Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Consider God’s grace in providing us freedom from the bondage of sin. If you explore the Old Testament, you’ll find many texts which speak of the freedom God provided to His chosen people, Israel. In each of these instances, we see how the freedom He granted those He loved was merely a small and pale foreshadowing, though. The true freedom He would provide to Israel and to all people would come through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. The scripture text for our meditation this day covers a portion of the pivotal and dramatic events in Egypt by which God finally persuaded Pharaoh to let the people go.
In the 12th chapter of the book of Exodus, God gives Moses and Aaron a detailed prescriptive of what must be done to protect His people from impending death, and to prepare themselves for the freedom that was imminent. He tells them when they are to do it, how they are to do it, with what they are to do it, and why they are to do it.
An unblemished male lamb is a pivotal requirement in the Lord’s plan, for those who would listen and be saved. The lamb must be slaughtered; its blood spilled and used to mark the protected ones. The lamb must burn; must be completely affected by the flames of a fire, and then consumed in its fullness by the people. They are to be ready at all times to answer the call to leave their bondage and move into a new life, and be aware that failure to heed God’s warning and accept God’s promises will leave them subject to great destruction and death.
So, it’s clear to anyone paying attention here that sometimes, a meal is more than just a meal. It becomes more than simply a chance to satisfy your taste buds or stuff your stomach. Sometimes, the meal takes on greater significance. There are several examples of this. On their wedding day, couples don’t place a bite of that pretty cake in each other’s mouths just because they’re in the mood for it—it has symbolic meaning as they begin their lives together. The final meal of a death-row inmate is more than just a chance for him to die without hunger pangs—it’s an acknowledgement that, despite whatever evil actions led to this consequence, even a criminal remains human.
And all of you may not really like turkey and dressing all that much, but I’ll bet most of you have eaten it on more Thanksgivings than you care to remember. In such situations, eating is often about far more than eating.
On their last night in Egypt, during their final hours of slavery, the Israelites joined together in a meal that was far more than a meal. None of the menu items were there just to pretty up the plate. Nothing was chosen because of its nutritional content, or even because it happened to have a good flavor. In fact, one part of it was chosen specifically because of its bad taste! Bitter herbs the Israelites were to eat.
Yes, bitter herbs, because the taskmasters of Egypt had embittered their lives with the daily grind of servitude. Just as cows chew their cud, these soon-to-be-freed slaves were to chew these herbs, year after year, as an edible token of the bad taste left in their mouths from those corrosive years in bondage.
Unleavened bread was also part of the meal—unleavened because Pharaoh would banish them from his land even before the next sunrise, before the yeast had enough time to work its way through the dough. It was the bread of affliction, because they would have to exodus from Egypt in haste, before the tyrant changed his mind yet again, and re-locked their chains. This unleavened bread truly was “fast food”, but it was fast food of the sacred sort, because the people of God would literally have to “eat and run.”
And so, the bitter herbs were the dish of remembrance, and the unleavened bread was the dish of haste. In its own way, too, the main course—the roasted flesh of a sacrificed lamb—heralded something else for these children of God; something that was for them both a “now” and a “not yet”.
The “now” of the roasted meat was the tangible sign that, just a few hours before, an innocent victim had been slaughtered in their place. Above and alongside the entrances to their homes was painted the blood of that substitute, a signal to God that they had indeed obeyed everything He had commanded them regarding this meal. The angelic Destroyer who was passing through the land that night would pass over their homes, sparing their firstborn sons. But he would pass into the homes of unbelievers, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.
The blood of the Passover lambs, then, was a crimson hieroglyphic. It translated into one saving message: “Pass over, O messenger of death. A child of God lives here.” And so, as they tasted that lamb’s flesh, these children of God knew that neither they nor their sons and daughters would taste of death. Their Good Shepherd had prepared a table before them in the presence of their enemies, a table that gave them light and life as they walked through the valley of the shadow of Egypt.
As wonderful as God’s grace and mercy was in this meal, though, this main course proclaimed a message that extended well beyond that night, beyond all the Passover celebrations that would follow.
Indeed, the whole meal—the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, and the roasted lamb—was all an edible prophecy. For, just as the preachers of old uttered prophecies of the coming Messiah, so this meal also was a foretelling—a foretelling they could sink their teeth into. It promised that what the Israelites were eating “now” was merely a foretaste, an appetizer that was to make their taste buds eager for a meal that was “not yet.” And this “not yet” meal would be one that would far surpass their Passover supper in Egypt, both in wonder and in excellence.
This surpassing meal is definitely more than a meal. It’s about eating, but about far more than just eating; and it’s about drinking, but it’s also about far more than drinking. It is a table where the things of earth are lifted up to the things of heaven, and the things of heaven are brought down to the things of earth. Here, God comes down into the Egypt of our captivity, not to kill His enemies, but to place in our mouths his own body and blood, given into death to save His enemies—to save you and me.
This food of the new and better Passover may seem a bit bland, maybe even austere. Bread and wine; nothing that’s going to dazzle our palates. Nothing that’s going to impress a gourmet; nothing to make this world’s connoisseurs salivate. But so it was in ancient times as well, when the Israelites ate unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, and roasted lamb. There was nothing there to raise the eyebrows of whoever might have been the Martha Stewart of ancient Egypt.
But the Father did not send His Son into the world to impress the world, but to save the world through Him. And the means He uses to save you are wrapped in a disguise of utter simplicity.
Take, eat, this simple bread is His body. It is the body of the perfect Lamb who was not passed over, but rather the Lamb who passed under the knife. Or, rather, who passed under the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, passed under the sentence of the spineless Pontius Pilate, passed under the whips and blows and spitting and thorns of the soldiers, passed under the sneers of the crowd, passed under the beams of His cross, passed under all the evil this world could heap upon Him—and then some.
Yet He also passed under the verdict of His Father—the verdict which declared this Innocent One guilty of our crimes, which asked that He suffer our sentence, all so that we—the truly guilty ones—might get off scot-free.
Take, eat, this is the body of God’s own Lamb. No knife slices His throat as it did the first Passover lambs, but nails, spear, pierce Him through; the cross is borne for me, for you. Behold, the Lamb of God, skewered on the beams of that cruel tree, all the flames of hell ablaze beneath Him, fueled not by the specks but by the great planks and logs of our transgressions, leaping up to roast the flesh of this pure and perfect sacrifice.
Take, eat. Open your mouth; fear not. Taste and see that the Lamb is very good indeed—good enough for you who have been horribly bad. Good enough for you, and for all the world. So good, in fact, that in eating Him you become the good that He is. You are…Well, you are what you eat.
Take, drink, this simple wine is His blood. It is the life-blood of the Lamb who gave His life for you. He gave it not in a single outpouring, but from the alpha of His life to its omega. He gave it as an eight-day-old infant, shedding the drops of His circumcision blood, conforming to the Law of God, for you.
He gave it in Gethsemane, as He prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup be removed from me,” His sweat becoming like drops of blood, already filling that cup as He fulfilled the Father’s will, for you. The Father would indeed remove that cup from Him, but only after this obedient Son had drained it of the poison of our sins and filled it with the precious, priceless vintage of His love. He gave it when the whips ripped open His muscles, when the thorns punctured His brow, when the nails tore through His hands and feet, and finally when the soldier’s spear broke through the dam of His flesh to unleash the torrent of water and blood that spilled forth to pool in every font and every chalice in all of Christendom, from then to eternity.
So, take, drink, this is His blood. Don’t paint it on your doorframes, but on your lips, on your tongue, on your heart, and on your soul. This blood is the armor of the Almighty, shielding every inch of you from the destruction that will overtake this world when the angels execute the judgments of God. They will pass over you, these destroying angels, for you have passed under and bathed in the bleeding side of the Passover Lamb. You have been painted with the crimson colors of the Christ who hands His chalice to you.
Take and drink… and drink… and drink some more, for this cup is your salvation, this blood that flows from the veins of the Lamb.
Here is a meal that takes on a life of its own. Rather, a meal that takes on the life of another—the life of its founder, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And in taking this meal into yourself, you take on His life as your own, passing from bondage into freedom; from death into life everlasting. Amen.