The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.Exodus 12:1-14
My sermon from the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 10, 2023) on Exodus 12:1-14.
A couple of weeks ago, after I put my kids to bed, I took a seat in my gray easy chair, opened up my laptop, and got ready to learn about Bloodborne Pathogens. The Fall sports season was about to begin and my town’s rec leagues, like every other volunteer based organizations, needed a little help. I know that most of us are too busy, too stretched, and too tired to do all the things that need to be done. And while we do our best to set our priorities, it doesn’t take much for everything to fall apart. It’s tricky to know how, and in what way, we can contribute in the communities we are called to live in. But I figured taking a few required training courses, including one about blood, is how I can contribute on the Cross Country field this year. And I noticed, while reflecting on our first reading from the book of Exodus, how contributing and participating in the community is within God’s words about a sacred meal.
Now a lot has happened since last week when we heard about Moses meeting God on a mountain top. After fleeing the land of Egypt after spilling the blood of an Egyptian who had brutalized an enslaved Israelite, Moses built a new life for himself in the land of Midian. He married into the family of a local religious leader, started a family, and took on the task of managing his father-in-law’s sheep. One day, nearly a generation after he left Egypt, he led the sheep to the base of Mt. Sinai. While there, his curiosity drew him to notice a burning bush that didn’t burn up. God, who was in the bush, told Moses it was time for him to return to Egypt and let Moses’ kin know God had heard their cries. The attempt by the Egyptians to distort their own history and exploit the lives of others was coming to an end. Moses went back to Egypt, bringing a word of promise to the Israelites and a word of warning to the Pharaoh. But the Pharaoh refused to listen so God created the first plague, transforming the water in the Nile River to blood. That, though, merely made the Pharaoh more stubborn so God sent 9 more plagues into the land. In quick succession, frogs, gnats, and flies covered the land. All the livestock was struck by a deadly disease and boils appeared on everyone’s skin. A massive storm pummeled every city while locusts devoured every green thing to its root. God then covered the land with a deep darkness that, on-top of everything else, should have convinced the Pharaoh to simply give up. Yet the king of the Egyptians refused to be moved so God promised that a final plague was on its way. Every one of the plagues was, in its own way, a response to what the Isrealites had experienced. The Pharaoh had used them to build the Egyptians economy so God took all of that away. The last plague, though, would mimic the original command that caused Moses to be placed floating in a basket after he was born. The Egyptians used violence and death as a way to tear apart the Israelite’s community. God in response, was going to do the same to them. Now we’d expect after all this excitement and tension and drama within the story, that the words immediately following God’s promise would show exactly what God was doing to do. But before the one final plagues comes, everything is interrupted by God’s description of a meal.
The meal, appearing at this moment in the story, feels a bit out of place since it doesn’t feel big enough to commemorate what’s about to take place. The food God told them to eat is pretty simple and everyone must dress as if they’re about to rush out the front door. The main course, the lamb or goat, is singled out for a ritual where its blood is brushed onto the outside of the door frame so that anyone coming by would notice who is gathered there. The blood acts as a kind of marker even though I’d expect the creator of the universe to know who’s already inside the home. Up to this point in the story, none of the plagues required the Israelites to do anything to make them happen. Yet here, before this climactic moment, God gives the community something to do. It’s almost, I think, as if God told the people that in the midst of everything – they could still contribute something to their world too. Much of what the Pharaoh and Egyptians had tried to do was to isolate, oppress, and diminish who the Isrealites got to be. And so, in response, God gave them a meal which could show who they would be instead. The meal, like all meals, begins with the people around the table. God wanted these tablemates to be connected but still diverse, welcoming, and suppurative. Their connection to each other invited them into the difficult work of truly knowing who their neighbors were. And, in that process, being very honest about their own abundance or lack there-of. Everyone had a place at the table and God wanted them to participate in making it happen. And it’s only after the table is set when food is finally served. The meal is simple yet points to the complexities and variety of life. The blood on the door mimics the blood in our bodies, an animating force that doesn’t serve as some kind of insurance against the wrath that’s about to come. It is, instead, a proclamation that the community gathered around God’s table will be defined, shaped, and rooted in something other than all the blood the Pharaoh tried to spill. They will have a future, a new life, shaped, formed, and nurtured by the One who had already claimed them as God’s own.
And one way this shaping takes place is through a meal. It’s there where God’s passover took shape, showing what life with God might look like. It’s around a table where God passed over and upended the contributions we make to the world that take life rather than animates it. It’s while wearing garments rooted in our complicated story where God passed over our attempts to forget or distort our history by choosing to highlight a few privileged voices at the expense of others. It’s over a few simple foods where God passed over our lack of curiosity to invite us deeper into God’s vision for our world. And it’s through God’s ongoing work that our love of power, control, and violence was passed over for something more. As Christians, engaging with the story of Passover isn’t easy since it’s not as foundational to our own story as it is to our Jewish friends and neighbors. Yet within our faith is another powerful simple meal that shapes us too. In that meal, the promises declared to us in baptism and faith are lived out in the ways we love and mutually support one another. In the meal of Holy Communion, we discover who God knows we can be. God’s vision and Jesus’ presence among us is what, as disciples, animates what we say, think, and do. And when we eat around the Lord’s table, we become something more too. It’s these sacred meals that show us who we can be and how, through simple acts, we can contribute to the vision God is making real all around us. And while that’s often hard to see, it’s through our honesty, empathy, and doing what we can to prioritize God’s way rather than our own, that we discover how different things can be.