Sunday, March 20, 2016

Passover Parade

Passover Parade from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Exodus 12:21-32
21Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two porpoises with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23For the LORD will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25When you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshipped.

28The Israelites went and did just as the LROD had commanded Moses and Aaron. 29At midnight, 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 prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all this officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD, as you said. 32Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Luke 19:29-40
When he had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he send two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, 
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! 
Peace be in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

39Some of the Pharisees int he crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

We're on the edge of three different stories.

The final plague is cast, but the Israelites are still in Egypt.

The Lord Jesus is riding down from the Mount of Olives, but he and his disciples are still outside Jerusalem.

The Presbyterian Church of Lowell is finding new energy for its mission, but we are still unpacking old issues.

We're on the edge of three different stories, waiting to see where our Passover Parade will take us.

I’m still putting our story together, because I’ve entered partway through. Our congregation is born out of two other churches setting division aside and coming back together. We are forged in the unifying power of the gospel, and in the understanding that the smaller differences cannot keep up apart.

Those of us who were here may have a rosy-eyed view of the past, back before a decade of declining attendance and membership, back before a former Pastor became the focus of division, back before a former Pastor’s addiction became public, back when there were resources and energy to spare. But the years we have struggled together shape us just as much as when we were formed from two other churches setting division aside and coming back together.

Who would have guessed that a little congregation in a small town on the outskirts of Gastonia would find itself unstuck and able to move again.

I do not believe our glory days are past us. Mostly because it’s not about our glory. As a church family, we can and will continue to glorify the LORD, no matter what shape we may be in. We know that the Holy Spirit is continually reshaping us into the size and shape that Christ needs this community to be. Our Passover Parade is taking us to new places that we have not seen. Our future is informed by our past, but we’re on the edge of our story, figuring out moment by moment what will come next. We are guided by faith that God is the one who has already determined our outcome.

God has given us hope. Hope for freedom that can only be found in obedience to the LORD we meet in Exodus.

For forty days we’ve remembered together the road out of bondage for the Israelites. We have stepped out of the courts of Pharaoh, trusting in God to redeem us, forgive us, and transform us from those who benefit from oppression into the people God created us to be. But in remembering, we cannot just watch the story go mildly by. ”…The retelling of the old, old story can lull believers into regarding Holy Week with passive awe, as an iconic work of art, instead of the electric world-turning force that it is.” This story transformed those who lived it. We cannot ignore the way this story influences our own walk of faith.

Who would have guessed that a population of slaves, living under the thumb of Pharaoh would find itself chosen, protected, and brought out with a mighty hand?

And yet this story is troubling. It is troubling because we are used to seeing God as a Creator, yet this story shows, in stark terms, the destroyer as well. The Israelites are literally marked with blood. The Lamb which died so that they might be free of their bondage stains the entrance to their homes. But animal sacrifice is not that troubling. It’s the death of untold numbers of children that should upset us.

Yes they were the children of the oppressor. Yes they were the children who benefited from he death of Israelite children. Yes they belong to the “bad guys” of this story. But they are still only children. “from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.” Only those who had touched their lintels and doorposts with the blood of the passover lamb were untouched.

It’s easy to look at this passage and decry God as violent and vengeful, an outdated concept from a primitive time. Or they see he death of the firstborn as proof that God is angry in the Old Testament and loving in the New Testament. But in this passage we do not hear about triumph, or liberation. We see only the tragedy, as if the Holy Spirit is telling us that God also weeps for the lost. “One of the central message of the Pentateuch, especially of the book of Exodus, seems to be that proximity to God is inherently dangerous, because of the intensity of God’s holiness.” To this day, those who observe Passover intentionally spill some of their wine when the plagues are listed, showing that there is no celebration in the tragedy of another. Even surrounded by the unrighteous, God is heartbroken by their tragedy and joins in the “loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” What’s more, not even God’s house escapes this plague. We must remember what God does with his own firstborn son.

We are not at the gates of Jerusalem just yet. We’re on the edge of the story, on the Mount of Olives, near Bethpage and Bethany, and our Lord is looking forward to Jerusalem. We’ve been on this journey alongside the disciples for quite some time, and we’re seen great things along the way. Things that can only be acts of God, performed before our eyes. So we look down the mountain at Jerusalem, the cultural home of Israel.

Who would have guessed that a procession into Jerusalem that begins with shouts from the disciples would find its end at the foot of the cross?

We’re not at the gates of Jerusalem, as we are in other Gospels’ accounts, This Passover Parade is on the edge of the story. “As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,” We’re approaching the road leading down the mountain, and we can look back, figuratively, and see everything that God has done for us. All the mighty things that we have seen, that have shown us that God is active in our world. We look back and see our whole history, from Creation to Egypt to the Promised Land, and we remember the freedom that is promised. But we do not necessarily remember the messier parts that have shaped us as well.

But we’re not there yet. We’re on the edge of three different stories, each anticipating freedom and peace in a different way. But we cannot understand the other stories apart from the one we find in the gospel. In become a human, Jesus rewrites the human story, shaping us according to his identity, and our stories find meaning in his story. The death of the firstborn is redeemed in the death of God’s firstborn. The struggles we undergo are measured by the suffering Christ did not avoid, because we know that the distance between deifying someone, as in this Luke passage, and crucifying him is exactly five days.

We're on the edge of three different stories, and our Passover Parade may take us in any direction. There is no way to know what the outcome of our story will be until the LORD brings us to it. I know how two of these stories end: The Exodus story will end at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the Israelites stop their road out of Egypt and begin their formation as God's covenant people. The Luke story will end in the Garden of Gethsemane when the public ministry of Jesus ends and the crucifixion and resurrection cycle redeems creation.

The end of those stories was in the LORD's hands. So too is the outcome of our own Passover Parade. One thing, however, is certain: Who we are as individual believers, and as a community of faith, will be irresistibly shaped by Jesus Christ, and by the identity we find in him.

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