Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14 This is it! The primary text of Israel’s history and faith. As we, who now belong to the people of God read this narrative, especially on this most holy of weeks, we recall the Passover as part of our history and faith. This text recounts the great deliverance God brings for Israel from the bondage of slavery to the false god Pharaoh and his oppressive regime. Throughout the book of Exodus, the kings of Egypt have set themselves up as god. They have sought to control the outcome, they have killed, destroyed and sucked the life out of the daughters and sons of Abraham. When God sent Moses to call the people to freedom, Pharaoh resolutely refused. Thus, the narrative of the twelfth chapter of Exodus comes at the end of a long battle between God and Pharaoh. After nine signs that God is more powerful than Pharaoh and determined to win freedom for the people of Israel, the final act of the battle is set. In this scene all the firstborn of the land of Egypt will be killed as the final determination of deliverance. In order to preserve the people of Israel, God speaks to Moses and Aaron and tells them to have the people mark this important occasion by sharing a sacrificial meal, performing a ritual to set themselves aside as separate, and retelling the narrative of how God is the one who delivers them. Israel is instructed to do this so that in the future when they need to remember who they are, this remembrance of their liberation from the bondage of slavery in Egypt is what they will recall. For the future generations who would read this account, the recalling of this narrative is central to the life of faith because it does three particularly important things for them: it helps them mark time according their truest reality, it sets their current practice in historical memory, and it reminds them that their story is centered in God’s saving action. This narrative is important because it helps Israel mark time according to their truest reality. God instructs Moses and Aaron that this day will mark the beginning of months for them. This event, the Passover, will be a new beginning. In a very clear way, God is marking time for the Israelites according to their truest reality which is found in their new life with God. We all mark time. We do it with apps that help us manage our work, with calendars that help us arrange our schedules, with certain holidays and major civic events that shape the way we plan our life together, and simply with time pieces that help us keep track of minutes and hours. While all of that is important and helpful in some manner, this text reminds us that our truest reality is marked by a different rhythm. The people of God have, for a long time, marked time by the weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the seasons of the church year, and the occasional feasts which invite us into a way of organizing our life according to the story of God. This arranging of time recognizes that our truest reality is not set by the calendars of the empires of this world but by the narrative of the one who calls us to freedom from oppression and death. As this season of Lent draws to its dramatic close, perhaps one way to think into this passage is to consider the ways in which time and rhythm shape our life. We might think about what calendars shape our truest reality today and, if we are in need of adjustment, go back to the reminder that God invites us to mark time in a new way. The Exodus narrative also helps Israel set their current practice in historical memory. In the twelfth chapter of Exodus, Israel is instructed to share a sacrificial meal, paint their doorposts with blood from the sacrifices, and ready themselves to leave in a hurry. In the future, Israelites, and later Jews, would reenact this Passover on a regular basis as a way to remind themselves of who they are. However, this reminder always has import for practice. Primarily this is seen in a Seder meal which involves community, food, prayer, and remembrance. One particular piece that is interesting in the Exodus instruction is the point made that the sacrifice should be communal, should take every care to include families that are too small to have their own sacrifice, and should be a celebration. This sense of inclusion in practice and this sense of celebration is particularly interesting given the fact that this is happening in the midst of a slave-village and a battleground. It might be helpful to ponder the fact that in the midst of their burden of slavery, one that included hard and demeaning work that intended to separate and destroy them, the Israelites are called to be a counter community. They are called to care for one another in practice called to be a joyful people. While we should never fail to recognize the suffering and burdens around us and take seriously the injustice perpetrated on innocent victims, we should also remember that one way to refute the narrative of oppression is through communal practices of solidarity and joy. Finally, the Passover narrative reminds Israel that their story is centered in God’s saving action. Just beyond the selected text, Israel is told that in a time to come their children may ask why they celebrate the Passover. Their response is to be, “We were slaves in Egypt and God delivered us with a strong arm.” Whatever our practices may be and however we mark time, the life of faith for Christians is centered in the saving acts of God, specifically in Jesus Christ. As this text is slated for Maundy Thursday, the tradition is to remember the final night Jesus shares with his disciples, how they share a meal, how they celebrate together, and how Jesus prepares to become the “lamb of God.” However one understands the nuances of the atonement, the reality for the people of God is that our story is rooted in the belief that our salvation is centered in God’s deliverance. As we come to this text on this holiest of weeks, perhaps one way to hear this text is to be reminded of the centrality of God’s gracious deliverance as a part of our story and to call on ourselves to celebrate that deliverance again as we enter into the rhythm of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally, Resurrection Sunday.
top of page