Right after worship today, our Confirmation students will be participating in a Passover seder, to understand the origins of our Lord’s Supper, or as it’s sometimes called, Holy Communion, or Eucharist.
Because at the Last Supper, which is the basis for our Holy Communion, Jesus and His disciples are celebrating the Passover by eating a traditional seder meal. At what point in that meal does Jesus say, “This is My body broken for you. Do this, to remember Me.” At what point does Jesus say, “This is the new covenant of my blood? Do this, to remember Me.” Because above all, the Jewish seder is a meal of remembrance.
Christians call the day that the Last Supper happened “Maundy Thursday,” because it was during the course of this Passover seder that Jesus says, “This is my commandment (commandment in Latin is the word mandatum, from which we get our word “mandatory”). This is my commandment, my mandate: that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater command: love one another the way that God loves you.
And all that happens in the course of a traditional Jewish seder, the same seder meal that our Jewish friends still celebrate today. Which makes me want to ask, “What is it about the Passover meal that made it so central to Jesus?”
We call Jesus our Savior, our Redeemer, sometimes our Liberator. All those words come straight out of the Passover story in Exodus, when God hears the cries of God’s enslaved people in Egypt, and God’s heart goes out to them to save them.
And God raises up Moses to be their leader, and guides them with a mighty arm out of their slavery. Plague upon plague God sends down to force the Egyptians to let God’s people go. Locusts, frogs, blood… and finally the threat of killing every first born child of the Egyptians, including the Pharaoh’s own son.
Before this final plague, God tells the people of Israel to get ready to flee. But first, slaughter a male lamb, and take its blood to mark the doorframes of your houses, so that when the angel of death comes to kill all the first-born, the angel will know not kill any of your children. For this is the night of your liberation, not the night of your death.
Then! Quickly! Roast up a lamb for each family. Don’t bother putting yeast into the bread to make it tender: that takes too much time! Just throw some unleavened dough on the coals. Gird up your loins and eat quickly with your sandals on. For with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand, God will take you out of death and into life.
And every Passover, every Jewish home remembers God’s act of power and love on their behalf.
And this is the meal of liberation, of salvation, of redemption- not in the sweet bye and bye, but right here, in the dusty sands of Egypt. Right here. Right now.
And Jesus says, when you eat that bread of salvation, when you drink that cup of liberation: Remember Me. And at Holy Communion, that’s what we’re doing, even as Jesus did at the Last Supper. We’re eating the bread of salvation, drinking the cup of liberation, and remembering…
The Jews have practiced the Passover meal in a way we too often don’t, however. For them, it is a teaching meal, and every effort is made to involve the children so they’ll know this meal is for them as well, for they are people of the covenant just as the adults are. Each of us sitting around the table is to understand that we, too were at that first Passover.
We, too ate their lamb with their loins girded;
We, too were brought out by God with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
We, too crossed the Red Sea, with the chariots of fire thundering behind them.
We, too have the hope of the Promised Land.
And so, the youngest child at the table has the honor of asking “The Four Questions.”
1) Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we eat both leavened and unleavened bread. Why, on this night, do we eat only unleavened bread?
2) On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs. Why, on this night, do we eat especially bitter herbs?
3) On all other nights, we do not dip herbs in any sauce. Why, on this night, do we dip them in salt water and haroses?
4) On all other nights, we eat without special festivities. Why, on this night, do we hold this Passover service?
And the adult at the table carefully answers each of these questions, the same questions, every year, so that the child may grow to understand the deeper and deeper meanings of their liberation. This is not a lesson that can be read once and understood; its depth is something we have to grow into.
God enacts liberation in every time, in every place where people are hurting and oppressed. And we teach our children that they eat this meal in order to remember what God has done. And so we Christian parents, and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, take a page out of the Jewish handbook, and teach our children that Communion is a source of intimacy with God, yes; but it is also a reminder those of us who forget, that God’s liberation is for each of us as well. Not just eating bread and juice- but something that goes way back; something we’re a part of.
Why is this meal different from all other meals?
Why do we eat the bread all together?
Why do we drink juice all together?
Why is this time holy- more holy than other times?
So rich. So powerful. So holy. So liberating. Remember, Jesus says. Do this is remembrance of Me. What made this Passover meal so central, so sacred to Jesus? The same thing that makes it central and holy to us: for as we remember what God has done for us, what God is doing in us, we are made a holy and liberated people. And it is in the telling of the holy story of salvation that it becomes true for us today.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Scripture for March 31, 2019
EXODUS 12:1-14 (adapted)
The Lord said to Moses and his brother Aaron there in the land of Egypt:
“This month shall mark 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 household.
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 doorframe of their houses. They shall eat the lamb that same night, roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs…
You shall eat it in this way: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it quickly, for it is the Passover of the Lord.
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 just, for I am the Lord. 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.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout your generations as a perpetual mandate.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.