As I write this, it is late evening on what Christians call “Maundy Thursday” or “Holy Thursday”. It is the night we commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper. Specifically it is the night Jesus celebrated the Jewish Feast of Passover with his disciples—the night before He was crucified.
As Christians, we understand the significance of Jesus being slaughtered during the Passover Feast: through His death He became our once-and-for-all Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5).
But tonight I am reflecting on a specific aspect of the Passover Seder: the afikoman.
Near the beginning of the Jewish Seder, the head of the household picks up the matzah-tash: a special, embroidered sack with three compartments. In each of the compartments is a whole piece of matzah. There is much debate about where this tradition came from. Some say it represents the three Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob); others say it represents the three classes of ancient Jews (Priests, Levites, and Israelites). No one knows for sure.
The head of the household carefully pulls out the middle piece of matzah and breaks it in two. He places one half back in the matzah-tash. Then he takes the other piece—the afikoman—and wraps it gently in a white linen napkin, and hides it somewhere in the house—traditionally under a pillow.
The Seder then continues for what can often be hours. Finally, near the very end of the meal, the children are sent to find the hidden afikoman. It is a huge thrill and honor to find it! Lastly, the afikoman is unwrapped and broken into many small pieces, so that every person present gets to eat a bite.
Jewish tradition holds that since the destruction of the Temple—and thus the ceasing of the sacrificial system—the afikoman has become a sort of substitute for the lamb that used to be sacrificed for the Passover.
But as a follower of Jesus, I see the Passover Lamb in the afikoman:
- One sack with three compartments
- The second piece is removed, broken, wrapped in white linen, and hidden
- After being hidden for a while, it’s brought back out to much rejoicing
- It is further broken into pieces and made available for everyone to take part in
But do you know what the coolest part is? The name itself.
“Afikoman” is the only Greek word in the entire Hebrew ceremony. Most Jewish scholars trace the word to the Greek epikomion, which can mean “dessert” or “revelry”. Certainly a case can be made for this, given the afikoman’s place in the Seder program.
But what if* the Greek root was actually aphikomenos? It means “the coming one” or “the one who has arrived”.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
*As posited by David Daube, the late Oxford professor, in 1966.