Kenora Maundy Thursday
1 April 2021
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
O God, on the night he was betrayed Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and gave himself in a meal of bread and win. May we who celebrate these signs of his love, serve and give ourselves to others in his name and to your glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Looking at all the ways the world has changed because of the pandemic in our midst, I was reminded that a year ago, we were all looking forward to the flattening of the curve on the spread of the coronavirus, and we had the anticipation that we’d all be able to be back together for Easter.
A year ago, we were in the midst of a nationwide lockdown, and we were anxiously looking at the news. We were trying to find as much information as possible, while blaming bats for the disease that has, since become a global pandemic, and continues to influence all of our decisions and how we live our lives ever since then.
So, if we look at it, we’re held in bondage.
We’ve become slaves to the coronavirus.
It’s the only way I can find to define the fact that this disease and our attempts to hold it at bay dictates what we can and can’t do. It tells us where we can and can’t go. It tells us who we can and cannot associate with in all levels of our lives.
The coronavirus has for the past year, and even through tomorrow, at this point, continues to dominate absolutely every aspect of our lives, and our livelihoods.
We are, or have been forced to become, slaves to it in order to slow the spread, to keep the numbers of those affected to a minimum, and to come through this with as many of us still standing, shoulder to shoulder when this all passes.
And this may have been the thought pattern as life for the Hebrew people, in Egypt, the early days of slavery, as well.
And if we’re able to look at our own lives in this way, then perhaps we can look at the reading from Exodus, for tonight, with new eyes and a new understanding.
The Hebrew people, the descendants of Abraham, have lived, in ever-increasing degrees of slavery, ever since one pharaoh realized that there were more Hebrew people than Egyptians, and he felt threatened.
Each generation experiencing more harsh conditions than the generation before, until their prayers reach God, who sends them Moses to guide them out of slavery and into a life lived as God’s people.
In a way, it’s like our attempts to hope that the virus will be cleared up in just a few weeks if we stayed home and washed our hands, and yet, here we are a year later, still in the midst of the same struggle, and feeling worn by the experience.
But at the same time, we realize that the world carries on and that we need to continue to live. At such times, then came the guidelines about the masks, out of that need to continue to live and to live in the world we accepted the covid related questions, the restrictions, the distancing, all on top of the handwashing and the continuous urges to stay at home.
So, in tonight’s reading then we see the list of instructions that the Hebrew people are given on how to be prepared for their period of bondage, of slavery to end, and each plague that has visited Egypt. And this is the preparation, the necessary steps needed in order to survive the 10th plague. And if we look back at the previous chapters, each plague that has affected Egypt has been worse than the one before it.
In tonight’s reading we see the last of the plagues. We see the worst of the worst because humanity, Pharaoh has picked this plague.
Tonight’s plague is the death of the firstborn of every person, every family, every clan, every nation in Egypt, handpicked by Pharaoh, himself, to ultimately break the will of the Hebrew slaves, forever.
And we see that God’s instructions are both extensive and unique. The people are told:
- Get a lamb without blemish or disfigurement.
- Share with neighbours if there’s too much for a single household.
- After 14 days of looking after your lambs, everyone slaughters their lambs together.
- Take some of the blood and paint the doorposts and lintels of your houses
- Roast the lamb, whole. (And God means whole! And roasted!!)
- Serve the roast lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
- Eat it standing up, in a hurry.
- Eat it as if you’re prepared to rush out of the house and begin a long journey, tonight.
- Eat it with shoes on your feet, and a walking stick in your hand.
- Any leftovers are to be burnt. (Ex 12:3-11a)
And while the people are occupied with all of this, God sends the Angel of Death to fulfill the conditions of the last plague.
While people are occupied with the restrictions of slavery and with the conditions God set for the very first Passover, God is busy changing the world, changing people’s lives, and changing all of our hearts.
But that doesn’t mean that any of it was easy, or even made sense to them until after the fact.
Yet it’s what was decreed by God to identify those of the Hebrew people were wearied by a life lived in slavery, and were ready to listen to Moses, and Aaron.
They’re ready to follow where and how God leads into a life of freedom.
And we are able to understand this, these days, and if all it took to overcome the virus was a lamb dinner, eaten while preparing to go on a cross country hike, while we’ve painted the doorposts of our houses with the blood of the freshly slaughtered lamb, then how many of us would be online looking for sources of fresh locally raised lamb?
How many of us would be searching out sources of bitter herbs? And buying our favourite crackers?
The point is that God continues to look out for each one of us. That God continues to hear our prayers, our laments, and guides our live all the while encouraging us in ways that will help our neighbours and the world in need.
I found it incredible, and yet wonderful, last spring, when the overall levels of pollution dropped and the water cleared all because industry had ceased, in its temporary effort to stop the virus, to flatten the curve, so that they could then return to business as usual when those same restrictions eased.
So, if we’re talking bondage, perhaps we’re also in bondage, not just to the virus, but also to the products of industry and how it’s meant to benefit our lives, but at what cost?
But we’re still here, so I can, in all confidence, say that despite the restrictions that we continue to face, that continue to challenge us and our ideas of personal freedom and choice, we’re still loved by God.
We can say, with all confidence, that God still surrounds us, guides us, encourages each one of us, to look out for our neighbours.
God still watches over us, and continues to teach each one of us, and perhaps this time, our lesson is to learn how to let go of what doesn’t make our lives feel enriched, in order to make more room for the love of God in our lives, in the world, and in our actions.
We see it start in the passage, for tonight, from Exodus when God provides a loophole for all who believe so that Pharaoh’s plague doesn’t affect the Hebrew nation in the way Pharaoh had thought, in the depths of his frustration and fear filled heart.
Exodus tells us: “12 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. 13 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.” (Ex 12:12-13)
We see it in the reading from 1 Corinthians, when Paul tells us about the Lord’s Supper, the new covenant in his flesh and blood represented in the bread and wine of this same Passover feast.
A new covenant to represent all of us for whom Christ dies on the cross and rises from the dead. “26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26)
And we see it in the example of service that Jesus gives us, as our Lord and Saviour kneels before each one of us, and washes our feet, setting the example of what we are to do for each other, and for our neighbour in need.
“12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:12-15)
And Jesus also tells us: “34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (Jn 13:34)
So, we’re able to acknowledge that although we’re currently in bondage to the coronavirus, we know that it wont last forever.
And in the meantime, we’re supported and loved by God, even when we chafe at the restrictions that are meant to ensure that we’re able to weather this time in our lives, as well.
Because on Easter Sunday, the sun will rise. The stone will be rolled back, and the tomb will be found empty. And we will discover the true gift of God is not only each other, but the promise of the empty tomb which breaks the bonds of sin and death that still strive to hold our hearts, as well.