The Passover Haggadah
The Passover Haggadah is a composition inspired by the biblical story of the Exodus. Some of it is written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and the rest in Hebrew. At the Last Supper, which is portrayed as a Passover meal in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus and his disciples would have used some version of it. The word Haggadah, like the word “gospel,” means proclamation, story, and interpretation. As with so many ancient documents, it is not possible to provide much information about the dating of the various parts of the Haggadah or the oral traditions that may have contributed to them. In fact, it was not until the Middle Ages that the first formal version appeared.
The earliest extant references to the Passover seder (order [of service]), and there are many, are found in the New Testament. Paul's metaphor in 1 Corinthians, “Purge out therefore the old leaven that you may be a new lump” (5:7), refers to the purging of a house of all leavened material the evening before the seder takes place. Jesus instructs a disciple to locate a room for the Passover meal that is “furnished [with cushions]” (Mark 14:16). During the seder meal, participants recline, a posture signifying freedom and so proclaiming a central motif of the celebration, namely, liberation from slavery. Free Romans would lie, not sit, at table; leaning on their left side, they used the right hand for eating and drinking.
The eating of Matzah (unleavened bread) and the drinking from the cups of wine play central parts in the Passover celebration. It is on performing the rites associated with the bread and the wine that Jesus is said to have instituted the Eucharist. The cup of wine—Paul (1 Corinthians 10:16) uses its technical designation, “the Cup of Blessing”—that Jesus takes and over which he says a grace (Mark 14:23) corresponds to the third of the four cups at the seder. When Jesus says that he will not drink wine again until the kingdom of God comes (Mark 14:25), he is referring to the fourth cup. The seder liturgy that accompanies the drinking of the fourth cup anticipates God's universal reign. In his refusal, according to Mark's Gospel, to accept the wine offered to him at the cross (Mark 15:36), Jesus observes the rule that, between the third and fourth cups, no nonliturgical drinking (of alcohol) is permitted. The Hallel (psalms of thanksgiving) is sung after the Passover