Pentecost 18B (NL3 Exodus/Passover)
September 30, 2012
Exodus 12.1-14; 13.1-10
We usually encounter the Passover story in the context of Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. Three out of the four gospels make this last meal that Jesus has a Passover meal. John’s gospel, interestingly, has Jesus dying on the night of the Passover. Looking back through the story of Jesus to the Passover event makes obvious connections between the two stories. Unfortunately, doing so robs the Passover story of its power and its rightful place in God’s story. So far in God’s story we have heard how God creates humanity in God’s image as male and female, and how these human beings disobeyed God’s good intentions for them. We have heard how Abraham and Sarah were promised numerous descendants like the stars in the sky as well as a land for them to occupy. Last week heard the Joseph story and how the beginnings of the 12 tribes found themselves in Egypt.
In narrative time, it has been 400 years since Joseph saved both Egypt and his people and the Israelites have become numerous. They are indeed many, but they are still in Egypt without a land of their own and it gets worse. They are a threat to the Egyptians, Joseph has been forgotten, and in an attempt to hold them back, the Egyptians are forcing the Israelites into hard manual labor. It doesn’t work, so Pharaoh has the Egyptian midwives are told to kill male Jewish babies as they are born. The Israelites cry out to God for deliverance, God raises up Moses to act has an agent of freedom, loosing a series of plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them go. The tenth and final plague is the harshest, the killing of the firstborn male in unprotected households where lamb’s blood has not been smeared on the thresholds.
So, when we talk about celebrating Passover, the event God uses to liberate the Jewish people, we would do well to mute our celebration, knowing that many innocent children died, on both sides. The commemoration is also subdued because, as awful a place Egypt was, the Israelites were going into the unknown, what will be long, wilderness wandering before they get to the Promised Land. Furthermore, as wonderful a place as that will be, it will bring its own challenges and difficulties. Yet, this is such a singular part of Jewish history and so basic to their identity that God demands they not only remember each year what God has done for them, but also essentially reenact it as well.
This reenactment goes further: children are not only to be told over and over about this singular act of deliverance from slavery and oppression by God, they and the family are an important part of it. The mother lights the candles and a child asks a series of questions beginning with, “Why is this night different from all other nights? Why on this night do we eat only unleavened bread?” Then the father or mother tells the story of oppression and freedom and then there are more questions and more stories. All the while, they eat as their ancestors ate, lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, hastily with their feet pointed toward the door. Each year they are reminded who they are, whose they are, and what they have been freed for.
It is significant that the Passover event resets the Jewish calendar to the beginning of the year. The Israelites are leaving Egypt behind and all that means, making a new start to a new land. This new stage in their journey with God, along with the importance of teaching their children, can inform an important, yearly rite that we are celebrating here today, the Affirmation of Baptism. No, there won’t be any lambs sacrificed or bitter herbs eaten, but there will be unleavened bread in the form of Communion wafers. Yet, as exciting as it was for Izabel and Linsey to affirm what their parents did for them, this celebration should be a bit muted too, because you two have been freed for something today.
Izzy and Linsey, by your words and actions today you have been set free from your parents’ authority, but you have also been set free for taking responsibility for your own faith journey. You have promised to continue on that journey your parents set you on, a journey of regular worship, Bible study, prayer, service, and giving, and you did it in front of many witnesses. Yet, remember this, that the setting free has been accomplished not by you, but rather by the God who set free the Israelites and who journey with them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. That’s a powerful story; it’s the Israelite’s story, it’s our story, and it’s your story; don’t ever forget it. Amen.