The Passover story, because we remember it as the meal that Jesus celebrated on his last night with his disciples in Jerusalem, is one that most of us can call easily to mind. The story has also been told in many Hollywood films over the years as well. To remember that night is something which God commanded God’s people to do. It was a night which would be difficult to forget given its horrible images and sense of impending action. Pharaoh had been incredibly mean to the children of Israel and now that meanness would be turned against Pharaoh. Holding the images and words and feelings of that night close to our hearts is an important part of what it means to be God’s people. God’s people remember. To help people remember God created a ritual—centered mostly around food—by which their memories would be enhanced every year as they repeated year by year the directions God had given them. Prepare yourselves in this way. Prepare the food in this way. Prepare to eat it in this way. Then prepare to be liberated. Prepare to end your slavery. Prepare to be free. That is the great promise of that first Passover—God had prepared liberty for God’s people and God’s people should be prepared to experience new life. We know after their liberation that they will spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness but given the choice of making bricks for a Pharaoh who could kill their first born on a capricious whim or living freely as they sought their future destiny, God’s people chose to prepare for and to practice the Passover. This became the central event in Israel’s story.
Many of you will be able to relate to the Passover experience. You left your home and homeland for a variety of reasons but for some it was to escape the pressures of war, for others it was to try to create a better future for your children and for all of us, if you go back far enough, it was because wherever we or are forbearers found themselves it was a place that offered little hope and no promise other than more of the same suffering. So since the 1600s people have been coming to this land to seek freedom from whatever oppressed them and more importantly freedom to pursue new lives. That is seldom easy, especially for the first generation of freedom seekers, and I have often wondered if for that generation it must have felt like wandering in the wilderness for 40 years as they slowly but surely established themselves in a new land and prepared their families for that new future.
The second way in which you can relate to the Passover story is through the actions we follow when we celebrate communion. We take bread, give thanks, break it and share it. This is what Jesus did the night he celebrated the Passover as well. He then took the cup and having given thanks blessed it and shared it with his friends. Just as God had instructed the people of Israel to do all that he demanded of them that night and then to remember it, so too Jesus having shared the same meal instructed his people to “…do this in remembrance of me”. That is how our communion celebration is to remind us of the liberation that we too received through the life of Jesus and the love of God. There are two rituals, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, but they are celebrating the same, clear promise that God will care for God’s creation, including God’s people, and that God will liberate all those who are oppressed in any way and lead them into a new space where they might be whole once again.
Both the Passover meal and the Communion celebration are also how we remember our obligation to the rest of society. Both meals come out of what is a gruesome story yet each instruct us on how we are to care for one another, not just as individuals but as a whole community. This is something which does not just happen by accident. Rather we learn to care for each other and the whole community through continual practice and perseverance. That means that God’s people have to think differently. Professor Ellen Davis has argued that “Egypt’s economy is based on hierarchical oppression in which an abundance of food is produced on the backs of the poor but is enjoyed almost exclusively by the very rich. By contrast the economy of the wilderness (inaugurated in Exodus) teaches Israel to trust in God as deliverer and provider of food. They must leave hoarding and scarcity behind, both as practice and as a mentality, if they are to embrace faith in this God who delivers them.” Yes we gather around a table to celebrate both Passover and Communion but each ritual is more about how we choose to live our lives than anything else. We know only too well the stories of the top 1% on the wealthy have seen there riches grow almost exponentially during this pandemic in which we now live. We also know what it is like when people start to hoard certain items. Hoarding means some of more than they could possible need while those who do need their usual modest amounts are unable to purchase them as the shops are empty. As we brace for the full onset of the second wave of this virus we will be fine as a community and world if we remember that in the wilderness, a time such as now, we are not to hoard but to use to meet our needs and no more. We are to care for those who have not—family, neighbours, or strangers we have yet to meet.
How we chose to live our lives as God’s people means we need to understand that God is a God of justice. Yes God wants peace but it must be a peace with justice. God created the world and God created its people. God’s people are meant to be a blessing to their community and to all the nations of the world but that cannot happen when they are oppressed. It was necessary for God to liberate the people of Israel in order that they might then go on to fulfill their high calling to be a blessing to many. Today when the Church sees people, communities, even nations that are oppressed it is part of who we are as a witness to our God that we too demand justice for the oppressed. So it is our calling to support Black Lives Matter and those who are embraced by that movement just as it is our responsibility to promote a guaranteed income level for all of God’s people. That is not getting into politics, it is living out our awareness that an oppressed people cannot be a blessing to others. They may be slaves to others but they will never be a blessing to others. To be a blessing requires us to have freedom to act, freedom to give, freedom to share bread and wine so that we might share it also with others. Whatever else we do, our vocation as Christians is to be a blessing to others, all the others of our world.
So the meal we will share in a few minutes is designed to help us remember how much God has done for us and how much God expects of us. When Jesus invites us to do this in remembrance of him it means that we are to act today as he did, for the conditions that led to his ministry are as real today as they were 2,000 years ago. We break bread and drink wine and experience God redeeming our own lives even today. We need that because even with our relatively calm, stable, happy lives, we know that is not the case for many in our community, our country and our world. We need this that we may be a blessing to others.
The final part of our Scripture reading instructs us to tell our children why this is important. It is not just that we share a meal, as wonderful as that is, but there is a reason why we do this, a reason that sets out the roadmap for our lives. Our most important task is to invite our children not only to share our food but to invite them to also share our values, our belief in God, our commitment to being God’s people and our commitment to loving God’s creation and all of God’s people. Professor Jacqueline Lapsley in her commentary on this passage writes: The Bible itself puts forth the idea that the testimony of those who have experienced the benefits of God’s saving power is vital and necessary for God’s work in the world to go forward. If we do not tell God’s story, other stories will rush to fill the vacuum, and many of them do not lead to flourishing. Believers in every time and place participate in what the Jewish tradition describes as the ongoing repair of the world.” I believe that when we do that then we are living communion every day and that is the promise of Passover.