RabbiElanawithSederPlateReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 12:1-14 on September 6, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Pharaoh had nine chances to free the enslaved Israelites, but he was not persuaded by any of them. It did not have to come to the killing of the first-born males. Moses and Aaron spoke with him before turning the river into blood, sending frogs, lice, flies, a pestilence in the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. Sometimes we are only persuaded by our own shadow—when our own evil comes back and hurts us. Pharaoh tried to kill the male babies of the Israelites, first through the midwives, but he was foiled by Shiprah and Puah, and then by drowning them in the Nile. It is not until this curse, the death of the firstborn males, was visited upon Pharaoh himself, that his heart of oppression began to turn.

Was this God’s judgement or is it that we can only ultimately come before God when we are broken by our own sin? Maybe they are one in the same. Perhaps that why passages in the New Testament tell us that we “reap what we sow,” and the “measure you give is the measure you get back.” This is true whether we sow good or evil, so Pharaoh is a sharp reminder to be mindful of what we sow. Even more, we must take note of how many people suffered because of his sin. How many Egyptian mother’s wept because Pharaoh could not bend until visited with his own worst sin?

  • What do you think?
  • How have you suffered from your own worst sin?
  • How have you asked to enter that struggle, forgive you and help you think and behave differently?

But God would now allow either nation—the Egyptians or the Israelites—to continue under this kind of oppressive rule. Liberation from tyranny was the order of the day, even if there was terrible price to pay. God had made a promise to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and that promise not only included many descendants—a promise already fulfilled—it also included land and to be a blessing to many nations.

  • Have you ever thought of God’s liberation of the Hebrews as also liberation for the Egyptians because Pharaoh’s evil reign had to end?
  • In what other instances in history or in your lifetime, do you see many people suffer because of the sins of one person or a few people?
  • What does God call us to do in these situations?

It was time to make good on these promises and bless more than Egypt with exploited labor. So, as Pharaoh’s heart finally broke and his will bent toward God’s will, the instructions came to the Israelites on how to make ready to leave on foot—a mass exodus—an underground railroad—with an entire nation of people stealing off in the night.

But they were to eat a ritual meal first. They were to sacrifice a lamb—a recognition that freedom comes with a price—lives are sacrificed, and blood is spilled, so mark the door frame that your God is willing to make a sacrifice for your freedom.

When we lived in St. Louis, we had Orthodox Jewish neighbors, Rabbi Zal and Ellen. When we talked about the kosher food laws they followed, especially about eating dairy and meat 6 hours apart, Ellen said, “we don’t put anything in our mouth without thinking about God. Jews are not called to be vegetarians, but a life was sacrificed for us to eat and we always think about that by paying attention to what and when we eat.”

In the Exodus, the instructions ask for this recognition—that life is not only sacrificed for this meal, but they survive by others’ blood. So, eat with care and attention—even though you must eat in haste and readiness to leave. Eat with your belt tied, your shoes on, your walking stick in hand—leave no leftovers for you will not be back. For this night you march for liberation, you march to freedom.

  • Have you considered that every time we eat fish or meat, a life is sacrificed for our well-being? Does this add new meaning to taking time for saying grace or a blessing before meals.
  • Have you ever connected this sacrifice for daily meals, with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and Holy Communion? Can you see how these are connected?
  • What does it mean that God is willing to sacrifice life for your daily life and for your eternal salvation?

Notice that this identifying event for the Jewish people begins in the home, not in a Temple—with a home liturgy and a family worship ritual—not a priest leading a communal event. I honestly never paid much attention to this detail before, but now, it is so obvious since we are worshiping in our homes with our own Communion elements. God’s liberation begins at our own dinner table.

From there, as soon as the meal is complete, the Israelites leave on foot to participate in God’s freedom and new life for them. They must get up and go, they must join the work, they must trust that while death still happens, it will “pass over” them as they march forward into a new and different life. They go from recognizing and sharing in a sacrificial meal to participating in God’s freedom by sacrificing the only life they know and trusting God to bring them to somewhere new.

The Israelites go from following God’s word at the table to marching into God’s liberation in the street. So too, God calls us from being nourished at our tables, to being a participant in God’s justice and freedom from oppression in the world.

The exodus makes a direct connection for us from dinner to deliverance, from liturgy to liberation, from worship to witness, from ritual to readiness to participate in God’s kingdom. The one makes a ready for the other, the one compels us to do the other, the one is not complete without its fulfillment in freedom work in the world.

So when Jesus takes the bread and wine of the Passover meal—the liturgy that leads to liberation, the dinner that prepares for deliverance, the worship that remembers God’s work of justice, the ritual that readies people to march for freedom and he says, “This is my body and my blood—poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” he is saying that he is the new Passover lamb, with his blood over the doorframe of our life and in the cross in our forehead. At the last, death will “pass over” us and instead of our sin, God will see the perfection of Christ.

In Holy Communion, we remember that God is willing to make a sacrifice for our freedom. At the Lord’s Supper, we are set free by Christ, so that we can walk in this freedom here and now. With the Israelites, we go from liturgy to liberation, from dinner table to deliverance. We are set free from our own sin through Christ to participate in his work of justice and freedom for all people here and now. We go from worship to witness, from ritual to readiness to participate in God’s kingdom.

  • Have you ever connected the ritual of Communion with the work of freedom from oppression? Who needs to be freed from injustice today?
  • What cause of injustice break your heart? Is it hunger? Homeless veterans? Farmers suffering from climate change? Black Lives Matter? Children living in poverty? Who are you willing to march for, advocate for, enter the street for?
  • If you are not physically able to advocate for situations of injustice, are you willing to become educated about solutions and write to your representatives?
  • What does marching to liberation and freedom in Christ look like for you?

We do not wait with Pharaoh for our own worst sins to return to us and break us. For freedom Christ has set us free. We have received grace upon grace. When we carry the grace which we have received from Christ into the world, it returns to us, “a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, will fall into your lap, for the measure you give, is the measure you get back.” We receive our full measure of grace abundant in Christ Jesus.

So, our belts are tied, our shoes are on, our walking sticks are in hand—we leave no leftovers for this day, we march for liberation, we march to freedom.

Image: My good friend, Rabbi Elana Zelony of Beth Torah Congregation, Richardson, doing a Children's Message on the Passover Seder.

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