In Exodus 12:8 we read, “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.”
The most common word to describe YHWH’s appointed times is “feast,” such as “the feasts of the LORD,” “the Biblical feasts,” or “Jewish feasts.” I’m not a fan of any of those terms (although I slip and use the word “feast” now and again) because a “feast” implies a copious amount of food.
Sukkot, the last of the appointed times is generally the “feast-iest” of feasts, but due to the biblical tithing schedule, one Sukkot every seven years hardly has any food at all.
Yom Kippur is traditionally a day of zero food or even water — so that certainly fails the “feast” test. Continuing backwards would be Yom Teruah, the fifth appointed time in the cycle, which has nothing to do with food whatsoever.
Pesach is certainly food-centric, but it’s the symbolism of eating that’s being accentuated, not the volume of the food. Death came into the world through eating (thank you, Adam) so YHWH orchestrated our redemption through food as well. Once the lamb is killed, and once the blood is displayed on the doorframe, we surround the table. Unlike our original common ancestors, we eat obediently, prayerfully, and with purpose. A traditional Jewish seder plate has room for seven elements, but the original commandment in Exodus 12 only mentions these three: lamb, matzah (AKA: unleavened bread), and bitter herbs.
Although manmade traditions are the slipperiest of slopes, wine seems appropriate, as Pesach is a blood-centered night, and “blood of grapes” is a biblical term figuratively connected to Pesach.
We eat the flesh of the lamb to identify fully with Messiah, as we are ritually exchanging our own flesh for his. We drink the wine in that same way, exchanging the blood we inherited from the first Adam for the blood offered to us by the last Adam. Matzah represents both our fresh new beginnings, as well as our haste to move forward into freedom.
Messiah preaches about the meaning of all three of these symbolic foods in John 6:47-59: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’ Yeshua said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.”
The last element, bitter herbs, reminds us of the slavery of Egypt we are leaving behind. Exodus 1:13-14 says, “So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.”
The bitter herbs, like all of the elements of Pesach, are emotionally bittersweet. The entire Pesach meal is meant to be reflective, not festive. However, the feeling of thanksgiving which comes with our redemption is hard to suppress. After all, there’s an unspoken secondary plot implicit in this meal. We are His redeemed, but most of the world is not. The vast majority remain outside, many of them friends and family. Outside the door is where sin is crouching, death is certain, and the meal of choice remains forbidden fruit.
This painful mixture of joy and bitterness is also felt by John in a vision just before the final exodus to the promised land begins. He, too, is told to eat that bitterness and feel the pain in Revelation 10:8-9: “Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’”
(Thank you, Julianne Patton for awesome editing.)