'Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread,
because it was on this very day that I brought you out of Egypt’ - Exodus 12:17
Sisters and brothers, special meals are for for remembering something important, for remembering something special. We do it for birthdays, we do it for weddings, we do it for retirement, we even do it for coronations. Special meals are a celebration and a way of remembering a very special moment. This morning as we study Exodus 12 we going to see that this way of remembering through meals has a long pedigree as we study not one but two meals which remember moments which changed the course of history. We’re drawing to an end of our studies in the great book of Exodus. We’ve seen the ways in which the Egyptians have enslaved and brutalised God’s people, and the deliberate genocide of all Jewish boys by the Egyptian state. Not surprisingly, God’s people cried out to God and in response God called and equipped Moses to speak on His behalf to Pharaoh and demand, ‘Let my people go’. However, the Egyptians were stubborn and refused time and again to release the Hebrew slaves, and yet, despite this stubbornness, God was patient with Egypt; perhaps for the slaves themselves too patient. God sent a total of ten signs, ten plagues each one worse than the one before it, in an attempt to convince Pharaoh that he was powerless in the face of the true God. Yet, despite losing livestock, food, water, and Egyptians becoming seriously ill, Pharaoh resisted, and would not let God’s people go. Finally, as we heard last week, God promised the final and tenth plague. A plague so terrible it really ought to have convinced Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go before it was enacted for the plague was the death of each first born son. Yet, despite all that had gone before the many and varied ways that God had shown Pharaoh that He would do what He said Pharaoh refused to give in. Whatever followed, then, was on Pharaoh’s head. That’s where we left it last week. The true story paused on a cliff-hanger.
We tune in this week to the very next chapter and we should be surprised because we tune into, not a plague, but a meal, a celebration, almost like a birthday party, for an event which hasn’t yet taken place. Furthermore, the meal, the celebration, is being planned out and recorded so that the way the people celebrate the first time will be able to be copied annually from now on… and yet no rescue has taken place! There is nothing to celebrate once let alone every year. Imagine you’re there in Egypt for that very first celebratory meal. As the sun sets, the men are out in the fields killing their prized lamb. Indoors the women are preparing the table and making bread but also, rather confusingly packing bags. The children, at least, must have been confused. However, it gets stranger still when dad comes home, he pauses at the front door and covers the door posts in blood. Inside the house Mum pulls out the oven homemade bread—something she’s normally very good at—but this time it looks like a failure because it hasn’t risen The table is set, with the un-risen bread, the lamb which dad barbecued outside, and a cup of red wine which—the children guess correctly—represents the blood. Then before anyone sits down to eat Dad has them all put on their coats and put their bags by the door. This is just weird and one plucky little kid asks the obvious question, ‘Why’?
Amelie is going through that stage at the moment. ‘Daddy, why did this happen in my Disney film?’ ‘Daddy, why do I have to have a bath? ‘Why do I have to eat my tea?’‘Daddy, why?’ All great questions which we tend not to ask anymore we just get on with life, and the plucky kid deserves an answer. ‘Daddy, why did you put blood on the doors, and why are you drinking red wine as a symbol?’ ‘Well my child’ dad might say ‘tonight God is going to pass over this land, and anyone who has blood on their doors will be safe, no one will harm them; but those who don’t listen to the Lord, those who don’t put blood on the doors they will pay a heavy price, so heavy that they will let all of the Hebrews go. The blood is a sign of protection’. Gobsmacked the child turns to the bread and points and asks ‘why?’ ‘Well my child’ he might say ‘because tonight God is setting us free; God is keeping His word and tonight we will no longer be slaves, and so there is no time for the bread to rise we need to eat this now because very soon we’ll be leaving, that’s why our bags are packed. The un-risen bread is a sign that we’re on our way.’ Stunned, the child finally asks about the lamb ‘Why are we having lamb, daddy, what does that mean’. ‘Good question’ says dad, ‘the lamb takes the place of the first born, it takes your place my son, the lamb dies so that you don’t have to! More than that, the lamb which normally would feed us for a couple of weeks, we’re going to eat it all so we’ll have enough energy for the journey. The lamb is the sacrifice and also food for the journey.’ You can imagine a stunned and excited kid.
That night, just as God promised, the final plague fell on Egypt, all those who had ignored God suffered, all those who listened to God were safe. Look with me now at verse 31: ‘During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go.’ Finally, after years of torture, forced labour, deaths of their friends and loved ones God’s people can celebrate. Like the liberation of Auschwitz so now the Jewish people are safe, now the Hebrew people are free. However, this was not a reversal it was not that Jewish people had suffered and now Egyptians were suffering, no, God is far more generous than that. We’re told in verse 38: ‘Many other people went up with [the Jewish people]’. This was liberation and freedom for anyone who wanted it, anyone could obey God’s word and be part of this great exodus, be part of His people. Now, thanks to God’s actions and the lamb that was killed in their place, God’s people—whether Jewish or not—were free to leave. Here is why the meal was recorded, and here is why the meal would be repeated, re-enacted even, so that every generation from that point on would know what God had done, and why God had done it. this meal told God’s people who they were ‘the people of the exodus’, protected by the blood on a journey with the Lord and saved by the death of a Lamb. God had delivered as He promised He would and it would be remembered for ever.
Natalie and I got engaged about twelve and half years ago and after we got engaged we celebrated with a meal that engagement date was an important date, that is until we got married. Something like that is going on for Christians. To be honest after such a powerful, and now successful story, it would be tempting to end the sermon here; God’s people are free, saved by God, through a dramatic rescue, surely that’s enough for one day? However, if we stopped there, this would be a Jewish sermon and not a Christian sermon. This would like talking about the engagement and not the wedding; so let’s end with a quick look at our Gospel reading, for there the Passover is finally and fully fulfilled. Verse 17: ‘On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’’ As good Jewish boys they are about to keep Passover just as it is commanded in Exodus 12. And then some very famous words beginning in verse 26: ‘While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.’ What we’ve got here is a Passover meal with a twist. The blood represented by the wine still protects from God’s anger, but nows it’s Jesus’ blood on the cross. The bread still says we’re on our way for it’s still un-risen bread but now it’s Jesus’ body. However, did you notice there is something missing, something crucial, did you spot it? There is no lamb; there is no sacrifice. This is a terrible Passover supper if they have forgotten the Lamb, for we know what happened to those who didn’t listen to God and sacrifice a lamb, they suffered and died. Where’s the lamb? Verse 24: ‘The Son of Man will go [to the cross] just as it is written about him.’ Jesus is the lamb—as John the Baptist rightly said—the lamb of God. The Last Supper doesn’t need a lamb because Jesus is about to go to the cross. He is about to die as the Passover lambs died so that all those who trust Him will have their sins passed over; all those who trust Him will be free from everything they’ve done wrong, just as the Hebrew slaves were free from Egypt. And, just as this was open to all in the exodus from Egypt so it is now open to all in the exodus from sin. Then they put blood on the doorposts to protect them, now you trust in Jesus to protect you. Then you ate bread as a sign of being on the way, now you eat bread which is Jesus’ body as a sign of being on the way. Then you ate lamb to give you energy for the journey, now you eat the lamb, Jesus, to give you spiritual energy for the Christian journey. The Eucharist is the Passover meal to end all passover meals. The Eucharist is the wedding meal which brings the engagement meal which was the Passover to an end. Now if you want to be protected, if you want to show you’re on the way to the kingdom, and eat that you might have energy for the journey you don’t need to join the Jewish annual passover, no, you come to the Eucharist every week and receive all you need and more.
Brothers and sisters, today we looked back to the Exodus and Passover of Egypt but the events of Exodus 12 were merely a foretaste of what we receive at Communion. As you come for communion remember the Passover for sure, but remember even more so Jesus who died as the Lamb so that all your sins might be passed over and so that you might go free forever. Amen (from Fr Mike).