Texts: Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-17, 31-35
Although none of us would choose it, I think that this strange and novel observance of this meal is a blessing for us. Unlike our Jewish kin, we have been fortunate. Although we have all experienced trials and hardships, no one has ever turned on our whole people and tried to wipe us out. We have never been on the receiving end of true slavery or genocide, with no one to help us but the LORD. The Jewish people have known what it means to depend utterly on God for the survival of their people and their way of life. Some of those scars are fresher than others.
But now, we, too, will have some idea what it means to wait for the Angel of Death to pass over us. Some of us are more afraid than others, and some are staying home while others still venture out, taking risks that may or may not be necessary, but one thing is true for all of us: this pandemic has reminded each and every one of us how frail life truly is. There are many who are not and will not become sick, but who are still suffering the effects of this virus: loss of jobs and income, separation from loved ones, isolation, paranoia. And we all are left to wait in our homes until someone says it’s safe to come out again; we all wait for that exodus from our homes back into our offices and churches and schools and parks.
We tell this story of the Israelites in Egypt tonight not just because Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples was a Passover meal. We tell it not just because we share this common history with our Jewish siblings. It is significant that the events we remember and observe and celebrate tonight took place in the context of this Jewish observance of Passover. We tell this story because it is a part of the greater story that is still being written; a story in which God is still at work.
This is what Jesus tells his disciples—tells us—tonight: that we are to love one another as he has loved us. And how has he loved us? St. John reminds us at the beginning of this lesson the extent of Jesus’ love: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”—to the end of his strength, to the end of his power, to the end of his life. He loved them so much that the Son of the Most High God, the Living Word who was from the beginning, is now and will be forever, got down on his hands and knees and washed their feet—a job too humiliating for even the cruelest master to ever demand of a slave.
After he had put his robe back on and sat at the table with them, he told them, “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is what makes us disciples of Jesus. Not believe, not birth, not heredity. Not blood smeared on doorposts or water dribbled over heads. Love. Our love for one another is what makes us students and followers of Jesus, whether or not we call ourselves Christian.
Sadly, to say that our love is imperfect, that it is flawed and broken and corrupted, is an understatement. Our love is a pitiful excuse for the kind of love Jesus is talking about. Nevertheless, we also remember this night that it is not our love or our discipleship that save us. Our love makes us disciples of Jesus, but it is the boundless and abiding love of God that saves us, that makes us children of God, born of blood or of the flesh or the will of a man, but of God. It is God’s inexplicable love for a nation of powerless slaves that brought them out of Egypt; it is God’s love that sustained them through the wilderness and the exile and the return; and it is God’s love that broke the hold of sin and death over them once and for all.
These signs we use and share—the blood on the doorposts, the water in the font—are signs not for God, signs we use to remind God that God is obligated to spare us; they are signs for us, signs given by God to help us to see God’s love in a real, tangible way when the death and fear pressing in around us seem so much more real. These signs are the beacons that point us to our salvation, the lights shining in the darkness that no darkness can overcome.
Tonight we enter into the great mystery of the Three Days, of Jesus Passion and death and resurrection, with the greatest sign of that love. On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus, God’s love made flesh, surrendered his flesh so that we might know what love is, and might know that it is for us. We begin our journey through this mystery gathered around this table. I am grateful that tonight this table is in my home, and in your home; there is only one table, you see, for there is only one meal: one loaf, one cup, one body, one blood. Tonight that table is in all our homes, transforming our houses into churches just as surely as the meal we share transforms us into disciples of the One God.
Here, set before us tonight, is the embodiment of God’s love. Here is Christ’s body, given for us; here is his blood, shed for us that we may eat and drink of God’s love and live.
Just as on that night so long ago in Egypt, as on the night in the upper room in Jerusalem, and as on so many other nights throughout history in so many other times and places, it is God’s love that will deliver us from death. Thousands, perhaps even millions will die; but God will deliver us once again, and we will remember this as the time of God’s deliverance, and celebrate it as a festival to the LORD throughout the generations.
Tonight we remember the Passover of our God, when death passed over the Jews in Egypt, and when Jesus passed over from death into life. We remember this passing over by sharing this meal together and praying that we may become what we receive: the embodied love of the God, given to deliver the world from death. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!