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Exodus 12:1-14

Sometimes the lectionary skips over the fun stuff. Those who grew up in Sunday School and Children’s Church probably, like me, loved the stories of the plagues. How cool was it that Moses turned the water to blood? And those boils were “soooo gross!” The frogs were probably way cooler than terrible, at least in the imagination of a boy who caught frogs at any chance he could. To children theological importance of them may have simply been, “God is powerful.” If you’re doing a longer series on Exodus, definitely go back and preach on them.

If, however, you are lectionary loyalist, this week you will serve your congregation well by placing this passage in context. Last week Moses was called by God, and it was clearly a gospel story. Ellen Davis says, “I have seen, I have heard, I have come down to deliver them and bring them up to abundant life in a land of promise – is this not the gospel in a nutshell?”[1] This week we begin to see the eschatological tones of Moses’ message come to fruition. They are not yet in Canaan, they have not even left Egypt, but God is about to liberate them. Before this, however, they are to eat a meal.

The Passover meal is, without a doubt, the most important festival in the Jewish calendar. As we read Exodus 12, we see why. The Israelites are told from the beginning of this chapter that they are to set their calendars according to this day. “Time is to be measured for Israelites in relations to their liberation from Egypt.”[2] This is when their existence as a people really begins. Before this day they had been a family, or a group of families, but the passover and subsequent liberation from Egypt is when Israel moves to becoming a distinct people, a nation.

To this day when Jews participate in the Seder meal, they do not use 3rd person pronouns to describe what God had done. instead they use first person pronouns. “We were enslaved.” By doing this they remind themselves who they are. Thomas Joseph White says, “Through the cyclical remembrance of this event, the Israelite people are mysteriously united with God in his eternity. They become his people anew in time by renewing their contact with divine eternity in this rite.”[3] Fleming Rutledge concurs when she says, ““The Seder supper is not a memorial of God’s saving action in the past, but an appropriation of that same saving power in the present.”[4]

When we mention saving, however, we must be careful in our preaching. To be sure the pass-over meal is a form of a sacrifice, but the sacrifice is not the one that is offered on Yom Kippur. The meal has strict instructions about what is to be eaten and how it is to be eaten. The fact that all of the meat is to be consumed speaks to the sacrificial nature, and they are to eat it in a hurry because God is coming soon. These indicate posture, but we need clarity when it comes to the blood.

Frequently Christians conflate their understandings of substitution with that of the pascal lamb. We read substitutionary atonement back on the passover meal. We see the blood on the doorposts and think that is evidence of substitution. This is not a proper rendering, there is an element of substitution, but the greater work going on here is the passing over. The blood is not a sign of substitution, but a sign of life. This is what is says in verse 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.” Genesis 9:4 tells us “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Therefore, when we look at the passover we should see that the Jews have written life on their doorposts. This is appropriate because God did not tell Moses, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but “I am.” God is the God of the living. God gives life and when the Destroyer sees life, it passes over. “The blood of the Passover lamb was not, in this context, an offering for sin, but God’s own ordained means of preserving his people from death.”[5]

With that being its original intention, we can see how the festival of passover takes on new life in the history of Israel. N. T. Wright says,

“We have every reason to suppose that when the Jewish people celebrated Passover year after year they thought of it as a the freedom festival that not only looked back to the original act of liberation, but ahead to another great act of liberation, especially when the people once more felt themselves enslaved or oppressed.”[6]

We know that Israel went through times of liberation and captivity. With our New Testament mindset, we must never forget, “the exodus is manifestly a case of sociopolitical deliverance whose fulfillment is attained when the redeemed are settled in a bountiful land and are restored to wholeness and flourishing as a community living according to God’s Torah.”[7]

The Passover was a political feast. It was a time when Israel remembered its slavery and its liberation. This message is sufficient in itself. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a God who liberates us from death.

While the passage in Exodus is sufficient on its own, this passage is also a great opportunity to teach congregations sacramental theology. Ellen Davis built off of Gregory of Nyssa showing how the burning bush connects with Mary. She says, “These two self-revelations of God are really one- separated only in time.”[8] The same can be true about the passover and the eucharist.

We know that in the synoptic gospels Jesus gathered in the upper room to celebrate passover with his disciples. They knew that his feast was a feast for liberation. And this explains, in part, why Peter chopped the ear off. Jesus was arrested, tried, and killed during the festival which celebrates the throwing off of an oppressive power. The zealots of the time were hoping for a violent overthrow of Rome similar to the Egyptians being drowned in the sea. However, “God’s redemption is not simply a political liberation from [a]… tyrant, but involves the struggle with sin and evil, and the transformation of life.”[9]

Jesus’ sacrifice as the Pascal lamb indicates to us that He did come to bring us liberation, but it was liberation from sin and death. Just as “the ancient passover it was to be actualized for every new generation of Jews”[10] the Lord’s Supper is to be actualized for every new generation of Christian. On the night in which Jesus was betrayed He gave us a new ritual by which we are to remember him and his sacrifice. “[When participating in the Lord’s Supper] we are not just thinking about Jesus’ actions in the upper room; we acknowledge that he is present and acting with the community gathered at the table in the present time.”[11] As a church we may debate over where Jesus is present. Some maintain that the essence changes while the accidents remain. Others place the real presence in the elements, still others say that Jesus is present in the people participating in the meal. We can all agree that where two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, there he is. Regardless of sacramental theology, we confess that Jesus is present when the community shares a meal.

This meal shapes our thinking and our identity. It reminds us that relationships have been torn and must be restored. It places the focus of our salvation in God’s act in Christ. When done properly it allows for a time of confession, pardon, and peace so that we do not receive in an unworthy manner. It teaches us that in the Kingdom of God there is plenty for all. By feasting on a common cup and a common loaf we see the unity of the body, in order to be sustained as we proclaim Jesus’ death until he comes.

When we read the last supper through the lens of the passover we see the ecclesial impact of our salvation. Childs tells us:

“The passover ritual serves as a warning against overlooking the collective nature of God’s intervention. He redeemed a people. Israel shared a meal in the night of deliverance as families, and went out of the land together. Individuals were destroyed, but a people was redeemed.”[12]

The same is true for communion. God saves individuals, to be sure. God liberates us so that we can have abundant life, that abundant life is a life perfected in love. Such perfection is only possible when we join our life to Jesus’ by participating in the life Jesus’ Church which is his body, and his presence in the world.


[1] Davis, Ellen. Wondrous Depth. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. 70.

[2] White, Thomas Joseph. Exodus. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016. 97.

[3] White, 97.

[4] Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion. Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. 218.

[5] Rutledge, 219.

[6] Wright, N.T. The Day the Revolution Began. New York, NY: Harper One, 2016. 64

[7] Middleton, J Richard. A New Heaven and A New Earth. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. 25.

[8] Davis, 70.

[9] Childs, 213.

[10] Childs, 212.

[11] Rutledge, 218.

[12] Childs, 214.