April 18, 2019, Blood on the Doorpost – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
There is no recording for this sermon. Sorry.
Every year on Maundy Thursday, we read the story of the first Passover, the single most important story in the Jewish faith. It is the central and defining event of God’s love and faithfulness to his chosen people, after they had been held captive as slaves in Egypt for over four centuries. Just like the Last Supper that we remember tonight, at the heart of the Passover story is a communal meal – the Seder. And just like the Last Supper, the Passover was a meal that was eaten in the shadow of a looming threat.
On the night of that first Passover, all of the people of Israel were gathered fearfully in their homes. The land of Egypt was in ruins after the nine great plagues God had sent as a sign to Pharaoh of his power. The crops were beaten down, much of the livestock had been destroyed. The Egyptian people, Pharaoh’s own people, were utterly exhausted. And yet Pharaoh, in his arrogance and pride, continued to stand in defiance against the God of the Israelites. He still refused to back down and set “his” slaves free. He refused to give up his claim on these people whose lives he thought belonged to him. On the night of the first Passover, the escalating tension between God and Pharaoh hung like a heavy cloud over the whole land.
The sun began to set. In each Jewish household the men took the lamb that had been set apart according to God’s command, and they killed it in the fading twilight. They drained the blood, and they set the meat over the fire to roast. The women took the dough from their kneading bowls. There was no time now to let the yeast work to raise the bread, so they formed flat loaves and baked them over the fire as well. The men were wearing their cloaks and their belts. The women dressed themselves and their children for a long journey, because who knew what was about to happen to them? And when they had eaten, every man, obeying the strange command of Moses, took the bowl of the lamb’s blood that they had saved, and they smeared it on the doorposts of their houses, and on the lintels above the doors.
It grew dark, and the people of Israel sat, alert and listening, in the shelter of their homes. Only the very youngest children dozed off, safe in the arms of their mothers and fathers. We have Moses’ own words telling us what happened next, “At midnight,” he wrote, “the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron by night and commanded them to get out of Egypt, and all their people with them. So the Israelites set out on foot, 600,000 men, not counting the women and children. And a large number of the Egyptians went with them also.
“The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the Lord by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.”
1300 years after that night, there was a Jewish man named Jesus, son of the carpenter Joseph, who walked out into the wilderness along the Jordan River where John the Baptist was preaching. And as soon as John saw Jesus, he cried out, “Look! There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” Full of the Holy Spirit, John knew, as soon as he saw him, that Jesus was the one that the people of Israel had been waiting for – and that he was coming not as a military leader and conqueror, as so many people were expecting, but as a sacrificial lamb, whose blood would protect the people from slavery and death.
On this night that we call Maundy Thursday, Jesus gathered his closest friends around him to eat the Passover Seder of his people. Together, they remembered that night so long before when their people had been brought out of Egypt by the mighty hand of God. But on that same night, Jesus was also instituting an entirely new Passover, a new Seder meal that would be a sign forever of God’s salvation – but this time, not only salvation for the nation of Israel, but salvation for the whole world. On this dark and holy night, Jesus was preparing his disciples for the shedding of his own blood, for the giving of his own life, the sacrifice that would deliver all humankind forever from the bondage of slavery to sin, and guard them from the ever-present shadow of the Angel of Death.
On this night, Jesus prepared his disciples for the great exodus out of slavery to sin and into the Promised Land of new and abundant life. But this time, he would not lead us out by parting the waters of the Red Sea. The new exodus would lead us through the darkness of a tomb and out again into the light and life and freedom of a new morning. Just as the first Exodus is the defining story of Israel, the events of this Holy Week tell the story of redemption, the central and defining event of our life as the people of Jesus Christ. And this meal that we share, tonight, and every time we gather around his table together, this is the memorial of the new Passover of our Lord.