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The First Passover Instituted

Exodus 12:1-13

12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Sermon for October 2, 2016

Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

       Blessed and Ready

We all know the superstitions surrounding protection from evil or harm. Everybody has a well-meaning aunt who scared them as children with some foreboding tale. For example:    

Never walk under a ladder. This is believed to be the devil’s territory. If there’s no way around it, protect yourself by crossing your fingers

Paint your front porch blue to ward off ghosts. This superstition, which originated in Southern plantation homes, tells us that “haints,” or ghosts, can’t cross water. Painting the porch “haint blue” would confuse ghosts into thinking the porch was made of water, so they wouldn’t enter the home.

According to a Norse superstition, placing an acorn on a windowsill will protect a house from being struck by lightning. No risk of lightning on any of our church buildings, though this fall we might be killed by flying acorns.

Many Catholics, as well as Protestant friends of Catholics, bury a St. Joseph's statue in the ground upside down to bring them luck when trying to sell a home.

The Pennsylvania Dutch put brightly painted hex symbols on their buildings as protection from the evil eye.

Knocking on wood to invoke good luck started out as a pagan ritual to honor the tree Gods but for Christians it came to represent touching the cross for God’s protection.

While a cricket can bring good luck, a mouse in the house is bad luck. If it eats your clothing, it's a sure sign of death. This idea probably stems from the belief that the devil created the mouse in Noah's Ark; or that mice fell to earth from the clouds during a storm. Since my husband and I regularly host both mice and acorns at the Parsonage, we’re sure to die. 




Never sweep dust out the front door or your good fortune and friends will go with it. One explanation is the belief that you would get dust in the faces of the good spirits living just outside the front door, who are there to protect you from the devil, and that would be insulting. Finally, I’m safe, I never sweep the floor.

        

The story of the Passover we read this morning sounds just as fanciful to our modern ears as all this. But, let’s look again. The Passover story creates a road map, a template for how to live in challenging times. This shocking story is one of the most powerful, history changing stories ever told. The story of the Passover, whereby the ancient Hebrew people painted the blood of a lamb or goat over the doorposts to ward off death from plague sounds at first superstitious at best, as fanciful as any fairy tale. It takes the entire book of Exodus for the whole thing to unfold.

We read about a man named Moses and his older brother Aaron. Against his better judgment, Moses has returned to the place he grew up, after fleeing for his life years earlier. You see, he had gotten into a bit of trouble with the law, killing a soldier of Pharaoh for beating a Hebrew slave. Running far from the house of Pharaoh where he was raised as an adopted son after his rescue from a basket in the water, he met a woman, married, and made his home and a life among her people.

         Then that strange thing happened. As Moses was attending to his livestock out the field, God encountered him through a burning bush. He heard a voice telling him to take off his shoes as he was standing on Holy Ground. And then God revealed to him that he must return to Pharaoh and the military state that severely oppressed his race and tribe.

         Returning to Eqypt, Moses stood up against both his adoptive father and the leader responsible for the oppression and torture of his birth family, Moses repeatedly issued God’s command: “Let my people go.” Pharaoh repeatedly ignored the command, and faced a number of plagues. The cost of Pharaoh’s arrogance and narcissism was high.

         Pharaoh dug in and relied on his own insight alone. He insisted on his own way no matter who it hurt. In the process, we witness the collision of two worlds. Pharaoh represents what happens when greed, arrogance and the misuse of power run amuck. Moses represents the consequences of faithfulness to God.

The story of Pharaoh’s fall from grace is staggering. It’s the ancient version of the later all of the Roman Empire. These empires lasted so long and were so powerful that no one believed their dominance of the world would ever end. But they did. This is a cautionary tale. Like many Biblical stories, there’s a twist in the plot. The powerful fall, and the lowly are raised up. God protects the enslaved Hebrew people from harm because they remained faithful to God, even when their circumstance seemed without hope. They were blessed with freedom because they trusted God in good times and bad.

         As a sign and symbol of their trust in God, each household killed a lamb or goat and before they roasted it to feed their family, they took some of its blood and smeared it over their doorways. The plague then passed over their house, thus the origin of the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night he was betrayed and ultimately killed.

This isn’t some fanciful tale about the superstitious desire for protection from evil, though it could look like that. Listen. This is the deathbed promise to never forget the one who loves you passionately. It’s a Titanic moment, hands lingering in the freezing dawn before the beloved slips silently into the depths of the sea. It’s a Song of Solomon moment, that scripture we read at weddings that says this: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, a seal upon your arm. For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love. Neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of his house it would be utterly scorned.”

         The plagues of Eqypt were terrible. The food supply was lost, the water supply was poisoned. The lives of livestock to feed people died. Then people died. The waves of sorrow kept coming. God looked the Hebrew people square in the eye and told them to keep their eyes on him. Whatever happens, never take your eyes off God.

The message couldn’t be more clear. In the story of the Passover, God responds to the victims of oppression, the enslaved, starved and abused Hebrew people like a parent responsible for a child in a disaster. When the house is on fire, a father might say:  “Put your arms around my neck and hold on tight.” When the flood waters rise, a mother might shout orders: “Children, get dressed and gather your things in your backpack. Climb to the second story balcony and wait for me there.”

         This is an intense and desperate and life threatening story, when God shows the Hebrew people the path to survival. God reveals a way out of no way. The journey from slavery to freedom will be long, so roast a lamb or goat and eat the whole thing. You’re going to need it. Spread the blood of the animal over your door so the rescuer can recognize where you live and find you when it’s time to run. Get dressed, put on your traveling shoes, and get a firm grip on the staff in your hand.  Stand at the door waiting.

At dawn when Pharaoh’s household collapsed in confusion and grief, God sent Moses to shout out God’s command. The faithful people were dressed and ready at a moment’s notice to flee, following him across the parted Red Sea waters, to freedom. The journey to new life was long, forty years in the wilderness. The journey ahead became treacherous before it ended. They were hungry and scared at times. They turned on Moses more than once. They turned away from God and worshipped false Gods.

The Passover and the Exodus of God’s people is an ancient tale to be sure. But it is our story too. It’s the story of all people who look to God in times of trial and are not disappointed.

This is a story about trusting that God will keep God’s promises. No matter who has disappointed you in life, God is there for you. This is a story about keeping the faith that God will fill us up when we’re hungry for more. No matter who has failed to care for you, God will provide. This is a story about following the God who brought the Hebrew people out of the wilderness to a land flowing with milk and honey. No matter how far we may have wandered, this God in whom we trust will lead us from death to life no matter what we’re up against. This is a story about God, who came to us in Christ, the new Lamb of God. Jesus, the Lamb of God, carries us over every death to new life.

         To keep it simple, if God gave these enslaved Hebrew people who trusted Him a path to life, imagine what God will do for you. Dr. Rachel Naomi Reeman tells a story for our own time that shows us the way. She invites us to trust God and befriend this life, with all its trials, all its anxieties and all its hardships. She writes:

         “There is a family story told about my grandmother’s icebox that may not be true, but then again, perhaps it is. I have heard it ever since I was quite small. Grandma’s icebox was the deep source of a truly amazing outpouring of goodness. It was always full to the very edges, every shelf, every nook and cranny was put to use. Occasionally when someone, usually a child, opened it without sufficient caution, an egg would fall out and break on the kitchen floor. My grandmother’s response was always the same. She would look at the broken egg with satisfaction. ‘Aha,’ she would say, ‘today we have sponge cake!’

         (Trusting God even when life breaks) “is not always about having things your own way. Life is impermanent and full of broken eggs. But what is true of eggs is even more true of pain and suffering. Certain things are too important to be wasted. (No eggs, not the sinew, or head or legs or inner organs of the lamb in today’s Bible story.” God uses everything for good.

         Reeman writes that: “When I was sixteen, just after the doctor came and informed me that I had a disease that no one knew how to cure, my mother had reminded me of this. I had turned toward her in shock, but she did not cuddle or soothe. Instead she reached out and took me by the hand. ‘We will make a sponge cake,’ she told me firmly. It has taken me many years to find the recipe, the one that is my own, but I knew in that moment that this is what I needed to do.”

         Life wastes nothing for those who trust God enough to kill the lamb, paint the blood, roast the beast, and feed until satisfied on both the goodness and the sorrow at hand. Then stand at the ready to go out the door when called to God’s next great adventure. God will lead you through your deepest suffering, onward to the Promised Land.