“Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go away and take a lamb for yourselves according to your families, and sacrifice the Pascha.’” (OSB)
The thread of Sacrifice that runs through Scripture finds one of its most important expressions in the Paschal Lamb. And there are innumerable facets to this sacrifice that we might explore. Let us make these short few observations.
First, the Paschal Lamb has both an external and internal aspect in regard to the life of God’s people. In the context of the exodus from Egypt, the Lamb’s blood, applied to the Israelites’ door-posts, marks off Israel as God’s people, thus showing “how wide a distinction the Lord” makes between Israel and Egypt (Exod 11:7). Judgment comes upon the “whole world,” but it is only those who are covered, marked off—justified—by the Lamb’s blood who escape unscathed (cf. Rom 5:1-11).
Salvation, though, is not found solely in escaping the judgment of the “Destroyer” (Exod 12:23), but equally in the consumption—the eating—of the Lamb itself. And this is what occurs inside the house, inside the Kingdom: In eating the Lamb, the people of God become the Lamb, as it were, by communion and participation.
Second, we see, following from this last point, that the Paschal Lamb has essentially the same “character” as the Sacrifice of Isaac. Israel, God’s firstborn son (Exod 4:22), has temporarily been laid on the “altar” of Egyptian slavery—not for punishment or to assuage divine wrath, but to instruct and reveal to Israel the nature of God, His faithfulness to His promises, and His plan of salvation. God interposes the Paschal Lamb to reveal to Israel that God wants them, like Isaac, as a living sacrifice and that they are a kingdom of priests who offer the sacrifice of themselves to God on behalf of all (Exod 19:6)—that the death of the Lamb is their death, to themselves, to “Egypt” (the “world”), to the devilish tyranny of Pharaoh and Death itself. Israel thus can never understand its identity and purpose apart from identification with the Lamb. That Pascha is Israel’s own self-offering to God is further shown in the dedication of the firstborn to God (Exod 13:1-2, 11-16)—the firstborn are a sacramental sign of all of Israel as God’s “firstborn son.”
Third, we must see the Passover, and the whole exodus from Egypt, as one unified work of re-creation. God is creating for Himself a new humanity, and the Passover and Red Sea crossing together are Israel’s birth “in water and blood” (Jn 19:34). Indeed, the Passover is the beginning of Israel’s time/calendar, its “Day One” (Exod 12:2), so to speak, as in Genesis 1.
Fourth, the Passover is the beginning of, the initiation into, a journey the goal of which is entry into the Promised Land and the establishment of God’s permanent dwelling in Zion. The continual commemoration of Pascha—as an everlasting “memorial” (Exod 12:14)—looks forward to when the Triune God Himself will eat and drink with His people at the marriage feast in the heavenly Jerusalem (Lk 22:15-18).
These words from Melito of Sardis’s On Pascha (par. 66-67), dating to the mid 2nd century, provide a fitting summary:
It is he who, coming from heaven to the earth because of the suffering one, and clothing himself in that same one through a virgin’s womb, and coming forth a man, accepted the passions of the suffering one, through the body which was able to suffer, and dissolved the passions of the flesh; and by the Spirit which could not die he killed death the killer of men. For, himself led as a lamb and slain as a sheep, he ransomed us from the world’s service as from the land of Egypt, and freed us from the devil’s slavery as from the hand of Pharaoh; and he marked our souls with his own Spirit and the members of our body with his own blood.
~ By Reader Justin Gohl