This devotional was for The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection’s annual Advent Devotional series.
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
-Luke 22:1-13 (ESV)
The Passover that Jesus asked John and Peter to prepare for is the greatest of festivals during the Jewish year. It is a memorial of the night when the tenth plague swept through Egypt, killing all the firstborn of the Egyptians but “passing over” the Jews. In the process of establishing the festival (Exodus 12), God gave the Jews several laws on how to prepare for and celebrate the festival in the subsequent years. For example, one of these laws prescribed the removal of all leaven from the home. Over the centuries, these laws became more strict and codified, leaving no room for error. Not all are as fastidious as others in adhering to the requirements, yet one author reports, “We have a pious friend in Israel who airs out every book in her home in case there should be any bread crumbs in them.” (Source)
Although not prescribed by Holy Scripture, the Church has established two seasons of preparation: Advent and Lent. In Advent, we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to prepare for his second coming, and in Lent, we prepare to celebrate Christ’s victory over death. With regard to Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.” (God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, p.26) If that be the case—which it should be!—then we should not enter lightly into our encounter with him in the manger, but instead, we should seek out the “old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil” (1 Corinthians 5:8) and prepare our hearts so that we might humbly kneel before our Lord and King.
In 2008, during his general audience, John Paul II said,
The liturgy of Advent, filled with constant allusions to the joyful expectation of the Messiah, helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an “advent”, in vigilant expectation of Christ’s final coming. To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, will come one day to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of daily life. Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes. (Source)
As we “prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord, let us heed the words of St. Paul: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” ( 2 Corinthians 13:5a), and cleanse yourself of the “old leaven.”
Jesus said to Peter and John, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” In like manner, go and prepare yourselves so that “at his coming, [he] may find in us—in you—a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent)
The Rev. Dr. John Toles