nor am I going to let Yisrael go.” And they said, “The Elohim of the Heḇrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness and slaughter to Yahweh our Elohim, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”
Exodus 10:9, And Mosheh said, “We are going with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we are going, for we have a festival to Yahweh.”
As we can see from the above references, Yahweh instructed Moses to lead Israel into the wilderness to keep a festival unto Yahweh that included slaughtering (see also: Exodus 3:18; 7:16; 8:27). Israel garnered new understanding and depth to their festival as it is the time Yahweh chose to free them from their bondage.
Are we to observe Pesach today?
Upon understanding that Pesach was a festival that pre-dated the Mosaic covenant, we can gain better understanding of the role of Pesach today. As we can see below, Pesach was not done away with. There are several Corinthian passages that lead us to believe that Pesach should continue to be observed today, just as in antiquity.1 What we do see changed is the elements/symbols within it. Instead of sacrificing a lamb and eating its roasted body, we are to celebrate with unleavened bread and wine.
1 Corinthians 5:6-11, Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the entire lump? Therefore cleanse out the old leaven, so that you are a new lump, as you are unleavened. For also Messiah our Passover was offered for us. So then let us observe the festival, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of evil and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to keep company with those who whore. And I certainly did not mean with those of this world who whore, or with the greedy of gain, or swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone called ‘a brother,’ if he is one who whores, or greedy of gain, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one.
The passage above makes it clear that we should "observe the festival." This extends beyond simply learning a spiritual truth as it effects who we are to eat with. If someone calls himself a "brother," but is unrepentant in his behavior, we should not enjoy the Passover festival with him. (Compare Exodus 12:14)
1 Corinthians 10:16-21, The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Messiah? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Messiah? Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Look at Yisrael after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the offerings sharers in the altar? What then do I say? That an idol is of any value? Or that which is offered to idols is of any value? No, but what the gentiles offer they offer to demons and not to Elohim, and I do not wish you to become sharers with demons. You are not able to drink the cup of the Master and the cup of demons, you are not able to partake of the table of the Master and of the table of demons.
It appears some in the assembly were enjoying a banquet at the pagan temple,2 then coming to the assembly to partake in the Passover ceremony. We know this is the Passover meal being referenced here because of the specific name "cup of blessing," which is the third of four cups that are blessed at the Passover ceremony. It is also called the 'cup of redemption' and is again referenced in Matt 26:27; Mark 14:22-24; and Luke 22:20.3
1 Corinthians 11:23-29, For I received from the Master that which I also delivered to you: that the Master Yeshua in the night in which He was delivered up took bread, and having given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the renewed covenant in My blood. As often as you drink it, do this in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Master until He comes. So that whoever should eat this bread or drink this cup of the Master unworthily shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Master. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For the one who is eating and drinking unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Master.
It is worth mentioning that the Aramaic has "day" instead of "supper" leading into this passage. In Aramaic v. 20 reads 'When you therefore come together, you eat and drink, not as is becoming on the day of our Master.' 4 If 'day' is to be preferred over 'supper,' it yields a much deeper understanding vs. an abbreviated teaching on Passover. In either case, it would behoove us to read it with a title other than "Lord's Supper" to help us clear our heads of the baggage and superflous ideas that are enshrined with this 'Christian' invention.
The summary of the matter
With the above said, we as believers should continue keeping Pesach. The 'Christian' doctrine related to the Lord's Supper should be carefully scrutinized as this teaching developed as/after western 'Christianity' hi-jacked the established Hebraic Nazarene faith. The Lord's Supper is NOT a substitue for Pesach.
1 The LXX uses this Greek word 'festival' (1 Corinthians 5:8) as the equivalent Hebrew word 'festival' (Exodus 5:1).
2 Because of the timing of Pesach (Passover), this could be referring to another Spring Festival (around the full moon of the vernal equinox) in which a pagan deity was celebrated. A contemporary example, and possibly the same, would be believers celebrating the pagan deity Easter (goddess of fertility) and then coming to celebrate Pesach with the family of Yahweh.
3 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 is another reference to Pesach. The assembly at Corinth was not ignorant of Pesach.
4 Aramaic English New Testament (AENT)