We have perfected eating on the run. It doesn’t matter whether it’s running through the drive-thru window at the local fast-food restaurant or tossing a frozen dinner into the microwave! When it comes to fast food, think about how far we’ve come from the early days of the TV dinner. If you have to put those aluminum trays in the oven for 30 minutes, you might as well cook a full meal!!
Although the original Passover meal didn’t go quite as quickly as our modern fast food meals, you might say that the people of Israel were eating on the run the day they left Egypt for the Promised Land. Isn’t that why they ate unleavened bread?
A number of us participated last spring in the Second Night Passover Meal hosted by our friends at Congregation Shir Tikvah. With a mixture of humor and reverence, Rabbi Arnie and his congregation lead us in experiencing the central story of the Jewish people. It is this story of Passover that reminds them that God heard their cries in their moment of need and freed them from their oppressors. They continue to retell and relive the story each year with a liturgy passed down through the centuries.
For Christians the Passover meal provides a foundation for our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples on the evening prior to his death on the cross. Jesus offers himself in this meal as the Lamb of God, whose death becomes the means of our liberation from bondage.
Just as Jesus commanded his followers to celebrate the meal in remembrance of him until his return, God commands the Hebrew people to celebrate the Passover festival “as a perpetual ordinance.” In other words, it’s not an optional element in their worship experience.
For the next several weeks we will be moving through the stories of the Exodus. We’re starting with the story of Passover, even though we’re well into the story, which according to Walter Brueggemann is a contest between Pharaoh’s need for control, and God’s power of emancipation. The question then and now is, which side will we choose? To whom will we give our allegiance -- Pharaoh or God?
Since we’re starting in chapter 12 of Exodus, perhaps I should bring us up to speed. In fact, we might want to start in Genesis with the story of Joseph’s time in Egypt. Remember how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and then became a leading adviser to Pharaoh? Remember how Joseph used his position in Pharaoh’s government to rescue his family from famine? For a while – maybe four hundred years or so, everything went well. The family and their descendants prospered in Egypt. Their numbers grew and so did their power.
Unfortunately, as time passed, a Pharaoh came to power who didn’t remember Joseph. When he looked out at the Hebrew people living in his land, he became afraid. First he enslaved them, and then he decided that their numbers were growing too fast, so he decided to kill off the first born of each family. But, in the wisdom of God, one of those children sentenced to death was rescued. Not only was he rescued, he was adopted into Pharaoh’s household and given the name Moses.
As you may remember from reading the Exodus story or watching the Ten Commandments, eventually Moses discovered his true identity. He was a man of power, but when he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, he decided to flee to Sinai. Eventually God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush and sent him back to Egypt with a message and a mission. God told Moses that the cries of the people had been heard, and God was going to rescue them – through Moses. Moses was a reluctant savior, but he accepted the mission from God, headed back to Egypt, teamed up with his brother Aaron, and confronted Pharaoh. When Pharaoh refused Moses’ plea to let God’s people go, God sent a series of plagues, the last of which was to come on the night of the Passover.
Passover is not only the last meal eaten in Egypt, it would serve as a reminder down through the ages, that God heard their cries and provided them with a way of liberation. Moses gave them time to prepare, but when the time of their departure came there would be no delays. You see, when the final plague came, Pharaoh relented and let the people go. But it wasn’t long before Pharaoh realized that he was losing an important source of labor. If he was going to continue his building projects, he needed this source of cheap labor. So it wasn’t long before Pharaoh decided to send his army to round up the Hebrews and bring them back. It was a race to the sea, where God provided another means of escape. This is the story that forms the basis of the Passover Celebration that Jews continue to celebrate to this day.
There is more to the story, as the journey toward the Promised Land continues, and we take up some of the episodes in that journey in the weeks to come, including the provision of the Law, the Ten Commandments, which provided the foundation for life in the Promised land. But as we consider the story of the Passover, we can ask the question – what does the story say to us as Christians? The Passover Meal is a participatory one. Even the children get involved. It’s their job to ask the questions. Why do we this? What does the egg stand for? The wine? The unleavened bread? The answers are meant to draw the people into the ongoing story of God’s covenant relationship with this people whom God calls as God’s own. It is my belief that in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus links us to that story. Each week when we take bread and cup in remembrance of Jesus’ death, we enter into God’s work in the world. But how do we participate in this work?
It is good to remember that there are alternative stories to this one. In many of these stories, Pharaoh wins. It may appear that this is true for Jesus and the cross. In this story, Caesar plays the role of Pharaoh. It is Caesar and his vassals who choose to ignore the message of the kingdom of God, which Jesus preaches and embodies. Because of their fear of his message that God is going to rule and not them, they choose to put him to death. But, as we know, Good Friday isn’t the end of the story. Caesar, like Pharaoh, thought he had everything under control, but such was not the case.
Remember that the Hebrew people made it through the sea, and found their freedom in the desert. Jesus was laid in the tomb, but God raised him from the dead. In each case God’s message of freedom was validated.
The Exodus story moves forward from here through the desert of Sinai. It will be a long and arduous journey, but along the way, the people will begin to connect with the God who called them out of bondage.
In the course of our own journeys in life we too experience trials and temptations that seek to distract us from the work of God. But, God is faithful – that is the message of Passover. It is also the Message of the Lord’s Supper. God hears our cries. God brings us together and empowers us to embody God’s realm. Here in this church, God is at work creating a community of people who care about each other. We have people in this congregation who are struggling with life’s issues. We may as individuals not know everyone’s story. Even I, as Pastor, don’t know everyone’s story. We tend to be private persons, so many of us find it difficult to reach out to each other. But God will not be deterred. God will find ways of bringing us together. And God is also stretching us so we can reach out and touch the world around us, making a difference in people’s lives. Yesterday, a number of us shared in Rippling Hope’s final work day. We did some lot clean ups and boarded up a commercial building. We even got to eat lunch with new friends at Calvary United Methodist Church in Detroit. They fed us lunch and thanked us for our work in Detroit. In fact, Carl Zerweck and Rippling Hope received a certificate of recognition from the city of Detroit.
Eating on the run means being available to God. No time to procrastinate, for today is the day that God has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in it. Yes, today is the day of salvation, the day of liberation, so we might enjoy the fruit of God’s realm!!
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
September 7, 2014
Note -- Picture attribution -- Bouts, Dieric, 1415-1475. Feast of the Passover, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55443 [retrieved September 6, 2014]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dieric_Bouts_-_The_Feast_of_the_Passover_-_WGA03013.jpg.