The 15th of Nisan
When the sun set on Saturday, April 2, 1836, Jewish families began a new day, which to them was the 15th of the month Nisan. This was a special day, for on that day they began to celebrate the Passover, commemorating God’s deliverance of their Israelite forefathers from Egypt. After the sun set and the new day commenced, they ate their Passover meal, beginning with a cup of wine. Celery (or another bitter herb) was dipped twice in vinegar as a reminder that the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. But to remind everyone of God’s loving kindness, a hard-boiled egg was eaten next. This was followed by the recitation of prayers.
They drank a second cup of wine then, and the youngest child in each family who could speak asked four questions: (1) “Why does this night differ from all other nights?” (2) “Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?” (3) “Why on this night are only bitter herbs eaten? Why do we dip our herbs twice?” (4) “Why on this night do we all eat reclining?” The answers to these questions were chanted in unison by the rest of the family.
At this point the unleavened bread was eaten, commemorating God’s commandment to Moses that the children of Israel eat only unleavened bread in preparation to leave Egypt. Along with the unleavened bread, they ate bitter herbs dipped in a mixture of sweet fruits and wines, symbolizing that spiritual progress is the reward of suffering.
All of these ceremonies were preparation for the main meal. For this meal tables were spread with the finest linen, dishes, and silverware—utensils used only for the Passover meal.
To express thanks for the meal, they drank a third cup of wine and recited the Psalms of Praise (Ps. 113–118). This recitation was followed by a fourth cup of wine to acknowledge God’s loving providence.
For some Jews this ended the Passover meal, but for most, a fifth cup of wine was poured and never drunk. This cup was for Elijah, whom Malachi had promised would come before “the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Mal. 4:5.) The Jews, denied of a temple and dispersed from Palestine, their promised land, were looking for the Lord to come and restore to them the temple and their homeland. And it would be Elijah’s coming that would assure them that the Lord and the restoration were near at hand. So, on that night of April 2, 1836, most Jews, in their longing for a better life, poured a cup of wine in the hope that Elijah would come and drink with them. Some left a vacant chair at the dinner table, and others left the door of their homes open, so he could enter.
But on the 15th of Nisan in 1836, Elijah did not come to any of the tribe of Judah. However, only a few hours later and within the limits of the day of the Passover meal, Elijah did come—not to a descendant of Judah, but to a descendant of Joseph. For during the daylight hours before the sunset that would mark the end of the 15th of Nisan, 1836, Elijah came to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple, fulfilling Malachi’s promise and realizing Judah’s two-millennia hope for a restoration. And so part of our great message to a longing, hoping Judah is that Elijah has come; he came, in fact, when they were looking for him to come: on the first day of Passover, 1836.