Sunday 27 September 2020 A dinner at the beginning of time Martin Baker
12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 this month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 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. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 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 lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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.
One of the things perhaps we all have in common with our scriptures, is that almost every major event in our lives, and in the life of our Biblical history, almost every significant event, is associated with meals.
Last Saturday I conducted the wedding for a lovely young couple. The wedding was held up at Boomrock which is on the ridge above a farm on the Clevedon-Kawakawa Bay Road. It’s a pretty stunning location.
We met together a few times. We talked about their life together. We talked about what getting married meant: Their love for each other, the importance of the people who were coming. About 120 guests I think. Some coming from far away. Even from Romania where the bride was born. We talked about grandparents who had died but whose memories they cherished.
We talked about the vows they would be making. And how those vows encompassed so much of their experience and their hopes.
And then a couple of weeks ago we had the news that Auckland would have a 2.5 lockdown. Only 10 people allowed. Families from overseas had to cancel their tickets. Decisions were made about how to choose the 10 who would be coming.
And at the centre of the reception, instead of it being filled with tables and chairs and family – there was just one table with 10 chairs.
And we can look back on this event and we remember the joy the hope, we will remember this wedding, this starting point based on a promise for these two.
But we will also remember that 110 people were not able to come. We will remember the plague and we will remember in the midst of this happiness also the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the virus.
Sometimes when we organise events, there can be complexity around who to invite. There can be a sense too of a kind of sadness as we think of those who would love to have been there but are no longer with us. And there is a sense too that we are celebrating the creation of something new, a new moment in our time and history – but almost always there are these other elements.
The Passover meal which we hear about today marks in so many ways the beginning of the life of the Hebrew or Jewish community. But it is complex. It has a whole lot of these elements.
And even though it is located in the midst of some terrible things happening. It is also about a beginning.
It’s one of the first times we hear a phrase like this.
‘God says tell the whole congregation of Israel.’
And we are told ‘this month shall mark for you the beginning of months.’
So the beginning of your time, the beginning of your history, not as husband and wife but as an identified group of people called ‘the community of Israel.’
We’ve heard about individuals and families up till now, but here is this community of Israel who begin their history together with this meal. This celebration but also in the midst of plagues, suffering, slavery, death.
To believe in new beginnings in the midst of terrible things happening. Isn’t that also like the story of our Gospel?
And there are all these instructions here about preparing the meal. Slaughtering, eating a goat or a lamb.
Dressed ready for this departure. This is the end of your time in slavery and your beginning as a new community with all the uncertainty of a march out into the wilderness. Led by Moses and Aaron.
And though it is always kind of tempting to ignore the parts of scripture that we find difficult, the story today concludes with these verses:
It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 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. 13 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.
Striking down every first born.
And on first reading, we might think of children - but it’s all first born.
Given the size of New Zealand families it must be about 30 or 40 percent of us are first born. My brother Michael. He is a twin but I think he was out first. My daughter.
And in the same sentence of striking down the first born we are told ‘on the gods of Egypt I will execute judgement. I am the Lord.’
To some degree we have got used to this language. We know some countries that have allowed the virus to travel through their communities - that the older and less well members of those communities have by far been the most likely to have died. Even a suggestion that the death of so many older vulnerable people is somehow an acceptable price to pay. A kind of eugenics. In our faith we say that no one’s life is less valuable, less sacred less important to God.
In fact we go further than that. How we treat the most vulnerable expresses the values that are at the heart of our society.
In our scripture today the death of the first born is connected directly to God’s judgement on the God’s of Egypt – historians have also made the connection to the Egyptian social structures based on primogeniture. The enormous privilege, the almost god like status given to Pharaoh - the first born of the God of Ra – and the divine rights and power given to first born males in that society. The death of the first born and the judgment on the Egyptian gods was part of the same event.
So as difficult as it is to listen to language which stands in such contrast to our understanding of God, we see in Jesus, there is an ancient context.
Other Jewish scholars have pointed us to the fact that the entire book of Genesis, in fact, is an argument against privileging the older son. Abraham was not a first-born. Isaac was not a first-born. Jacob was not a first-born. Joseph was not a first-born. Even King David was not a first-born.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observes that we may rejoice in the triumph of justice and the defeat of evil in the world, while also identifying with the suffering of the victims.
So are we meant to stand back from this foundation story and remember a God who doesn’t favour any structure that privileges a single person, but is a God who has a concern for the marginalised, the outcast, the widow, the foreigner, the orphan , that this the God we are told about so often in our scriptures.
Central to our reading, the Passover reminds us that God has in mind to reconcile humanity to one another, as well as to God, and to create a unified people. The instructions that God gave through Moses are meant to unite all the households of Israel around a common destiny. The lambs are to be roasted whole, not cut up. "The whole congregation of Israel" is to participate, and they are to eat the lamb only together with others at the same time.
For Christians the story of this Exodus, this Passover meal has a powerful link to Jesus.
The Passover is not a private meal. So Jesus instructed the disciples to wash one another's feet as he washed theirs, and gave the bread and wine for all to eat and drink.
For us the journey we take is out of the slavery of fear as we take up our cross and follow Jesus.
And if we read a little later on in the Exodus story, we find the command from God “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”
As we reflect on this foundational story today. A God who brings people out of slavery, forms them into this new community. A God for us who we see revealed in the work of Jesus - his sacrificial love, his suffering and death, his resurrection. We are always being reminded of the importance of telling the story in every generation -- God delivers those who suffer from oppression that God works for the flourishing of the world. Telling this story is a central task for those who trust in God.
There is a wonderful phrase in Hebrew which is used to speak about the importance of this story. ‘Tikkun Olam’. And it means repairing the world.
We are at this time in particular surrounded by so many stories. Some are true and some are destructive and false. Since these most ancient days – and for all who would follow Jesus, there is this awareness if we do not tell God’s story, other stories will rush to fill the vacuum, and many of them do not lead to flourishing or repairing. They lead to fear and division and slavery of one type or another
In all we have faced as earthen vessels we have this story to tell. Let’s tell the story of God’s life and love in Jesus always triumphant over death darkness
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