Passover: What Does this Mean?

What does this mean, Amma?

What does what mean, dear one?

Baba says we need to kill my lamb tonight. I love this lamb. He’s my friend. Why does he have to die?

Oh dear one, I know this is hard. But dying is part of living. Everything that lives dies sometime. People need to eat so we can live, and your lamb will help us live and grow strong. When we have our special supper tonight, we will give thanks for the life of your lamb.

Baba says it’s a special night. Why is tonight different from any other night? What does this mean?

Come here, my child. Let me tell you a story. Long, long ago we were slaves in Egypt. It was a very bad time. Many people died. Many in our family were hurting and sad and afraid. We cried out to God, and God heard our cries and rescued us. The Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; with great awe, marvelous signs and with wonders. Tonight we celebrate Passover. Tonight we remember.

I remember the story, Amma, but sometimes it scares me. I don’t like the part about the frogs.

I know that sounds scary, dear one. But think of the story this way: the Lord our God is Creator of the entire universe and God intends for all the created beings to live in wholeness and shalom. So imagine how all God’s creation – maybe even frogs – joined together to fight against our oppression and to help deliver us. The Lord our God loves us and will do anything to save us.

When we tell the story today, in our day, we also remember how God delivered us from captivity in Babylon. In every Passover, we remember all the ways God hears our cries and rescues us. At Passover, we remember God’s past salvation and we put our hope in God’s future redemption.

And remember this: whenever we tell the story about the frogs and the other awful things that happened, we tell it with sadness. wd-mrawWe will dip our finger into the cup of salvation tonight and remove one drop of wine for each plague: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Darkness
, Death.

Our joy is less whenever we remember the suffering of others – even the suffering of our enemies. Our salvation is not completely full until all people can be free.

But Amma, my lamb! Why does this lamb have to die?

He is the Passover lamb, dear one. When we share this meal that your lamb will provide for us, we will share life together. We will remember that we are one family, one people of God. When our ancestors put his blood on their doorposts, they were marked as God’s people who had placed themselves under God’s care. Just as the Lord our God made covenant with our fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – now God has made covenant with us – an entire people – and has bound us together as family, bound us together with blood. In his death, the Passover Lamb gives us life.

Baba took me to Jerusalem today and I saw a man. He looked at me. I think he likes me. But we heard some people say he has to die. Amma, what does this mean?

****************

Dr. Lance Pape teaches preaching at Brite Divinity School and often speaks and writes about the process of remembering. A good preacher, he would say, helps God’s people remember. He commented on this particular passage from Exodus in a recent lecture and he noted how:

The practice of remembering God’s deliverance from slavery is so integral to Israel’s identity that instruction for the ritual reenactment of the decisive night is actually interwoven with the telling of the event itself. The original narrative depiction of Passover deliverance is already infused with the charge to remember the wrongs suffered, to remember God’s rescue, and to remember it all rightly.

Whether the liberation from Egypt is a story that is set in time or one of those deeply true stories that transcends time, no one will ever know. But its power continues to give life and hope to oppressed people in every age.

Oppression of any kind (the story suggests) is never God’s will. God’s way is liberation, freedom, wholeness, life – and God is ever at work in the world bringing life. This call to “remember rightly” includes the call to remember the wrongs done by and to the human family and to stand boldly in opposition – as Moses did – to any abusive power; to stand against all the Pharoahs of the earth.

And the call to “remember rightly” includes the memory of the Passover lamb.

The Passover lamb is strength for the journey; it is the one around whom the community gathers, the sharing of whose life binds the community together. It is celebration and sustenance. This is the meaning for the sacrificial lamb. Here is the a strong tradition that weaves throughout the biblical texts: the tradition of community and covenant.

  • Abraham killed the fatted calf to welcome his angelic guests.
  • The father killed the fatted calf to welcome home his prodigal son.
  • Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, signifying them as part of his kinship community.

The Passover lamb represents to us the covenant that God has initiated with us unlikely people; the life God is willing to share with us; the community God intends to build in us.

Dr. Pape develops this theme in his lecture:

The Lord’s Supper is a re-imagining of the Passover meal in which Israel is helped to rightly remember the events of Exodus.

And Christians are called to “remember rightly” the events of the cross. Even today, as our Jewish brothers and sisters gather around the Seder table and recite these words: “WE were slaves in Egypt …” So each Sunday, Christians acknowledge our slavery to sin and brokenness.

“On the night he was betrayed…” begin the words of institution.

When we say these words in our own ritual reenactment, we remember that it was Jesus’ friends who betrayed him. And when we remember rightly, we understand how WE share in that same failure, still betraying and denying and abandoning the One who feeds us and transfuses us with his own life.

But even so (Pape says) we are invited to come to the Table to share his torn body as the bread of reconciliation, and to take wine on our lips as the seal of a new covenant in his shed blood … Christians are taught how to remember rightly by the one who chose to remember his own terrible wrongdoing in a way that brings reconciliation and new life.

This image of Passover re-imagined; 2260494905_1673413c07this mystery of the Lamb that was slain reigning now and forever as Lord of all; this picture of God creating a community of redeemed and reconciled people with broken bread and blood of the covenant; this invitation by the Crucified and Risen Christ, beckoning all of us wounded and scarred people with his own nail-scarred hands – all this draws us to the Table.

And Christ’s Table is open to all.

 

Living in The Story reflections for Week 8: Exodus

Exodus 1-15; Psalms  24, 90, 105; Mark 11-16; Ephesians

 

© Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Dr. Lance Pape, Brite Divinity School, unpublished lecture

 

 

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Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth.

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