1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
JOHN 12:1-2, 9-11
Passover is approaching. What we call Palm Sunday is the day after the final Sabbath before the Passover.
The Sabbath before Passover (Shabbat Hagadol) has various traditions connected with it, many of which, are still celebrated today. Jewish tradition associates this day with the preparations that the Israelites made in Egypt before the first Passover, when the firstborn males in Egypt were to be killed by plague (Exodus 12). The date on which they were given instructions for the Passover was the ‘tenth of the month’, and the Passover itself came five days later. Tradition has it that once the lambs were selected, they were tied to the bedposts in Jewish homes for safe-keeping. Inevitably this behaviour was noticed by the Egyptians, who also knew that livestock trading and other work was forbidden on a Sabbath. So they asked the Israelites what they were doing and were told of God’s plans to slay the firstborn (because it was a Sabbath, the Israelites were forbidden from being dishonest about their plans). Some Egyptians then demanded of Pharaoh that he let the Israelites go, but he refused and there was a rebellion.
For Christians, this tradition tells us that the meal Jesus shared with Mary Martha and Lazarus was very likely to have been the Shabbat Hagadol. The Passover was on the Thursday, the Sabbath was five days before that, and Jesus visited Bethany on the sixth clay before the Passover — that is, on the Friday. If we assume that the dinner Mary and Martha prepared was a meal to celebrate Jesus’ visit and welcome him back, it was held on the Friday evening, the traditional time for a Sabbath evening meal.
If Jesus returned to Bethany (the closest place to a home that he had), for a last meal on the last Sabbath before the Passover, and. that Sabbath recalls the preparation of the lambs for the Passover; then here is a hint by John that Jesus is the new Passover Lamb of God, whose sacrifice will bring about a second exodus, delivering not only the Jews but all people.
That meal in Bethany must have been a great delight for for both Jesus and Lazarus. It was not long before that Lazarus had died and been raised. As they ate together, with Lazarus alive and well, we might suppose that the promise of resurrection could well have come up in conversation! Although John is not explicit, here is a meal that points us forward to the resurrection banquet.
Lord Jesus, who took time to be with your friends, help us to speak of resurrection and hope, that people may desert the ways of the world and come to believe. Amen