Tuesday, August 23, 2005

passover (exodus 12)

There are ideas floating around in early 21st century North America about what it means to experience salvation—you go to a rally, you raise your hand in a meeting, you walk down the aisle of a church, you touch the tv screen, you pray a prayer…none of these are bad. Any of them can be good. But a rich, full biblical understanding of salvation would be a little different. As you read the first 13 verses of Exodus 12, consider these five principles. They have everything to do with what salvation really means.

The first principle: make preparations.

Listen to the details of Exodus 12. 1-4 the first month of the year, the tenth of the month, a lamb for each family, divide it in proportion to the number who will eatkeep it until the 14th of the month, then slaughter it at twilight, before the whole congregation…(3, 4, 6). There is a lot of preparation there, a lot of ritual.

I have been thinking this week about preparations and rituals. As an individual, think about it preparations and rituals for a moment. When you travel, you usually do it the same way, right: the same luggage, the same things thrown into the suitcase, the same mental checklist. I have also been thinking about preparations and rituals in families. These preparations and rituals sustain relationships. One member told me about how his family, he and his wife, their children and grandchildren, rent the same house at the beach every summer, they do the same things, and I am sure that these rituals sustain their family life. In our family we have for years had a party on the night that school begins, and we give our daughters gifts, and if we ever came close to forgetting it or skipping it, they would let us know!

The important thing is the relationship, whether it is with God or with each other. But the relationship is not just a moment in time, and neither is salvation. It is a process, and the preparations shape the process.

I have also been thinking at this time of year about weddings. Weddings are all about preparations. I love the weddings that are held in this beautiful sanctuary. I am grateful to the wedding directors, who attend to almost all of the preparations. When a wedding happens here, you notice first that the cross leads everyone in, and it is as if the bride and the groom are following Jesus into their marriage---what a profound ritual—how different from something like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride! And then you notice that the cross leads the couple into their new life at the conclusion of the service. The preparations, the rituals, are important.

And that is true about salvation. What your grandparents did, what your parents did. On National Public Radio I heard a report this summer about a camp meeting, the oldest one in the United States, the Salem Camp Meeting in Covington, Georgia. The report was all about the preparations and the rituals. Yes, some people made important decisions in their lives at those meetings. But a part of that was all of the planning and preparation and ritual that went into it. Perhaps you have made a decision that seemed spontaneous, but someone was surely at work behind the scenes, making the preparations, taking you to that church camp or children’s choir rehearsal or UMYF meeting.

And so, if salvation is going to come to the next generations, if we are going to pass along this family life, we need to make preparations. Right? Maybe you are thinking, a relationship with Christ should be spontaneous, we don’t really need the ritual, the preparations.

Think of it this way: you are about to undergo surgery. You’ve heard good things about the surgeon. Are the preparations of that surgeon important? Do you want the surgeon to follow a ritual, or to leave some things to chance?

When God was leaving instructions for Israel, in how to think about the very nature of their salvation, He left preparations and rituals. And your own salvation is related to the details, the preparations. Being in a certain place, at a certain time, reading a certain book, asking the advice of a certain friend.

Second, give your best to God.

Your lamb shall be without blemish (.5). How, as a church, do we give our best to God? Sometimes, I will meet a member just prior to the eleven o’clock service and they will say to me, “our Sunday School lesson”, and then they will tell me a teacher’s name, and it changes, “our Sunday School lesson was excellent”! Or I will listen to the anthem and I will say, “Wow”. We should give our best teaching, our best music, our best children’s ministry, our best youth ministry, as an offering, to God. Giving the best lamb was giving something that was valuable. ***Do we give our best to God? Do we give our best financial offering to God?

Why should we give our best to God? Because God gives his best to us. The unblemished offering is Jesus, he is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,

He is the one who was without sin and yet took our sin upon himself. God gives his best to us. We do stumble sometimes in thinking that “if I cannot give my best, I won’t bother to give, to volunteer”. We do become perfectionistic. We sometimes think that the good is the enemy of the best.

I think we learn to give our best to God by beginning where we are. We start where we are, and we ask God to show us how to give our best.

Third, remember the Sacrifice.

Symbol of the blood. take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintels of the houses in which they eat it (7). We don’t talk a lot about the blood in the mainline churches, or the evangelical churches. It’s unsettling, undignified, maybe even gruesome.

But if you are near the half-century mark, as I will be in a couple of years, or older, you remember singing and hearing about the blood---“are you washed in the blood of the lamb?” Oddly, at about the time the church stopped talking about the blood, a generation rose up who loved violence, in movies, in video games, in the culture.

A generation ago,in an agricultural society, the blood had to do with sacrifice. People in that generation, what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation”, knew about sacrifice. Nothing great happens without sacrifice.

The blood on the door was a reminder of that sacrifice. Good Friday is a reminder of that sacrifice. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5). Nothing great happens without sacrifice, and there is no Christianity without sacrifice.

Fourth, yes, it’s urgent.

Eat fully dressed, with your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. (11) In other words, you don’t have time to waste. Eat in a hurry.

Now this is not an argument for fast food! We are a fast food nation, but we are usually urgent about the wrong things, about the unimportant things.

The revival preachers used to appeal to us, “Now is the time for salvation”. They asked, “if you don’t make a commitment now, you may die on the way home, you may never have an opportunity”. You hear that enough, and it doesn’t happen, and the urgency begins to lose its well, its urgency.

But perhaps, in throwing out the method, we lost a part of the truth. There is no better time that now. God gives us this moment. You can make a decision, right now, to trust God, to follow Jesus. It is urgent. Your life does depend on it. People in this congregation are wrestling with important matters, about marriage, about family, about work. Getting into a right relationship with God is crucial if we are going to live faithfully and within God’s purpose.

Fifth, keep the Passover.

I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you (13). The angel of death will pass over you.

I confess that I do not fully understand this part of the story. It has something to do with the untimely deaths of young people and friends my own age.

Why pass over some, and not others?

Why pass over some, and not everybody?

Why did I receive this gift, of life, of salvation, and not someone else?

Why does the first born of the female slave die, she had not part in Pharoah’s evil?

Why am I healthy, while many women and children die of AIDS in Africa?

What do you do with these questions?

It is not my goodness, or righteousness.

The scripture helps:

At the meal, eat the roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (8). The bitter herbs reminded the Israelite of their suffering, and maybe us of human suffering on the way to salvation.

Within these verses there are the critical ingredients of salvation:

A story

A meal

A community

How you are saved has everything to do with your story, and how you connect your story to God’s story. You have to look within, and see the patterns and realities of your life, and then you need to know the story that is within this book. And if you can connect these two stories, you are onto something.

How your salvation can be nourished has everything to do with this meal. Jesus observed the Passover meal, and he was the Passover lamb. Do this in remembrance of me, he said.

How your salvation is sustained has everything to do with this community. You live out your salvation through Jesus Christ in his body, the church. You can’t do it alone. I can’t do it alone. God never intended that something as important as salvation be an individual decision.

In our culture we prize the immediate, the new, the relevant. We are addicted to change, to channel-surfing, to mobility, to the pace. And so it is odd that we look at a 3000 year old story, at a meal that people have been having for 3000 years, to our ancestors who made these preparations and gave their best to God and sacrificed and urgently kept this Passover.

Sometimes, in North American Christianity at the beginning of the 21st century, we get competitive with other churches, we get coopted by the world. Our mission gets lost, and our vision gets a little distorted. It helps to get back to the basics. The way to salvation has three ingredients. A story, a meal, a community.

Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you, Jesus said…a story. Do this in remembrance of me…a meal. Love one another…a community.

Nobody talks much about salvation anymore. But we need to remember this story, this 3000 year old story. You see, life in North America at the beginning of the 21st century is not the promised land. It is more like the Egypt they were trying to escape. But if we remember the basics---tell the story, eat the meal, stay close to the community---we are going to make it to the promised land.


Blogger Chris said...

Thank you for another remarkable post.

8:36 AM  
Blogger jon said...

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5:47 PM  
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