New Passover, New Exodus, and the Eucharist
Introduce the series- aspects of our worship, living worship. Bearing God's image to the world and the relationship btw justice and worship.
When I first moved to New York as, I read a book called 'A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-centered Worship' by Michael Horton. Besides my early days of not paying attention in the Methodist church we attended growing up, this was my first exposure to liturgical worship. In this book, Horton paints the picture of our liturgy as a 'Divine Drama'- a series of theatrical scenes we act out every week to tell the story of our faith. Now working here at All Angels', this has really come alive to me. I love the symbolism of our worship. And if we can resist letting it become a cold ritual which loses its significance through its repetition, the liturgy can very strongly convey the depth and beauty of the Christian story and lead us into awestruck worship of our God. So the idea of this New Passover and New Exodus in the Eucharist is one I've been thinking a lot about lately.
This became the basis for the children's worship curriculum we use to teach our kids what our worship means and (hopefully) enable them to better participate in it. Right now the kids are upstairs listening to the famous Dies Irae from Mozart's Requiem, 12th Century monastic chant, early American folk hymns, and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. They're learning how powerful music is to get a hold of our minds and hearts and how we and the church through the ages have used music in our worship. Last week we looked at the omniscience of God and how we meet up with that in the words 'Heavenly Father, to you all hearts are open, all desires known' from our opening prayer. And the focal point of our worship, the place everything points to, is the table. The altar. Why? Because of the altar which is the centerpiece of history, and the focus of our faith: the Cross.
Jesus himself gave us the imagery we use to remember this in our worship, the image of a table. And the elements of bread and wine symbolizing his broken body and blood poured out. This is where we are going to dwell this morning: on the imagery of the table which Jesus instituted as the Lord's Supper. But before we leave the imagery of the altar behind, let's remind ourselves that it is there too. A while ago, I read a blog post from a missionary doctor working with Muslims who pointed out something we may easily forget:
“I was studying Psalm 43 with a friend in Urdu the other day. We came to where it says in English, 'I will go to the altar of God.' As I read along in Urdu, I did not know the word for 'altar,' so I asked my friend what it was. He didn't know how to translate the word into English, but he gave the following English description: 'It is God's bloody place, where the throats of the animals are slit for sacrifice.' Of course. It's an altar. Sometimes I think of an altar as the carpeted stairs and dais at the front of the church meetinghouse. But it's not. It is a bloody place—a place of sacrifice and death. I need to remember that.”
We have a pretty clean altar with gold and silver and fine linen. Even the uniform wafers and sweet wine may do little to remind us that this whole scene is one based on the torture, murder, and sacrifice of God's Son. But, it's not without reason that our altar has become a table. Jesus' sacrifice was a once-for-all deal. It was not like the blood of goats and bulls being continually offered year after year, but could never take away sin. It was a perfect and final sacrifice. And so, we have no need to offer sacrifice here. The sacrifice on this altar, the broken body and blood poured out, is the table set for us by our Lord.
Besides, Milind would need a shower, washer, and dryer in the sacristy, and Dan's job would be much harder if we were killing sheep up here every Sunday. Not to mention what the Dept. Sanitation would have to say.
But to Jews of Jesus' day, this was a familiar sight, and the remembrance of the passover through this annual meal was an ancient part of their culture. We know the story of the passover, and read the scriptures today. And Jesus, on the night before he was crucified, very deliberately makes the claim that he is somehow the fulfillment or true meaning of this story. In the midst of the passover meal, he adds his own story to that of the traditional Seder. And he's been doing this for the last 3 years of his ministry. He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We read a few weeks ago from Jesus' reading of Isaiah: 'Good news to the poor, liberty to the captive, sight to the blind. This scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.' And he sits down. Jesus is constantly doing this. It's like he's always walking around saying things, doing things, and then explaining what scripture he is fulfilling by doing it.
What Jesus did on that night forever changed the way his followers would understand the Passover. He says that now this meal is to be eaten not merely in remembrance of the Exodus story, but in remembrance of him. Paul in 1 Corinthians instructs us that this meal is to proclaim the death of Christ until he comes. Jesus has put himself at the center of the passover narrative. Once we realize this, we begin to see parallels between the history of the Israelites and the life of Christ; between temple worship and the life of Christ; between the Passover and the life of Christ; even between Jewish tradition and the life of Christ. It is as if all of history has taken place to set up this moment on the night he was betrayed. Or, as the writer of Hebrews puts it (speaking of the OT priesthood): “They serve a copy and a shadow of the heavenly things.”
The Passover narrative, with the slaughter of the lamb, the painting of the door posts with its blood, and the exodus, though perhaps the central Jewish narrative, is only a copy and a shadow of the true meaning. Christ himself has become the passover lamb. A perfect and spotless sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people. The blood marked the people of Israel as it marks those who belong to Christ. You could go as far as to say that the Israelites were saved by faith as they heard the command from God and believed it and their obedience followed suit. Exodus tells us that 'when the angel sees the blood, he will pass over you' so presumably if even a member of the people of Israel neglected to mark their door with the blood of the passover lamb, they would meet the same fate as the Egyptians.
Which brings up another interesting nuance: even at this point of history God does not choose his people based on nationality or race. Sure the call was given to the people of Israel, but the people of God were marked with the blood of the lamb. The angel would not come checking who's circumcised, right? He's not checking who's Israelite and who's Egyptian. No, when the angel came through the camp, those marked with the blood would be spared and those without the blood of the sacrifice would be lost. So now, the people of God are not determined by race or nationality, color or political party. The people of God are those who belong to the Paschal Lamb.
When I read Zoe the story of the Passover from her Children's Storybook Bible, one character explains, 'The lamb died so we don't have to.' This so clearly explains what happened that scary night, and so clearly ties the story to Jesus. In the years following the first passover, there would be an annual feast, and sacrifices would be made. Year after year the people would bring their passover lamb to the temple to be sacrificed to remember how the lamb died so that they didn't have to. And at this very time of year, Jesus returns to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast with his disciples. So while this ceremony of shadow and copy of the reality takes place, he almost simultaneously will be offered up as a sacrifice to die in place of the people. His body will too be broken, and his blood spilled out.
And what of the Exodus? The imagery of the passover is so clear. But what about that of the Exodus? The morning after the passover, the people of God walk out of slavery as one free people. I see at least two things we can draw out of this. One, God has broken the power of the oppressor and set this people free. The book of Romans is pretty clear that we are all slaves of sin, and that it is Christ, our passover lamb, who sets us free by conquering the power of sin and leading us out into freedom from it. To take a bit wider focus, Christ offers hope to the oppressed and freedom from whatever it is that enslaves us, be it corporate ladders or crack cocaine, Playstation, or pornography.
Secondly, the people of God walked out of Egypt as one people. Our remembrance of this during the Eucharist is a direct parallel. We have all received grace from the same place. The Israelites left Egypt as the ones who were spared by the lamb who died in their place. So we are one family spared, forgiven, loved, and accepted by the lamb who died in our place.
Those of you who have ever taken part in a passover Seder know how so much of the tradition of this ceremony points to its fulfillment in Christ. I don't have time to go through it all as there's just too much there, but one example is the four glasses of wine which are drunk throughout the meal. Sounds more like an Episcopalian dinner. This is an important point. I've been in churches where we were forbidden to drink, and they were wonderful churches. I will say Episcopal social gatherings are a lot more fun. But I think there's a pertinent point here. Especially because wine plays such a central role in our worship, how we use it is important. Does the Lord's Supper influence how we drink? Should how we drink communicate anything about our faith? I think so. Mark Driscoll puts it this way: “The world drinks to forget, but the Church drinks to remember.” Are we drunkards? no...
Anyways, back to the Seder- 4 glasses. Each glass represents one of the promises of God made in Exodus 6. Some Bible commentators say that while Jesus celebrated the passover with his disciples the cup he presented to them as his blood was that of the third cup. The promise of that cup being “I will redeem.” It would have been clear to his disciples what he was communicating: “you are redeemed by my blood.” “My blood is shed for your redemption.” This is the cup we lift in communion.
As for the breaking of the bread, there are 3 Matzos. Trinity anyone? At one point in the dinner, the middle Matzo is broken. This would have been the bread which Christ broke, and the bread which we break in communion. In the Seder, half is placed back with the other two while the other half is hidden away until the end of the meal when it returns as a sort of dessert.
Which leads me to my final point. Every week we celebrate this mystery of Christ's spiritual presence with us in the Eucharist. It would seem as though all is complete. And yet it isn't. We know the story, we know how it finds its true meaning in Christ, and we celebrate the Eucharist here weekly. Yet, Christ is not here with us. We are not there with God. Of course the Holy Spirit is here and in a spiritual sense we are in the presence of God. But it's not yet complete. All of this, the Passover, the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, in all of its significance and beauty still points forward to something. Guess what it is? A meal.
From Revelation 19: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage supper of the lamb has come.” Jesus pointed us to this in our reading from Luke, “I have eagerly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” That is the feast to which all of this is leading.
When the kingdom of the lamb is finally established, the church is adorned as a bride and Christ as the groom, and we sit down at another table with bread and wine and meat where we will eat and drink and remember with God himself the story from Passover, to the last supper, to the Eucharist, to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
As we approach the table, we do so with gladness. Our paschal lamb has ransomed us. We can wonder at the beauty of the ancient story and our participation in it. And if we yearn for more, we're in a good place. Let this meal whet your appetite for what is to come. So I'm going to stop talking and sit down, and we're going to go forward in our worship. Let's confess our faith, confess our sin, reconcile with one another, and go to the table reminded of its history...and its future.