This is our third week in Exodus…and I’ll invite you once again to read this story more completely through the week in addition to the pieces we’re reading in worship. That way you’ll have the benefit of knowing all the details. Incidentally, I want to share that I’m expecting to continue on in Exodus at least a couple more weeks, which will move us through chapter 16.
Well, what has happened since we left off last week in chapter 3? A LOT! The story has moved on pretty quickly. After Moses’ numerous objections to his calling, he finally returns to Egypt with his brother Aaron. When they try to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, the situation only gets worse. (If you’ve been reading at home, you know how.) While it is expressed in terms of Moses’ contest with the Egyptian priests and the subsequent plagues on the land, the REAL contest is between Yahweh—or God, and Pharaoh; to see who has power, and whether those powers for life and freedom will overcome the ones that hold the people and oppress them. This series of plagues also serves to help convince the Israelites themselves after having been kept in bondage for over 400 years. Will they indeed worship the God who will give them life or will they be so overwhelmed by the powers who oppress that their broken spirits are not able to respond? I would have loved to have preached the plagues this morning…to explore with you just how much more powerful God is than Pharaoh—AND what God’s power equips God’s people to do. But instead the lectionary picks up this passage, where details are given for how the Hebrews down through time will remember and celebrate these events that free them from slavery in Egypt. Events that are enacted and controlled by God, who chose these people to be God’s people. It is interesting and a little frustrating to move along through the narrative; to be ready to experience that final plague as we read along—when God finally does what God has promised since the beginning of the story; to free these oppressed people. But then, the editors slow things down in order to describe what should happen each year to commemorate and re-enact the saving events of the exodus—which really hasn’t yet happened. This obviously is a vitally important festival to the Jewish community; it gives them the story of who they are. When Passover is celebrated it proclaims their identity as God’s people. While it is tempting to move quickly to the part of the story that gives us its resolution, here we are. Reading about lambs being slaughtered and cooked whole, their blood marking the doorways, so that God will pass over as the 10th plague is enacted. About eating this meal in haste with unleavened bread and being sure to leave nothing remaining.
Well; what can we learn from this remembrance?
First, while this is a Jewish festival, it is also a part of our Christian memory and identity. The Old Testament is Christian scripture, even while it is thoroughly Jewish. Scholar Walter Bruggemann says “Christians, like Jews are children of these marked doorposts, marked for safety in the midnight of chaos and crying. Christians, like Jews are children of hurried bread, postured to depart the empire, destined for freedom outside the norms and requirements of the empire.” And of course, this feast sets the context for celebration of the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.
It is here in this scripture where we are reminded that worship is an integral part of our relationship with God. It is when we remember who God is; our deliverer and savior. As we hear the stories of faith we are invited, encouraged, compelled to take that into ourselves to allow it to penetrate our hearts and our beings.
Remembering in worship is a key part of our redemption. It is when we say “yes” to the God who wishes life and liberation for all creation, and “no” to those powers who would seek to break the spirit for life.
What we do here each week is not separate from the rest of our lives. It is not some magical formula that gets us “right” because we do the “right” thing. Our faith and worship does happen in the midst of our life and seeks to delve into all aspects—to become the foundation and sustenance for everything.
Do you allow worship—the sounds and silence—to be the time and place where you acknowledge and celebrate the reality of your own salvation, redemption, and liberation through the power of God which has a place deep within the core of your very being?
This scripture also informs and enlightens us on the way we should RECEIVE that live-giving salvation from God. Israelites are told to eat their Passover meal “dressed for the occasion”—ready to go in loincloth, sandals, and traveling staff. This gets at the question of each Israelite’s readiness to participate in mind, body, spirit; in the liberation God offers. Imagine if this was always the way WE were in terms of readiness to respond to God’s call. In contrast to the “what has worship done for me” mentality, here we are compelled to perceive our worship and our relationship with God as a launch point for all the other action in our life. We Christians call that discipleship.
The final piece I want to offer with regard to what we can learn from this scripture, I learned from my son. A number of years ago, we went as a family to see the “Prince of Egypt”—the movie I’ve recommended to you which tells the stories we’ve been reading in Exodus. As the tenth plague strikes, all first born animals and humans in homes without the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, die. In the movie this is portrayed very dramatically and poignantly. It was then that Andy—who was about 5 years old—turned to me and asked “Why would God do that, Mommy? Why would God kill all those children and animals?” It was then that I realized that this story—OUR story; both Christians and Jews—is also the story of the Egyptians. Those who suffered as the liberation of the Israelites was enacted.
It is a very subtle, but very important point to notice that it is NOT because people were Israelites that they were saved. It is because people spread the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Thus, any Egyptians who did so, would have been saved AND any Hebrews who didn’t would have lost their firstborn. The story tells us that God acted based on a distinction that lies outside of persons. The distinction lies in the sacrificial blood. The salvation offered by God is potentially universal; it didn’t matter what religion or ethnicity a person was. Anytime this scripture is used to empower or mandate an assumption that one of those people are better, based on nationality, or faith, or ethnicity, it is being used WRONGLY.
Rather, the message for all lies a little deeper. I hear this story calling me to remember and to care about those who die while I am spared. Sometimes it seems mere chance that keeps me alive; the fact that I am born where medical service is easily available to prevent diseases that claim thousands in other parts of the world; or the two seconds that separate my car from the truck of the drunk driver. Sometimes it’s influenced by choices I make; like not to smoke or ingest drugs. How and why things happen is often a mystery.
As we confront and question the mystery and the sovereign nature of our God, we CANNOT always know why, or assume mandates for our action based on God’s perceived action or inaction.
Here, God is telling us to remember all whom God has created; those who live and those who die.
Let us friends, be reminded here today that what we do in this meetinghouse on Sunday is to be an integral part of what comes before and what comes after it. Just as Passover becomes the defining act in the life and faith of the Jews, so too are WE called as God’s people to live into and live out of our relationship with God. Without answers or mandates, but rather with the love and presence of the One who created and who has the power to transform darkness into light and pain into praise…