Passover Part VII of the Lenten Sermon Series, Into the Wild.

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1 Roanoke, Virginia Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019 Passover Part VII of the Lenten Sermon Series, Into the Wild. Exodus 12, Matthew 26:17-30 George C. Anderson We have been on a journey. During Lent, we have traveled through the stories of Exodus tracking the progress of a people moving from slavery to freedom. It all starts with a miracle. After four centuries of slavery, there comes this amazing night. Abraham s descendants are able to cross the Red Sea into the freedom of the wilderness and remain there despite being chased by 400 chariots. That is their first freedom. They remain in the wilderness for a very long time. It will take many decades for a second freedom to form decades before they are fully liberated form a slave identity. We have seen what happens when despotic leaders are suddenly overthrown in Africa, in Haiti, in some Arab States. The early euphoria of freedom quickly fades and in the inevitable chaos, other self-serving leaders fill in the power vacuum. Often, the new leaders are worse than the Pharaohs who were overthrown. That the liberated Hebrews eventually become a strong and independent people of God, a commandment-carrying and commandment-keeping people, a people loyal to God and each other, a people morally bound to principles of justice and mercy is the second miracle. It is a different miracle than the crossing of the sea, for this is a miracle in which they must play a part. To give up the childish ways of slavery and become a strong, independent people of Justice, they have to face challenges, take on disciplines, and earn the trust of each other as a way of trusting God. 1 Page

2 I ve been told by some of you that this is why you have found this sermon series to be helpful. You have been in, or are in, wilderness chapters. You have learned that simply keeping up old ways and hoping for rescue works out rarely, but with trust in God and a commitment to the disciplined keeping of commandments of disciplines that give order and direction to your life and by joining with others who share your journey in some way, you can find a way forward. To God. To your true selves. Today, instead of moving forward toward their passing over into the promised land, we are going to go back to the very beginning before the Hebrews passed over the Red Sea into their first freedom. We have three times made the point that Exodus often pairs two similar stories, Story A and Story B. When we see what is different between them, we get the message. I want to talk about Story A and Story B one more time. This time, though, only Story A is in Exodus. Story B is in the Gospel of Matthew. The stories are similar in that they are both about the Seder Feast during Passover. First, Exodus 12. In the interests of time I ll just read selected verses: 12 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 This month shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every head of the household shall take a lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. 7 Then 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. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Story B passage is from Matthew s Gospel. Today we will look at the passage that describes the Last Supper Jesus has with his disciples, the event we will commemorate at noon this Thursday when we celebrate communion. This is the Seder Feast that Jesus and the disciples share the 2 Page

3 evening after he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and welcomed by a palm waving crowd. Listen for those details in the passage that let you know that this is the Seder Feast. 17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover? 18 He said, Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples. 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. 20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; [c] 21 and while they were eating, he said, Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me. 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, Surely not I, Lord? 23 He answered, The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born. 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, Surely not I, Rabbi? He replied, You have said so. 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father s kingdom. 30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. When I was a child, I was not allowed to take communion in worship. I was to wait until I was confirmed as an adult member before I could participate. Honestly, I was not upset by being excluded. I saw it as a rite of worship passage and I looked forward to the day when I could finally take and eat take and drink. Few communion services have meant as much to me emotionally at least as those first communions where I was able to sit at the adult table in God s house. Still, after studying the sacraments in seminary, I became convinced that the Presbyterian Church was right to open the table to children. After all, Jesus is host, and we should not deny the bread and cup of salvation to anyone when Jesus welcomes all. This past week in studying the Seder Feast, it occurred to me that children should not only be included at the Lord s Table, they possibly should be the honored guests. At least that is how Jews celebrate the Seder Feast. A major purpose of the meal is to form Jewish identity in the emerging generation. Just to give a few examples, during the time of preparation for the feast, ten pieces of leavened bread are hidden in the house, and children are sent on a mission to find them so that 3 Page

4 they could be burned. This is to help them understand that the slaves did not have time to leaven their bread before their escape. At different points in the meal, a child or at least the youngest person at the meal asks questions about what certain things mean. Four questions are assigned: 1. How is this night different from all other nights? 2. On other nights, we eat chameitz (that s leavened bread) and matzah (that s unleavened bread). Why on this night only matzah? 3. On all other nights, we eat all vegetables. Why, on this night, maror (maror is bitter herbs, like parsley)? 4. On all other nights, we don t dip even once. Why on this night do we dip twice? Children are encouraged to ask other questions as well. A question often asked is, Why do we dip parsley in salt water and then shake it? The answer is to remind us of the bitter tears of slavery. Today s Jews often go on to tell of the tears of other times of persecution such as the modern Holocaust. The whole meal is playful, you see. And participatory. The meal is designed to remind adults of their core identity, but even more to help the next generation learn and embrace their own identity as children of God. Rabbi Sacks says that observing the special holidays, but especially the Passover, has been the most effective thing the Jews have done to sustain their identity and moral tradition over many centuries. Though a tiny minority of the world s population, the Jews have survived many persecutions, thrived in producing some of the world s greatest intellectuals, and have sustained the strongest of moral traditions because they have taken such care to teach their children what it means to be Jews. Maybe at the Lord s Table, Christian identity can be formed. Maybe we Christians should encourage children s questions about what happens at the Lord s Table. We could teach them about Story A about the Passover and the Seder Feast that is to help Jews remember when they experienced that first freedom. And we could teach them about Story B how Jesus and his disciples shared the Seder Feast and how Jesus, like Moses, asked the disciples to repeat the meal to remember that God saves. And we could teach the difference between the stories too. With the Passover of Exodus, what is to be remembered is that innocent slaves were saved. Slaves who are not primarily responsible for the troubles imposed upon them are spared on that terrible night when the firstborn of cattle and of families of Pharaoh are taken. But notice who is at the Table with Jesus. There is the denier, Peter. And there is the one who dips his parsley into the bowl at the same time as Jesus. He is the one who later that night will betray Jesus to the authorities. Do you see the difference? In the Passover of Exodus, the villains are outside, and the innocent are in. Nothing was demanded of the slaves. In the Passover of Jesus Last Supper, the villains are not outside. They are inside. Around the Table. 4 Page

5 One of the great historical tragedies is that Martin Luther, who should have known better with his strong doctrine of original sin, did not remember that critical difference those times he blamed the Jews for killing Jesus citing Peter s denial, Judas betrayal and the High Priest and religious authorities actions. I admire Luther greatly, but later efforts by Germany to exterminate the Jews found some of its genocidal justification in Luther s writings. John Calvin, the father of Presbyterian theology, did see the difference. He made it extraordinarily clear that there are no special villains in this story. He didn t think the Jews were anymore to blame than those of us who are Christian. 1 I am not saying that Jesus Seder Feast contradicts the Jewish Seder. What I am saying is that his last meal has more to do with the witness of the entire book of Exodus than just its beginning. The people who emerge from the wilderness after decades of challenge, struggle, failures, trials, lessons and victories are a people of great strength, of great dignity and of a profound sense of moral duty. Their dignity does not come from any inherent sense of worth. It comes from a profound humility in knowing that they can be their own worst enemies. If the Hebrews are going to live together in a way that honors the commandments they have been asked to carry with them on the journey, and through life, then it must begin with the profound realization that the most difficult Pharaohs to overthrow are often those who rule within their own hearts. As those who believe in Jesus, and thus find ourselves at his table on the night he was betrayed, we would do well in considering the evils of our world the question the disciples asked of Jesus: Is it I, Lord? What part do I have to play in the ugliness of the world that I complain so much about? What ideologies have become one s golden calves? What Pharaohs do I serve? Money? Power? The wisdom that comes of such self-examination is expressed perfectly by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties, but right through every human heart. Only when we face the truth of our own complicity in the betrayal of the ways of God can we then hear what the denier, Peter, later hears from Jesus: Though you have sinned, I still have a place for you in my work. We then can hear the rest of Solzhenitsyn s quote (the second part that is often forgotten), when he said, and through all human hearts and within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. It is there that the journey toward true dignity and strength begins. 1 Cynthia Rigby in the journal, Insights, Spring 2019, p Page

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