Day 21: Afikomen
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the world. John 6:51
There is a curious tradition in the Seder whose roots are shrouded in mystery. While it certainly was not part of the original feast, the earliest mention of this tradition that I could find was by Rabbi Hillel, who was prominent from 30 BC to 10 AD. It is said he would draw special attention to this part of the rite as he conducted Passover services. If this is the case, then it would have been in practice during Jesus’ time. Rabbi Gamaliel, Paul’s Rabbi, said this element pointed to the salvation of Israel.
Three matzot are placed into a special pouch with 3 separate compartments, called the echad, which means one (one, in the sense of composite oneness). Once placed, the first matza is never touched or seen again. The second is broken in half, with half placed in the echad and half wrapped in a napkin and hidden away (called the Afikomen). The third is later used to partake of the elements on the Seder plate.
Unlike the other elements of the Seder, there is no clear understanding of this feature. Opinions vary on what the three matzot represent: Abraham/Isaac/Jacob; Priests/Levites/Congregation; Crowns of Learning/Priesthood/Kingship. All agree it is a symbol of unity, but have no idea why the middle matza is broken or hidden. Later in the Seder a grand search is made for the hidden half. When it is found it is broken and given to everyone to eat in memory of the Passover lamb.
Of course we remember that Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave it to everyone with the words, “This is my body given for you.” Was he perhaps referring to this Afikomen ritual when he said this? For those of us who believe Jesus is the Bread, we can easily see how he, as well as the Trinity, is represented in this element of the Seder: two natures, broken, hidden.
• If you have Jewish friends, ask them what they believe the three matzot represent, and what, if any, meaning they place on this element.
• The next time you take communion, prepare by meditating on Jesus’ breaking of the bread and the words, “This is my body given for you.”
Lord, thank you that you have revealed yourself to me as that bread that came down from heaven, that not only brought me life, but sustains me daily. Open the eyes of more of your people, Israel, to see the truth in this.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries