Today is the first Sunday of the month and is our custom, we are celebrating Holy Communion. Our scripture lesson, which you just heard, recounted the events of the first Passover. The Passover we heard about was the original one, where the angel of death “passed over” Egypt while the Israelites escaped into the desert. Each year, our Jewish sisters and brothers recall the events of this first Passover by reenacting, in the form of a common meal, the story you just heard. It was such a retelling, a Passover meal that brought Jesus and his disciples together on a night in Jerusalem, just prior to his arrest and execution. So I want you understand, we are recalling a very specific Passover meal, the one Jesus celebrated with his disciples, as we gather around our table. We, like Jesus’ first disciples are here not just to “do Passover”. We’re here to see everything in a new light. Because after the events of this evening, for us, the followers of Jesus, the way we understand Passover, the idea of a sacrifice, who God is, who Moses was, what our entire history has meant up until this point, will be changed forever. This Passover changes our perspective, our history, our viewpoint, and our lives.
Robin Williams died a few weeks ago. I even mentioned it from this pulpit. One of my favorite movies, on that impacted me greatly was “Dead Poets Society”. There is one scene where Mr. Keating (Williams’ character) asks each student to stand atop his desk. He wants them to look around the classroom and see how by simply moving to a different location, sometimes only a few inches higher (or lower) than you are at the moment, everything looks different. You see and notice things you’ve never been aware before. This morning, I want us to move to our metaphorical desks; our desks of the mind. So we might look at Passover as we never have before. And by doing that, we may understand Jesus’ words, at his Passover meal, in a way that illuminates the meaning and mystery of this cup and this bread.
Have you ever wished God would lay out the big plan? Have you ever simply said, “God tell me what you want me to do?” Lay it all out for me. Here, in the 12th chapter of Exodus, God does just that. In a way, one would be forgiven for thinking that God is giving some kind of divine PowerPoint. God’s description of the “the plan” to Moses is incredibly detailed. It leaves me wondering, if God came to you like that, would you want this much done for you?
When I say this is an all-encompassing plan, I mean it. God starts off by telling Moses and Aaron they are going to have to redo their calendar. The way they measure they seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years is starting over. History is beginning again. Everything else that occurs to you and your people will be measured from this moment in time. God wants to reinforce the idea, that time and how we mark our lives depends on him, not on how we read and set the alarms and calendars we have. He can start over in an instant. So, our perspective changes automatically when our understanding of time, day, night, summer, winter, spring, and fall are altered. God is moving us to look at the world in a different way.
In one way, this starts to resemble a cooking show. God starts to outline, for Moses, the means of preparing the Passover lamb. It’s systematic, orderly, and well thought-out. Anything this orderly has got to have larger reasons behind it than, “just because” i.e. just because God said so.
What day, what time, all the people, broken down by household, and then how they lambs themselves are to be divided between the people. In the middle of the section, you see part of the reason of God specificity to Moses. God and Moses are concerned about public health. They can’t have people getting sick (especially before an arduous journey). So Moses warns them, in verse 9, “do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire.” Don’t eat raw meat. That’s how specific God is getting with the Israelites. It’s to that level of involvement Moses is indicating God’s direction and concern.
God spends a great deal of time on the “what” of Passover. He’s telling people “what” to do. However, the “why” is just as important. You can’t have one without the other. If you don’t know and understand the “why “, the “what” becomes a meaningless ritual. Let me say that again, if you don’t know and understand the “why “, the “what” is just a meaningless ritual. I’m saying that twice because it applies directly to what we will do at this table in a few moments. We need to understand what Jesus is saying, that “what” and the “why” about this table and these gifts, or it’s just a meaningless ritual.
He goes on, I don’t know if you caught this, but to even tell them “how” to eat. They are going to eat in a rush, or “hurriedly”. Moses tells them that God want them to be fully clothed while they eat and ready to walk out the door at a moment’s notice. “Your loins girded,” that means your pants and clothes on. “Your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand,” this is the key to being ready to go when the other half of God’s plan goes into action. Talk about minute planning and specific instructions. Does anyone here wish God would tell you what to eat, when to eat, what to wear and how fast to eat your dinner?
Once all that is done, here comes the crux of the matter. This is what makes Passover, Passover. It begins in verse 12. “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night and I will strike down every first born in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals.” Just so you’re clear, strike down means murder in cold blood the first born child and God tacks on the animals to drive his point home. We’re talking about the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children; the vast majority who have had nothing to do with keeping the Israelites in bondage. On all the gods of Egypt, God says, “he will execute judgment.” I thought there were no other Gods, only idols. Why even give that much credit to the Egyptian religious system by referring to them as “gods”, if they are only a bunch of fake statues to nothing Gods who don’t exist in the first place. Isn’t killing everyone enough?
Apparently not. God wants the Israelites to take blood from the lamb they’ve eaten and place it on the house where they are living. So when the angel of death passes over, he’ll say, “Ok, that’s a Jewish home, I’ll fly on to the next Egyptian home and murder them.” Are you telling me that angels of the creator of the universe couldn’t tell the difference between their own people and the Egyptian, save this painted blood on the door post?
I told you I was going to step on the table and look at the story from a different perspective. This story should raise all sorts of problems for us; problems we’ve never thought about or become comfortable ignoring. Genocide is still genocide, whether it’s the bronze-age or the 21st century. Innocent death is innocent death.
Here the fundamental issue, one that leads directly to Jesus and our own celebration this morning. Why is it that for one nation to be freed from subjugation, slavery, and bondage another has to be destroyed? Surely, given the infinite way God planned the Passover, he could have planned the Exodus without killing innocent people.
The Israelites had to get out of Egypt. That was the plan, after all. Liberation is a good thing. Here’s my question. For God to liberate one group of people, did God have to subjugate and kill another?
In order for the Israelites to be freed by the thousands, innocent Egyptians had to die by the thousands. On their way out of Egypt, the fleeing Israelites looted and plundered the homes and livestock of their Egyptian overlords. These are the facts and they are indisputable. Why wasn’t freedom enough, without the killing, bloodshed, and violence? They didn’t just leave. They took God directed, God inspired, and God commanded vengeance. Two wrongs (oppression and slavery) they tried to make into a right.
You hear echoes of this justified rage in today’s Psalm, Psalm 149. It’s political poetry of the highest order. “Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two-edged sword in their hand; To wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples; to bind their kings in chains and the nobles in links of iron.” So, let me make sure I get this straight; we praise God with our mouths; we carry a sword in our hands and wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment to the peoples. It reads like it could have been taken verbatim from an ISIS press release announcing the beheading of a hostage.
It’s the same idea we saw in Exodus. Rage, sacrifice, and liberation aren’t solely about life; it’s as much about death as it is anything else. That’s what we’ve been led to believe. That’s what we’ve come to believe.
Because here’s on the thing I know, if we’ve made God into somebody who hates all the same people and things we hate, we’ve made a god in our own puny, petty, and imperfect human image. And what we’ve been reading is story of people who have made God and God’s commands a reflection of their own image, not clear representation of who God really is.
Paul, like Jesus, realized there were inconsistencies in how we understood God’s overarching and active presence in the world. In Romans 13, Paul reiterates Jesus’ basic message, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He goes on to add in 13:10, “Love does no harm (or wrong) to a neighbor”. Love doesn’t need to kill its own neighbor in order to be free. Love does no harm. The swords and chains are taken out the equation. Painting blood over your door is a thing of the past. No harm, to human or animal.
Jesus, at his last Passover meal, stands as a stark repudiation of his own tradition. Here’s the new understanding of the Passover that Jesus is sharing with us: Our freedom isn’t contingent on believing in a god who kills; our freedom is dependent on the ability to love our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves. When Jesus says, “I’m your new lamb”. It’s not because blood is the answer or ever was the answer. Jesus is saying love is the answer. I’m doing what I’m doing because I love you. This wine is a new symbol of the love which flows through my veins. This bread is my body which loves you so much I will allow it to be broken, for you, in love. It’s a new promise, a new covenant, built on the echoes of the first Passover but remember this: it is a radical departure from every Passover of the past. Through Jesus, God is laying out a new plan. The new plan: to expose the emptiness of death of giving his life in love. That was always the plan, to expose and reveal the weakness of the world against the overarching love of God.
Jesus exposes the abnormality that has become standard operating practice in our world. When Jesus does something; when he heals people and feeds the hungry, he’s not only doing it for that person or that group of people. He’s exposing hunger as a problem for the whole of society. He’s saying that how you treat your outcasts, is wrong, with each individual leper he heals.
With Jesus’ celebration of the Passover, he’s exposing the violence and killing that’s been holding everything together for centuries. With him, the violence can stop; the empire built on a history of replacing blood with blood can crumble. Why? Because he’s so strong? No, because he’s vulnerable.
This table marks the spot where his love for us and his vulnerability collided with the world. And in that collision, you’ll find freedom from the Pharaohs of your lives.