First Reading Exodus 12:1-14
Second Reading Romans 13:8-14
Gospel Reading Matthew 18:15-20
Sermon: “Time to Remember and Get Ready ”
We continue our readings through the early stories of faith in the Old Testament this summer. Having now read through many of the stories of the Patriarchs, we are now in the cycle of the Exodus from Egypt and journey to the promised land. This morning’s reading is the story of the origins of the great feast of Passover. The Jewish people still celebrate a version of it annually – normally close to our celebration of Easter. The purpose of the feast is to remember the liberation that God accomplished and is still doing. The setting is the day before the terrible final plague on Egypt and getting to meet and worship their God in the Wilderness at Mt Sinai.
Recall the message of the text: God is making your deliverance possible. Hurry! Get Ready! It’s coming soon. The Passover celebration in a Jewish home begins with a question asked by a young child – “what makes this night different from any other?”. In answer to this question, the glorious story of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt is told. Last week, we read the beginning of the story – Moses’ encounter with the living God at the Burning bush on the slope of Mt Sinai. There Moses was commissioned by God to be his representative to his own people and God’s ambassador to Pharaoh. But we have skipped all that went on between the burning bush and the night of Passover. Next week, we will hear about the deliverance of the fledgling nation at the Red Sea. In the middle are several chapters of signs and wonders, hopes kindled and then dashed.
When Moses and his brother Aaron first come to Pharaoh’s court to deliver God’s demands, it sets off immediate retribution as the Israelites are forced to make a heavy total of mud bricks and gather their own straw as well. Things weren’t getting better, they were getting worse! God sends Moses back to Pharaoh to show him the wonders that God has shown Moses to perform, the first couple are duplicated in part by Pharaoh’s magicians. Moses throws his staff to the ground and it turns into a snake, so does their’s, but their snakes are eaten by Moses’. Next, Moses curses the Nile and turns its waters to blood, its a harsh punishment, Pharaoh is not subdued and will not let the people go and worship God.
Next, a series seesaw demonstrations and discussions happen where Pharaoh seems ready to submit to the will of God and then changes his minds once the plague abates. Each is a direct assault and insult of one or more of the chief gods of the Egyptians. A plague of Frogs from the Nile comes on the land, followed by Gnats, and then flies and the death of cattle. After the Egyptians cattle die, while those of the Israelites are unharmed, Boils break out on people and animals alike, then massive hail storms devastate the whole country – all except for the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived, next locusts swarm and consume what little was left. Then, three terrible days of darkness covered the land. After each Pharaoh seem ready to yield and then no – his heart became harder and harder. Now as today’s reading is about to begin, God tells Moses that the final plague is about to descend – The death of all the first born in Egypt. By the next morning, they were on their way to deliverance. It was not instantly accomplished, and certainly not easily at all. There were many dangers to come, many miles to journey, but this was the start.
Passover was a strange meal. A whole roasted lamb, served with bitter herbs and unleaded bread. A meal to be eaten in community, with families joining together so that the lamb may be consumed. Anything left over is to be burned, nothing is to be left behind. The blood of the lamb is used to mark the doors of the houses so that their occupants will be spared. This meal is to be remembered and repeated by the Israelites year after year as a memorial to the night that God liberated his people. Even now, the stories are told as the deeply symbolic meal is served.
It was this meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night he was betrayed and arrested. It was this meal that he transformed by associating the bread with his body, broken for us, and the wine as his blood, which was shed for us. That night was a moment of transformation and deliverance just as that first Passover was. God was at work and huge changes were about to happen. A rabble of slaves was about to become a nation. Those that cried out in apparent abandonment were about to become God’s chosen people.
In the upper room with his disciples, Jesus laid out an even more wondrous transformation: Deliverance from death was about to happen through the death not of a lamb, but of God’s son. It was John the Baptist who first pointed him out saying “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And now the time was at hand – Not just for one group of people, but for any and all who will call on the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Through his death and resurrection we too are called into a new life and a new identity as the people of God. Even more than that – we are his disciples following in his ways as we too are led out of slavery to sin and death and into new life as children of God. As he did with his first disciples, Jesus calls us his friends and tells us that we too are to remember him in this way: At this table, with this meal.
What is the purpose of remembering an event 4000 years old as in the case of Passover and 2000 years old as in the Lord’s Supper? Certainly, to give thanks for what God has done yes – absolutely. But in these things we also find strength and confirmation of our faith. God has been faithful to deliver in the past and is trustworthy to deliver us now as well. And lets face it dear friends, we definitely need delivered right now! But scripture tells us there is more. Jesus has come. Jesus lived, taught, healed, died and rose again for us – it is gloriously true. But we also look forward to more – He is returning to this world to set it right and establish his kingdom in glory and power right here on this earth. Sin and death will be no more and we will live in the light of the glory of God forevermore.
It’s with this sense of impending change and fulfillment that Paul writes to the church in Rome. We have been reading through Romans this summer as well and I have been frequently gratified to find how well it builds on the foundation offered in the Old Testament readings. The law given to newly liberated Israel at Sinai is precisely what Paul has in mind when he writes these words: (Romans 13:8-9 NIV) “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Here Paul quotes the famous passage from Leviticus 19:18, as had our Savior himself. This deceptively simple formula is shown to be the principle behind every one of the laws in the Old Testament relating to how we are to live with each other and together with the command to Love God with everything that we are, sums up the entire Law and Prophets. Jesus corrected a narrow perception of neighbor that had grown up in his day. And now Paul echoes him to be certain that we understand that love is not an emotion or a feeling. Rather, it is a way of living and a pattern of actions. We ourselves are to be transformed. Love is to be active if it is to mean anything, as our Lord demonstrated in his love for us on the Cross. Paul assures us, it is the one universal obligation that we are under – Love God and Love Neighbor.
He then goes on to press the urgency of it all with these words: “The night is nearly over; the time is almost here.” These words could have been spoken by Moses that night of the first passover, but here, they mean even more. God has once again intervened in human history, but in a new way. No more is God distant in a pillar of fire and cloud and a terrifying voice high on the mountain, forbidden to all except Moses. No, God has come to his people in a most startling way. As one of us, or rather, as we should have been except for the fall. Holy, sinless, in intimate communion with the God of Creation. In Jesus of Nazareth, we find deliverance on a scale that Moses only glimpsed far in the future. We are reconciled and brought back into relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God has done it – once for all.
The question is: How are we going to respond? How are we to then live as the catechism asks? Paul will not have us delay. The time to respond is now. The night is nearly past, day is about to break. Christ is returning to restore creation to the perfection with which it was created. It’s time to love and work for reconciliation.
God is present. Moses assured his people that God was present and working great things in their midst. They could perhaps be forgiven for wondering at the time. It must have seemed confusing and frightening at the time. A look around us today and thinking about the last few weeks, perhaps you are thinking things like that too. The message of Scripture is the same for us as it was for Israel and as it was for Moses. God is moving, we need to be alert and active. We are called to be ready for God is already here. Let’s live and love in the strength of that knowledge and that presence.
You are invited to the table this morning remember and to be strengthened for the journey ahead. It’s time to get ready!