The first time I attended an Episcopal celebration of the mass, also known as Divine Worship, the Sunday Service and Holy Communion, I remember being struck by the words we say when the bread and wine have been consecrated by the priest, right after we pray the Lord’s Prayer. The priest holds up the large host, breaks it and states, “Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” The people respond, “Therefore let us keep the feast – Alleluia!”
The expression, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast” stems from a passage of Scripture that may well be an ancient Easter homily. In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
In First Century Palestine, and still today among some believers, Jewish people undergo a ritual cleaning of the home, removing any and all traces leavened bread or food containing yeast. This is to purify the home, be done with the old and welcome the new, so that at Passover time, the first meal eaten is of the new unleavened bread and the paschal lamb, symbolizing a new beginning and rededication to follow the covenant and the Torah (law).
St. Paul, a Pharisee by training, would have been intimately aware of this tradition and its meaning. When he urges the Corinthian community to “clear out the old yeast” and become a “fresh batch of dough”, he is urging them, in Christ, to let go of their old lives and to take on their new life and identity in the Lord. By calling Christ “our Paschal lamb” he is reminding the Corinthians that through his cross and resurrection, Jesus has set us free and given us new life. By urging them to “keep the feast” with the new “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”, Paul is reminding the faithful that partaking in Holy Communion means that we are called to, in essence, become what we eat and therefore be ourselves transformed into the image of Christ.
So, the next time the priest invites us to Holy Communion by saying, “Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!” and you respond, “Therefore let us keep the feast, Alleluia!”, keep in mind that part of what we are saying is, “Lord, help us let go of what has been and be transformed and made anew in your image.”