Every spring, around the same time that we celebrate Easter, observant Jews around the world celebrate Passover. And there are a lot of parts to Passover, but one of them is a meal: wash the hands, say the blessings, eat the food, drink the wine, ask the questions.
The youngest child asks the table:
Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread?
We eat only matzah, unleavened bread, because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs?
We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
On all other nights, we do not dip our food even once, but tonight we dip twice?
The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratitude, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses—a kind of paste made from fruit and nuts—symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.
On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline?
We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.
Wash the hands, say the blessings, eat the food, drink the wine, ask the questions, pass the memory on.
We are Christians, of course. We don’t celebrate Passover. But we still tell the story. We’re telling it today.
Last week, we heard some of the story about how Jospeh and his brothers, the children of Israel, ended up in Egypt. They stayed there. And they had kids. And their kids had kids. And their kids’ kids and kids. And, after a few generations, there were a lot of children of Israel in Egypt. And the Egyptians got worried. So the Egyptians oppressed and enslaved the children of Israel.
So God came to Moses, and told him, “You’re going to free my people. You’re going to lead them out of Egypt. You’re going to lead them to a land of milk and honey.”
So Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people… go.” And Pharaoh said, “No.”
So God sent these plagues, so that the Egyptians would know who they were dealing with.
God turned the Nile to blood. And sent frogs to cover Egypt. And sent gnats to bother everyone. And sent great swarms of flies. And made livestock sick. And spread boils. And brought fire and hail. And sent locusts to eat every tree and plant. And covered the land in a shroud of darkness.
And the children of Israel were fine. And the Egyptians were overwhelmed. And then…
God said to Moses,
“Tell all of the families of the children of Israel to get a lamb, and have a feast. But take some of the blood of that lamb and put it on the doorposts. Because tonight, sometime around midnight, I am going to come through Egypt. And I will kill the oldest child in every family and of every animal. But if there’s blood on the doorpost, I’ll just pass over that house.”
And when that happened, Pharaoh said to Moses, “Take your people and your animals and your stuff… and get out!”
And I’ll admit it: there are a lot of troubling things about this story. There are sermons on sermons on sermons about those troubling things. They are brilliant sermons. They are classics of homiletics. Maybe I’ll preach one of them someday. But this sermon is not one of them. I’m going to just… slide by the troubling bits.
Because later, the children of Israel—the children of the children of the children of the children of Israel—will follow Moses through the wilderness. And Moses will go up a mountain. And God will give him a law. And Moses will give that law to the people.
And in that law, again and again, God will say, “You will follow this law—you will do this thing, you will not do this other thing—because, once upon a time, you were slaves in Egypt. And then you weren’t.”
You will leave crops on the edges of your fields for the poor… because you were slaves in Egypt… and then you weren’t. You will care for orphans and widows… because you were slaves in Egypt… and then you weren’t. You will not oppress strangers and immigrants and aliens… because you were slaves in Egypt… and then you weren’t. You will be a holy people… because you were slaves in Egypt… and then you weren’t.
And every spring, around the same time that we celebrate Easter, observant Jews around the world celebrate Passover. They remember this story and everything that came with it. They wash their hands, and say the blessings, and eat the food, and drink the wine, and ask the questions.
And it’s not my place to summarize the answers to those questions. But if it was my place, I might summarize them like this: because we were slaves in Egypt… and then we weren’t.
We are Christians. We don’t celebrate Passover. But every spring, around the same time that Jewish people celebrate Passover, we celebrate our own holy week, with its own meal, and its own death, and its own freedom. And every Sunday, we celebrate that freedom. Every Sunday is a little Easter.
And it’s not my place to summarize the gospel. The gospel is too big for that. But if it was my place, I might summarize it like this: we were slaves to sin… and then we weren’t.
Why do we feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink? Why do we welcome strangers and give away clothing? Why do we care for the sick and visit prisoners? Why do we free the oppressed and proclaim a time of God’s abundance?
Why do we come to this table… and break the bread… and pour the wine… and hope for the day when every table will be open to everyone who hungers and everyone who thirsts? Why do we pray for the kingdom to come… and for everyone to know the sweet embrace of God’s abundant love?
Because we were slaves to sin… and then we weren’t.
There’s a theme here. There are big pieces: we were slave in Egypt… and then we weren’t; we were slaves to sin… and then we weren’t. And there are little pieces. There are thousands of little piece. There are millions of them: things were bad, things were terrible, things were unimaginable, our sorrows were so great, our troubles were so overwhelming… and then… they weren’t.
That is our history, one way or another. And that is a promise.
Things are bad. Things might even be terrible. Things are definitely overwhelming. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.
But we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. And it’s election season (and the stakes of elections—at least the stakes as they are presented by the campaigns—get higher every time). And there are big conversations going on about race and policing. And… and… and… and… and…
And everybody is stressed out. And everybody is taking that out on everybody else. And that is stressing everybody out.
And I’ll admit it: I don’t have a solution to that. Except to come to the table, and break the bread, and pour the wine, and remember that things were bad… and then they weren’t. And things are bad… and someday they won’t be. And things will be bad… and then they’ll get better.
Not because God will send plagues. But because, through the grace of God, we will feed each other and give each other something to drink. We will welcome and clothe each other. We will care for and visit each other. We will love each other.
And that might looks strange for a while. It might be different. But our Jewish friends and neighbors have celebrated Passover in myriad ways over the centuries. And we have celebrated communion in myriad ways over the centuries. Traditions change. The core remains.
We were slaves in Egypt… and then we weren’t.
We were slaves to sin… and then we weren’t.
Things were bad… and then they weren’t.
And through the grace of God, no matter how bad things are now, they will be better. Because we will share the love of the God who calls slaves into freedom with each other.