Exodus 12.1-4, 11-14
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. 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.
Why is tonight different from all other nights?
That’s a worthy question for us gathered here for worship in a room that hasn’t held a worship service in a very long time. We’ve got different chairs, different lights, it all feels strange, in a good way.
But tonight is also different for another reason – tonight we mark Maundy Thursday. Maundy from the latin mandatum, from which we get commandment. In John’s gospel Jesus says to the disciples during the foot washing on his final evening, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
We moderns don’t really like being commanded to do anything, but surely we can get on board with loving each other a little more.
It’s the Gospel according to the Beatles: All you need is love.
Except, love ain’t enough.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Why is tonight different than all other nights? That is surely a question for us, but it is also the question that all Jewish children are asked when they gather for the celebration of Passover.
Long ago, God made it all – the tall and the small, the near and the far, from here to there and everywhere. God brought forth light and life.
Later, God made a promise with Abraham to be his God, and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob. One day Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord on the banks of the Jabbok river and was given a new name, Israel. It means, you have struggled with God and prevailed.
Jacob begat Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. And yet, during his time as a stranger in a strange land, he was prosperous and eventually brought about the salvation of his kinfolk and they were fruitful and multiplied in a foreign land.
All was well in Egypt, until it wasn’t.
The Egyptians grew jealous of the people Israel, and subjugated them. Out of fear the Pharaoh ordered the deaths of every male child born to Hebrew women.
Moses was born and saved by his mother who pushed him out in a basket into the mighty Nile river. He grew in strength and wisdom and was called by God from the burning bush to deliver God’s people from their captivity.
The Lord commanded Moses to have the people slaughter lambs and use the blood to mark their doors. This would be the sign for the Lord to pass over their homes while dispensing with the firstborns of Egypt.
Passover is a night different from all other nights because it is a time set apart to mark and remember the sacred and profound work of the Lord in deliverance. God makes a way where there is no way.
Jesus gathers with his friends to celebrate the Passover.
He sends two disciples to procure a space for the occasion, perhaps the same two who found him the donkey for his triumphal entry into the holiest of cities.
And it came to pass that, while sitting at the table together, Jesus took a loaf of bread, gave thanks to God, gave it to his friends and said, “This is my body.” And then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks to God, gave it to his friends and said, “This is my blood.”
This is my blood.
And before the evening ends, those friends who shared bread and cup, body and blood, they’re all gone. Jesus is arrested and the cross waits for him on the horizon.
Why does Jesus die on a cross?
Another worthy question for reflection. The simplest answer is: Jesus died on a cross because the cross was how Rome made an example of those who questioned the status quo. But, for us, the question is confounding. We might answer by saying, “He died so that we can go to heaven” or “The cross is a sign of forgiveness” or “Jesus died to show us his love.”
Those answers aren’t necessarily wrong. Salvation is made possible by the cross, Jesus does pronounce forgiveness from the arms of the cross, and the cross reveals the heart of God.
But, if the only thing we needed was a little more love, couldn’t we have received it without Jesus having to die? If Jesus only wanted us to be a little kinder, why did his closest disciples abandon him in the end?
It’s notable that Jesus chose Passover for the time of his last supper. Because Passover isn’t about forgiveness, or love, or even mercy.
During the days of Exodus the Lord didn’t look at the misdeeds of the people Israel and say, “Okay, time to let bygones be bygones, I’m going to wash away your sins.”
God said, “I’m getting you the hell out of Egypt. Let’s go!”
Passover is about freedom.
And consider the connections made manifest around the table:
Jesus was without sin and was innocent of the charges lobbed against him, just like the Passover lamb is supposed to be perfect and without blemish.
Jesus was beaten to the point of dead and stabbed in the side shortly before his death, just like the Passover lamb is supposed to be bled before being hung to roast.
Jesus was hung up high and though beaten his bones were not broken, just like the lamb’s bones were to remain intact.
I know this is a lot, it’s gruesome and frightening and not for the faint of heart.
But that’s what communion is all about. It stands in stark contrast with those who receive it. It’s not just a simple meal at grandma’s house after church one Sunday afternoon. It is the Lord of all creation proclaiming his death at the hands not of his enemies, but of his friends. Its God looking each of us squarely in the eye and saying, “I know you deserve this not at all, and yet I’m giving it to you anyway.”
Yes, Jesus commands us to love one another. But that kind of love is made intelligible only in the light of the cross, and in the bread and wine of our Lord’s body and blood.
Jesus is the exodus for the rest of us. He delivers us from our captivity to sin and death into a strange new world we call the kingdom of God.
I haven’t been here a year, but I have been here long enough to know that we are believers, half believers, and unbelievers. I know that each of us here has done something we ought not to have done, and we’ve all avoided responding to the confoundingly difficult commandment to love one another.
But I also know that we worship the Lord who makes a way where there is no way. That, as Robert Jenson so wonderfully put it, “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead having first raised Israel out of captivity in Egypt.”
Even today, we’re all stuck in our own Egypts and we are in desperate need of deliverance. We need rescue. We need freedom.
And that’s exactly what we get in Jesus, our Passover Lamb. Amen.