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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.

BROADER CONTEXT OF EXODUS 12

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 12:1-14: CELEBRATING GOD’S PROTECTION AND DELIVERANCE

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.