For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast, as when you escaped from Egypt in such a hurry. Eat this bread—the bread of suffering—so that as long as you live you will remember the day you departed from Egypt. Let no yeast be found in any house throughout your land for those seven days. Deuteronomy 16: 3-4 (NLT)]


In Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16, God ordained a seven-day festival commemorating both the day death’s angel passed over Jewish homes when striking down Egypt’s firstborn sons and Israel’s emancipation from slavery. Prior to the innovation of a fixed mathematical calendar determining the full moon’s date, Jews living outside of Israel celebrated for eight days. Today, in spite of knowing the exact date of the full moon, Orthodox and Conservative Jews outside of Israel continue to celebrate eight days while Jews living in Israel and Reform Jews (no matter where they live) celebrate seven. Whether observed for seven or eight days, Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread begin at sunset this Wednesday when our Jewish sisters and brothers will celebrate with a Seder supper.

A Seder plate holds at least six ritual items to help retell the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Along with a lamb shank representing the paschal (lamb) sacrifice, bitter herbs representing the bitterness of slavery, and saltwater representing the peoples’ tears and sweat will be an unleavened bread called matzah. Called the bread of affliction or suffering, the unleavened bread was to remind Israel of the day they left Egypt.

Although there is written evidence that Egyptians used yeast to bake bread some five thousand years ago, archeologists suspect it was used long before that and leavened bread was a regular part of ancient Israel’s diet when the people fled Egypt. But, because they left in haste, there was no time for dough to rise so the bread they brought with them was unleavened. When God ordained this commemoration, He prohibited eating anything with leavening the entire seven days. Along with refraining from leavened food, He instructed Israel to rid their homes from all leavening agents or products containing leaven.

More than 3,400 years later, preparing for this holiday involves more than eliminating bread, cookies, pastries, yeast, and cake mixes from the pantry. In preparation for Passover, any traces of those items are completely eradicated. The house is meticulously cleaned so that no crumbs remain in the toaster, oven, refrigerator, under cushions, or in pockets. The night preceding Passover, families do one last search for chametz (anything with leavening) and any found is removed from the house and burned outside. In actuality, cleaning one’s house of all yeast is just about impossible because yeast is a fungus. Existing in the air, soil, and on plants, it will find a way to enter even the cleanest house.

While yeast and leavening are what makes baked goods rise, when yeast or leavening are mentioned in the Bible, they sometimes represent sin. Jesus used yeast to describe corruption, false teaching and hypocrisy. Sin, like yeast, is all around us and can enter our lives through the tiniest cracks. Like yeast, sin can grow, multiply, and take on a life of its own. Just as a little yeast can go a long way and spread through dough, a little sin can spread right through a person and spread into those around him.

For Christians, thinking of yeast as symbolic of sin gives additional meaning to the Passover celebration. Because Jesus freed us from the laws and rituals of the Old Testament, we don’t need to search for cookie and bagel crumbs in our pantry nor do we have to forego French toast and toasted cheese sandwiches for the next week. Nevertheless, just as there are crumbs hiding in the bottom of the toaster and under the sofa’s cushions, there is sin hidden in our lives. Rather than hunt through the house for crumbs with leavening, let us search through our hearts for concealed and unacknowledged sin. In preparation for Resurrection Sunday this week, we should look deep into the nooks and crannies of our thoughts and actions and remove all that doesn’t belong.

For Jews, this week celebrates their deliverance from Egypt. As Christians, may this Holy Week prepare us for the celebration of our deliverance from sin!

Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth. [1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)]

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