Symbolic Foods

The Last Supper, when Rabbi Yeshua instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, was a Passover Seder. The Seder table is filled with symbolic foods. The New Testament gives us no real description of a Passover Seder, such as Rabbi Yeshua celebrated as his Last Supper because every first century Jew had celebrated the Passover with his family every year of his life and knew it by heart.

In Rabbi Yeshua‘s time the main feast was roasted lamb. “They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it” Ex 12:8. In our time there are six foods on the Seder plate; we may speculate that there were similar foods on the Seder plates in his time:

The Seder Plate

(This is a Catholic understanding of the matzah. To see a Jewish understanding of all six symbolic foods, click on the links.)

1 Matzah. Three matzot (“matzahs”) are placed on a matzah tof, a linen napkin, at each person’s place. When baking bread, after the leaven is added it takes about eighteen minutes for the dough to rise. By God‘s design, the Israelites did not have even that brief interval. Leaven puffs up the bread. Too often we puff up with pride. By eating the matzah, centerpiece of the Passover, we reject our puffing up with pride and learn to focus on God.

The matzah pre-figures Rabbi Yeshua, the Bread of Life. It is unleavened, pure as He was pure. It has dark stripes, as his back was striped by Pilate’s scourging. It is pierced, as He was pierced on the cross. Once it was the bread of life for Israel on the desert, as He is the Bread of Life Jn 6:35 for all mankind. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed” Is 53:5. Matzah is the way Jews relive the Exodus. Kabbalah teaches that matzah we eat on the first night of Passover strengthens the faith of the soul, and that on the second night heals the soul.

We Catholics believe that at this time Rabbi Yeshua blessed the unleavened bread, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and commanded them to eat it, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” Lk 22:19. Catholics believe that consecrated unleavened bread is Rabbi Yeshua‘s true sacramental presence, necessary for us to enter heaven.

The head of household breaks the middle piece of matzah, which then becomes the afikoman (Greek: dessert), because it will be the last food of the Seder. As the children cover their eyes, the head of household hides the linen-wrapped afikoman. After the festive dinner, the head of household invites the children to find the afikoman.

God here shows us that from the beginning he intended the Seder to pre-figure Rabbi Yeshua‘s Final Sacrifice. The three pieces of matzah pre-figure the Holy Trinity. The middle matzah foreshadows Rabbi Yeshua, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The breaking of the middle matzah foreshadowed his crucifixion. The matzah was then wrapped in a linen cloth and hidden, or “buried.” After his crucifixion Rabbi Yeshua‘s body was wrapped in a traditional Jewish linen shroud and “buried” in the tomb. The children’s retrieval of the afikoman reminds us of his resurrection.

Roasted Lamb. The lamb that God had commanded be sacrificed by Israel in Egypt and at every subsequent Passover celebration, was a reminder of Israel’s need to offer a sacrifice to God in thanksgiving for his mighty hand in breaking them free from the yoke of slavery in Egypt. Today, Jews substitute a roasted lamb shank bone.

Roasted Egg. The roasted egg was a symbol of new life. In a farmer’s hen house, a chicken hatches from its egg and begins a new life.

Maror. These are the bitter herbs that God had also commanded at Ex 12:8 to remind Israel of the harshness of its slavery in Egypt, to remind them of how bitterly they suffered under the Egyptian lash.

Charoset. Charoset is a mixture of fruit, nuts, honey and wine. It symbolizes the mortar that ancient Israel had to use to hold together the bricks of the Egyptian cities and pyramids that they built. Egypt “made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field” Ex 1:14 Yet the sweet-tasting charoset reminds us that even in our most bitter trials there are moments of sweetness when we reflect on God.

Karpas, root vegetable, often an onion or boiled potato, remind us of our fathers’ backbreaking work our fathers were forced to do in Egypt.

These are only the most basic descriptions of these six foods as symbols. The Egyptians had insisted that the Israelites make their bricks out of straw Ex 5:7. Bricks made of straw soon collapse. The Egyptians made Israel’s labor meaningless because the cities and pyramids they were forced to build often collapsed before they were even completed.

More on the Passover Seder