Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Sometimes, I really wish I was Jewish.
Yes, I realize that being Jewish comes with a whole host of problems, not the least of which is a troubled history of exile, persecution, and bloodshed. However, I will be honest in that I envy their cultural and religious traditions, their embodiment of holiness, and their ties to their historic expressions of faith.
I came to this envy honestly: One of the most formative and powerful classes I undertook at seminary was learning the Hebrew language. I wasn’t required to take the course; I wanted to take it because I love language. I love how language shapes the way we look at the world, how we think, how we interact with each other, and in the case of religion, shapes how we think about God. Coming from a background in English and History, in which the etymology and evolution of language is a fascinating and central part of my education, learning Hebrew seemed a natural course of action for me. I wasn’t disappointed.
In the course of learning the language, I was immersed in world of language and thought, narrative and theology so profound and holistic, I couldn’t help but be changed by the process. I fell in love with the language, as most people who learn Hebrew do. As a result, my respect for the Jewish people grew exponentially, and I have no problem saying that when God speaks, God does so in Hebrew. At least in the bible, that is.
When you do learn Hebrew, and you come from a Christian background, it’s hard not to re-read the New Testament from a Jewish perspective. Suddenly, the Jewish identity of Jesus comes alive, and is made tangible. All of his teachings come out of the Jewish canon. All of a sudden, it makes even more sense.
All of this is to say, the Last Supper means so much more as a result.
Today is Maundy Thursday, the first day in the Triduum of Holy Week. It’s also the day that we celebrate the Last Supper, as well as the night on which Jesus was handed over to the authorities to be crucified. Jesus and his disciples were not sharing in just any meal, but a Passover Seder, a holy meal commemorating the salvation and sparing of Israel from the Tenth Plague. It’s a meal of sacrifice of a lamb, whose blood was spilled and spread over the doorways, whose body was roasted and shared in a meal with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. As the meal of the Passover was a sacrifice, so do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a sign of the sacrifice of Jesus.
History is reenacted, and we thus taste the body and the blood of the Lamb of God in the Lord’s Supper. The mystery of this sacrament has been explored and meditated upon by much smarter people than me with much more time to devote to it as well; I know I can’t hit on every interpretation of what goes on at the Table, so I won’t try in this post. What I do want to highlight is the Jewishness of this meal.
As Israel is spared by the sacrifice of the lamb, so are we. We participate in the tradition of common meal, because of many reasons, not the least of which is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but also because of the reflection of God in the sharing of bread and wine.
We also bear witness to the grim reminder that tomorrow our God will die, and that we all too shall die. That just makes the herbs more bitter.
So tonight, let’s meditate on the common meal, and live into the community God has provided us through history and saving grace, for we must all face tomorrow as people of the body and the blood. Let us remember our heritage as people of God. Let us remember the sacrifices of our forebears.
Let’s remember why this night is different.