Last night's sunset marked the beginning of Passover for millions of people worldwide. It is the only major Jewish holiday recognized by most mainstream calendars and celebrated by the U.S. President.
Although the Jewish holiday lasts all week, until sunset next Monday, the most widely celebrated aspect is Seder, the traditional Passover dinner (Exodus 12). This is the meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples in the Upper Room before his crucifixion (Matt. 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:17-20). Because of this, it carries special significance to both Jews and Christians.
I had the privilege of celebrating two Messianic Seders last year, and Communion has never been the same since partaking of it within the original context. I highly recommend that every Christian attend a Seder at least once. I am missing it this year, without a community to invite me to its celebration. (Passover, like most Jewish holidays, is family-centered and essentially impossible to celebrate alone.) Surprised by my own intense craving to celebrate again, I did a little research and found multiple locations that offer Seder open to the public. These are hosted for a variety of reasons by a variety of different groups, but few are Messianic.
It's hard to describe the beauty of a Messianic Passover except to call it a precious balance of Old and New Testament. Specifically, of course, Passover celebrates the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt in the Exodus. But the Exodus is part of a much larger story of God's proven faithfulness in upholding his covenant with the children of Abraham.
There are four specific times to drink wine during Seder, representing four symbolic cups. The third cup is the Cup of Redemption, also known as Blessing. Most biblical scholars understand this is the cup that Jesus raised and called his blood, as it is the cup taken after the meal (the timing indicated in Luke 22:20). Just as Jesus spoke of a "new covenant" with this cup during his last Seder, I consider my invitation to celebrate Passover with Jewish friends symbolic of the privilege of Jesus inviting me into the covenant. This is also why observing Passover is a great lead-up to Easter: Through his death, Jesus again proved God faithful to his promises.
More churches have begun celebrating Passover over the past few years, raising concern within some Jewish communities about the appropriation. As one Houston-based rabbi told the Houston Chronicle, "They take our symbols, our holiday, our ritual and start investing them in Christian meaning." I agree that the context is important, and I don't think I would feel very comfortable observing Seder without a guide who understands the rich history of the traditions (on a deeper experiential level than my own). Getting the details of Passover right is difficult if you have not been raised with them. Fortunately, the explanation of why things are done the way they are is built right into the tradition: the same questions are asked, customarily by the youngest member of the family, and answered every year.
But it is not difficult to include Christ in the Passover, because the promise of Messiah is already involved. There is a big difference between Christians celebrating Passover—where celebrating the fulfillment of the promised Messiah (in Christ) is a natural extension—and turning it into a "universal parable"—made even more possible now by digital, customizable versions of the Seder text—as if gaining physical freedom from bondage is the only point of remembrance.
Freedom from slavery was merely proof of God's promise to Abraham, a promise that encompassed everything in Deuteronomy 28. "God heard [the Israelites'] sighing and groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob," reads Exodus 2:24, and because of that he not only delivered his people but also delivered them to "a land flowing with milk and honey" (3:17)—the Promised Land. Christians are also celebrating God's covenant deliverance through Jesus, this year less than a week later, on Easter.
Put this way, Passover and Easter don't seem like two separate holidays but more like one long celebration. This is a week to count your blessings: every single one of God's promises and the proof that he keeps them.