As we journey through the Old Testament this summer and fall, we’re really getting the highlights reel version of the story: key moments rather than intense details. A week ago we encountered Moses at the Burning Bush, face to face with the Living God. This week we have skipped all the way to the Passover. A lot has happened in Egypt since last week’s reading from Exodus 3. Moses and his brother Aaron have confronted Pharaoh again and again, pleading and demanding that Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Nine plagues—water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, diseased livestock, sores, thunder and hail, locusts, and darkness—have tormented Egypt, but Pharaoh has not been swayed. He has toyed with Moses and Aaron, pretending sometimes to respond to their complaints and changing his mind just as they thought they had tasted freedom. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he refused to listen to Moses or to the Lord. The Lord’s deliverance will come without the cooperation of Pharaoh.
Instead, Israel’s deliverance, Israel’s salvation, will come through a lamb. Not the powerful, zealous ruler of a famous people but the weak, innocent, powerless offspring of a herd animal, a sheep or a goat. The lamb is how God will save his people from the final, tenth, most terrible plague. The blood of the lamb will mark Israel’s doors as the judgment of the Lord passes through Egypt. The meat of the lamb will satisfy the hunger of a people about to embark on a journey. “You shall eat it [with] your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hands; and you shall eat it hurriedly,” the Lord tells Moses and Aaron. This is not a luxurious banquet, a feast to savor. It is the final rations of a people on the move. The exodus is coming, the Passover of the Lord is at hand: be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
I wish we Christians would eat our Passover meal with such impatient expectation and haste. I wish we would receive the body and blood of our Passover Lamb knowing that his blood had already shielded us from God’s judgment, waiting for the moment when God would release our chains so that we can escape quickly in the night and follow our Lord along the Freedom Trail into the Promised Land. I wish that our celebration of Holy Communion each week would be as electric as that first Passover.
Do not be deceived: God has not changed since that first Passover. God did not return to heaven after delivering Israel from Egypt. God still observes the misfortunes of his people; God still hears their cry; God has still come down to deliver them out of bondage. God still commissions us, just as God called Moses and Aaron, just as God sent Jesus Christ, to preach good news to the poor and release to the captives, to proclaim the time of the Lord’s favor.
This is not a matter of liberal or conservative politics. It is a matter of hearing and responding to the whole gospel. The first Passover meal was not about delivering Israel from her sins. There is nothing about Israel’s sin in the first fourteen chapters of Exodus. The first Passover was not for the forgiveness of Israel’s sins. The first Passover was about freeing God’s people from bondage in this world, to a power of this age, into freedom in this life—and not just in the life to come. The first Passover was about physical bodies, physically enslaved, and physically released from Egypt. God is not indifferent to the suffering that happens in this world. God’s salvation is every bit as much about deliverance in this world as it is about deliverance for the world to come. The story that lies at the foundation of the Old and New Testaments, the story that Jesus himself reenacts in his own life, the story of the Passover and Exodus is a story of deliverance in this life.
Do not be deceived: God has not changed since the first Passover. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world—what John the Baptist calls Jesus in John 1:29—is the Passover Lamb who feeds us on the path to God’s deliverance. Christians have recognized for millennia the Christ is our Passover Lamb, but all too often we have emphasized that the Lamb has conquered sin and forgotten that our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for the world to free the world from its bondage.
If we are to be Christ’s followers, his disciples, we must be the ones who proclaim the whole gospel to the whole world and do not give the good news of our Savior short shrift. Right here, in Harford County, there are people living in bondage. There are people who have been wrongly jailed, who have been arrested or imprisoned because of how they look or how they speak. There are people who have so much debt that they can see no way past what they owe. A new casino has opened down the road in Baltimore City, and already there are advertisements to help gambling addicts—gambling slaves—from the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling. Each week at Centre we serve people in our food pantry who are enslaved by poverty and cannot afford food. A new heroin epidemic has seized and destroyed the lives of thousands around us. And this past week I heard that BWI airport is the U.S. center of human trafficking, of modern slavery, and that Harford County is at the epicenter of Maryland’s human trafficking problem. When this was announced at our district meeting on Tuesday, one of our pastors revealed that his daughter, who died of a heroin overdose this spring, was trafficked by her drug dealers just down the road.
Friends, God is calling us to respond to the suffering of his people. Since I’ve been at Centre I’ve heard more than a few people say, “We need to grow.” I couldn’t agree more. But growth that matters—and not just growth that counts—will only happen if we come face to face with the suffering in our community and proclaim the deliverance, the salvation, of our Lord. We cannot solve every problem; we cannot address every situation. But we can pray for God to guide us as a congregation, so that the whole church is involved, to people in bondage in our community. We can find one situation, one form of bondage to work against. We can tell of the Passover Lamb who feeds all people for their journey to God’s freedom, a journey that may last forty years but that can begin tomorrow.
Starting this past July and for most of the next year, I am engaging our congregation in an extensive study. The first part of this study involves listening to your stories of being part of Centre. I will be inviting you to share your story with me in the coming months. There will be several other components. The purpose of this study is to discern where God is calling Centre to put our resources and where God might be telling us to let go of some things we have done in the past. Please participate in this study as much as possible. Please join me in praying for the next year for our congregation as I, the church council, and other church leaders seek to hear God’s voice for our congregation.
Christian people, Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us. “Eat this meal with your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hands; and eat it with haste. For tomorrow is the day of your exodus.” Amen.