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Maundy Thursday A 1st Reading

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14

Gregory Crofford

Few missionary speaking engagements stand out in my memory like the service in northeast Indiana. Having just arrived at the church at sundown, my wife and I stepped out of our car to the blaring sound of tornado sirens. The pastor rushed us inside, escorting us briskly down the hall to the nursery, an inner room with no windows. There we sheltered and prayed with a handful of others. Our prayers were simple: “Lord, protect us. God, let the tornado pass over us.” Thirty minutes later, the sirens stopped and the weather app signaled “all clear.” We were safe, and our hearts overflowed with thanksgiving.


The Jewish feast of Passover celebrates another time when God spared his people from destruction. Exodus 12 recounts the tenth and most devastating plague, God’s slaying the firstborn of the Egyptians, including humans and animals (12:12). It was the culmination of a series of signs and wonders that God had performed through Moses (Exodus 7-11), plagues launched against the recalcitrant Pharaoh who refused to let the Hebrew slaves go into the desert to worship God (5:1, 8:20). At first, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the signs, such as Moses’ rod becoming a snake (7:12), turning water into blood (7:22), or creating an invasion of frogs (8:7), but beginning with the third plague (lice), the magicians with their dark arts were no longer able to match the power of Yahweh. Instead, they warned Pharaoh: “This is something only God could do!” (8:19). Despite the mounting devastation visited upon the land, Pharaoh’s heart remained hard; he refused to let the slaves go (10:27).


Exodus 12 gives instructions not only for the Passover (v. 1-13) but also for the subsequent seven-day feast of unleavened bread (v. 14-20). Ralph Klein observed: “Scholars wrestle with the complicated background of these festivals, but one thing is clear in our pericope: Israel's escape from the tenth plague was no accident.”[2]

Among several notable elements surrounding the paschal meal, the first is that the Passover was an epochal event, so pivotal that it would reset the calendar for the people of God: “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you” (v. 2). Secondly, the Passover celebrated God’s salvation not just of individuals but of a people as a whole. That first Passover night and every year following, it was a community celebration, solidarity sealed around a table as God’s people shared food together, roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (v. 8). If a household was too small to finish a lamb of its own, it was to be enfolded by the hospitality of a neighbor, invited to share together in the sacred meal of remembrance. This echoes the present-day culture of Kenya where eating alone is considered unhealthy. To sit down with a person eating alone is not to intrude but is an expression of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). Finally, the lamb that was slaughtered was to be “flawless” year-old male (Exodus 12:5), foreshadowing another Lamb who John the Baptist announced would take away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29, NKJV).

Blood is prominent in the Passover story. God through Moses instructed the Hebrews to apply some of the blood of the lamb “on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating” (Exodus 12:7). This was to be a sign to the LORD that Israelites lived there; he would “pass over” that house, sparing the firstborn. Some interpreters have seen in the doorposts and beam where they dabbed the blood a sign of the cross, indicating where the bloodied head and outstretched arms of Jesus would one day rest at his crucifixion.

Finally, they were to eat the Passover in haste. Immediately following this final plague, Pharaoh would insist that the Hebrews get out of Egypt. It was to be a night of “intent watching to honor the LORD” (12:42). Accordingly, they were to celebrate the Passover in their traveling clothes, a walking stick in their hands and sandals on their feet (12:11). God was on the move, and they needed to be prepared for a quick departure, a rapid deliverance from slavery.


Crossing the homiletical bridge from passage to preaching, three applications emerge:

1. The Lord’s Supper is the Christian Passover. Jesus’ celebration of the Passover with his disciples is recounted in all four Gospels (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:10-26; Luke 22:14-23; John 13-17), an indication of its importance to the Christian understanding of both atonement and worship. At the Last Supper, Jesus began with the familiar paschal meal but translated it into a higher key, crossing from the Old Covenant to the New: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me” (1 Cor. 11:25). In the same way the Jewish people celebrated Passover as an annual thanksgiving to God for his physical deliverance of their firstborn, so followers of Christ celebrate the Eucharist (Gk. eucharisto, “thanksgiving”) in remembrance of the spiritual deliverance from sin that we receive as symbolized by the broken body and shed blood of the Jesus, the Lamb of God.

2. An encounter with the crucified and risen Lamb makes for a fresh start. The Passover produced a change in the way the Hebrews kept time. It was ever after to be considered the first month of the new year, a new beginning. So for the Christian, there is a “before Christ” and an “after Christ,” an event so epochal that it changes the way we mark the seasons of our lives. “The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV).

3. Like the Passover, the Lord’s Supper is a meal of “intent watching.” The Jewish people were to eat the paschal meal in haste, dressed for a quick departure, travel clothes on, staff in their hands, sandals on their feet. Their deliverance would be swift and they needed to be ready. In the same way, Eucharist is more than remembrance, a thanksgiving for God’s past intervention. It also includes “intent watching,” the anticipation that the Crucified Lord will soon return as conquering King: “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26, italics added). To Jesus’ word, “Yes! I am coming soon,” the church responds: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

[1] All Scripture quoted comes from the Common English Bible.

[2] Ralph Klein, “Commentary on Exodus 12:1-4,” consulted 2/11/17, online: http:// www. /preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1006.

Gregory Crofford

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The Center for Pastoral Leadership

The CPL comes alongside men and women called to ministry to prepare and—equally important—to sustain them for a lifetime of effective service to Christ and the Church.

About the Contributor

Coordinator for Education and Clergy Development, Africa Region