Texts: Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31-35
Tonight we gather together in darkness around this table to tell that story again. But this story begins long, long before that night in the upper room with his disciples. Our story begins in a garden, the first garden. There, along the banks of a stream, the One Holy and Mighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, bent to kneel in the mud and create a figure. God’s hands were dirty with the muck of the stream as God formed arms and legs, a head and a heart. Then God breathed life into the mud-thing, gave it being and movement, and called it “human;” an act of supreme joy and love from the Supreme Being to the creature God called “child.”
As humanity once again flourished, God saw a man named Abram and his wife Sarai. They grew old with no children. God looked down at this man and woman whom God loved, and moved by compassion God did what God had done in the beginning: God brought life out of barrenness. God made them a promise to raise up from them a great nation and children as innumerable as the stars. Then God changed their names to Abraham and Sarah, a sign of the complete change God would bring about in the world through them and their descendants.
And one night, God spoke through Moses to the people and said, “Tonight, I will deliver you from slavery. Prepare a meal, but eat it on your feet because you are on your way out the door. Eat quickly! For tonight, death is coming to Egypt, but I will bring you out of death into life!” And, good as God’s word, that night death passed over the children of Israel, and they got up to follow where God would lead them.
They crossed over sand and rock until they came to the sea. Behind them, Pharaoh’s army threatened to destroy them, and ahead of them the sea waited to swallow them up—but God was with them. Lo and behold, the sea parted!—and they crossed on dry land, out of Egypt and into freedom. Just as God had done with Noah, God delivered them through the water and into new life.
Forever after that night, the people shared the story of how God made death pass over them. Generation after generation, every year as the story of God’s people continued through good and bad, they recounted the story of God’s faithfulness and love; how death passed over them and how they passed through the sea into life and freedom.
But God did not send the Son to deliver the people from an emperor. God knows that kings and emperors and generals come and go. No, God had something much larger in mind. God sent the Son to deliver humanity for all time from death itself, just as God had delivered Noah from the flood and the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Not only that, God was determined to finish what God had begun in the garden and attempted with the flood: to save the entire world from the danger of sin.
One night, gathered in a room with a dozen of his closest friends as they celebrated that very Passover meal and recounted once again the story of God’s unfailing love and mercy, Jesus, the Son, took bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it to share it with all of them. “See this bread?” he asked them. “This bread is my body. I am giving it to you. Remember me!” When they had finished eating, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks to God again, and said, “This wine—this is my blood, and I’m pouring it out for you and for all humanity. Remember me!”
That night, he gave them a new commandment. “Tonight,” he said, “we heard the story of God’s love, the story of Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses. Truly, truly I tell you, that immense love of God is the love I have for you. This is why I am giving you my body and blood to sustain you. Eat and drink it, and death will never have any power over you. That love, that life-saving, death-defying love, that God-love, that is the love I want you to have for each other. As God loves you and I love you, that’s how you should love each other.”
We come here tonight because like Adam and Eve, like Abraham and Sarah, like Moses and the disciples of Jesus, death in all its forms surrounds us. We come because the infection of sin threatens us with hatred and fear, violence and terror. We come and share this story again because we are in need of life, in need of hope, in need of something to sustain us in the darkness.
In the meal we share tonight and in the story of the days to follow, Jesus shows us once again that God’s love is stronger than death. That love in the form of Christ’s body and blood sustains us with life that cannot be quenched. It unites us into community as together we are strengthened for the journey from death into life.
In this meal we tell the story of that God-love. More than that, we taste and feel and chew and swallow that story; over these three days, we enter into that story and it becomes ours; we sit around the table with his disciples and hear him speak those words to us: “take this bread, take this cup.” These are the body and blood of Jesus the Christ, given for you, so that you may live. Do this, and remember God’s love, remember that it is stronger than death, that it has saved us before and will save us again. Tomorrow, we will see his life laid down for us, and on Saturday, we will wait in darkness before the sealed tomb for Jesus to rescue us from death.