Sunday, April 10, 2011

Preparations, part 2 (Exodus 12.14-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 10, 2011
Some Music Used 
Prelude: "Holy God, We Praie Thy Name" (Miller)
Song of Praise: "Holy is the Lord" (Tomlin, Giglio)
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Assurance" (arr. Austell)

Offertory: "The First Song of Isiah" (White)

Hymn of Sending: "'O God, Our Help in Ages Past" (ST. ANNE)

Preparations, pt. 2
Text: Exodus 12:14-27

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we noted that much of Exodus 12 interrupts the story that runs through Exodus 1-11 and picks back up at the end of chapter 12. This interruption inserts instruction and explanation about Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, both of which remember and celebrate the events taking place at this very point in the story.

We also noted that these two Jewish memorials are back to back, because they point to primary components of God’s Exodus-delivery of Israel. Passover remembers and describes God’s passing over of the firstborn of the Hebrews, sparing them from death and judgment. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, described in today’s text, remembers the period of departure in which there was no time for yeast or bread to cook… only flatbread as God’s people moved on their way.

Last week we focused in on some of the meaning and symbolism of the Passover meal instituted in this chapter. Today, particularly since the meaning of the unleavened bread is pretty straightforward, I want to focus on the importance of remembering God’s past faithfulness, which is one of the reasons given for these observances. We’ll see that these acts of remembrance are not mere ritual, but serve purposes related to both faith and family.

Remember and Re-Enact

Words of remembrance and commandment appear frequently throughout these verses: memorial (v. 14), celebrate (v. 14), permanent ordinance (vv. 14, 17), holy assembly (v. 16), observe (vv. 17, 24, 25), and rite (vv. 25, 26). Several appear more than once. Clearly, the Lord wants His people to remember what happened – so much so, that it becomes one of their early commandments, and one that is lasting. Remembering these events is a permanent ordinance or commandment.

What also stands out is that these memorials are not just verbal or internal, like reflecting on the past. Rather, these events are re-enacted symbolically through the Passover meal and through the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. There is something tangible and visceral – something memorable – about re-living the past in this way.

The closest things we have to this are the Christian sacraments: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. In each, something present is happening, but we are also re-enacting the past in a tangible, visceral way. The Lord’s Table is rooted in this same Passover meal, and points back to the body and blood – the sacrifice – of Jesus Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God. So also Baptism points back to the baptism of Christ, the saving work of Christ, and the new life we have through Him. These, along with these Jewish memorials, are a way of bringing God’s faithful past into our present such that we can worship God freshly in the here and now.

Indeed, today’s text ends with just that: “the people bowed low and worshiped.” (v. 27) 

Sustained Trust in God’s Future (rooted in God’s Faithful Past)

In addition to leading us into worship in the present, one of the very significant aspects of this kind of remembering and re-enacting of God’s faithful past is that it points us towards God’s future. And in doing so, it requires a kind of sustained trust in God to hold our future.

The part of the text that highlights that is verse 25. The Lord instructs the people to observe Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread – to “never forget,” as it were. And part of this permanent command means, “Whey you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite.” (v. 25) Now they didn’t know at this point that it would be 40 more years before they reached that land, but they did know that it lay in the future. And the Lord was telling them that there was a connection between God’s faithful past and God’s faithful future.

Think about that in terms of our own sacraments. We baptize the infant children of believing parents, not because that infant has a spark of saving faith, but because God has been faithful in the past through Jesus Christ, who died once and for all for the sins of the world. And those Christian parents and the surrounding congregation are remembering and re-enacting Christ’s saving act as an obedient act of sustained trust in God’s future for this child – that God will continue to offer grace, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

We come to the Lord’s Table to remember and re-enact our Lord’s death until he comes again – those are the last words I say before we eat the bread and drink from the cup. God has been faithful in the past, and we are trusting Him to meet us in the present and be faithful in the future.

Such is the power and the value of remembering and re-enacting the mighty deeds of the Holy One of Israel! 

Generations

And finally, what is such a strong component of this text: we are to hand on this faith to our children through the remembering and re-enacting of God’s story. The Lord explicitly says that these commands to remember and re-enact are “for you and your children forever” (v. 24). It is such a moving and vivid verse, included to this day in the Jewish Passover: “When your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” (v. 26)

Because God commands it and precisely because remembering God’s faithful past does point to our future, we are to share these stories with our children and their children. These memorials, which could just sound like more religious ritual, is really an invitation to worship the Lord and share faith in the Lord with our children.

Now, you may be wondering if specifically observing Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are such a big deal, why don’t we do this with our own families? I would answer that we do. What those memorials point to are one event in human history – the Exodus – and Christ has kept and fulfilled those feasts along with the later Law of Israel through his own obedience and once-and-for-all Exodus-deliverance through salvation on the cross.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not just parallel examples of ways we remember and re-enact God’s past, present, and future faithfulness; they are the two ways our Lord Jesus has commanded us to remember, re-enact, worship, and pass on God’s story in our lives and with our children.

Exodus 12 highlights the importance of remembering and re-enacting what God has done, both for us and for our children (and, I would add, for the watching world). That same chapter underscores for us the importance and significance of our own Christian sacraments of remembering and re-enacting, commanded by Christ, and at the heart of Christian worship and witness.

At least monthly, we have the opportunity to come to the Lord’s Table and remember and trust in God’s faithfulness. And every time we see a baptism (or water for that matter!), we are invited to remember our own baptism and renew our trust in God’s faithfulness.

That is the Good News of today’s text: God has been faithful; God is faithful; God will ever be faithful; live and share that Good News! Amen.

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