This meditation is a bit difficult to communicate 'in writing'. It alternates with scripture readings and hymns (not indicated here). In the service, the whole story moved toward the celebration of The Lord's Supper.
Exodus 12:14-20, 26-27
Passover. A terrifying night. We’re huddled inside our home, the only home we have ever known. A lamb has been slaughtered; its blood painted on the front door, the body has been roasted and consumed. But we can’t quite believe what’s happening all around us.
It’s the middle of the night, but we’re not asleep in our bed. Our bellies are full – but we wonder how long it will be before they are full again. Because we’re dressed and packed for a long journey: a journey into the unknown.
All around us in the darkness of the night, we hear the screams of our neighbours. And we know that all of the firstborn males – men and boys who we know – have died. The angel of death has mercifully passed over our houses – the houses of Israel – just as Moses and Aaron said he would. But that does not make this night any less terrifying.
This is the day of redemption: the day that Israel will be delivered from slavery. But it’s not a comfortable redemption: death surrounds us everywhere we turn.
Why did we ever think that redemption would be comfortable? As the reality hits home, we laugh at ourselves for such an innocent assumption. We had longed for our freedom, but foolishly we had not imagined that it would come at such a terrible cost.
But God is wise. Had we known that night what would become of us, we might have chosen to stay in Egypt; we might have chosen death for ourselves.
For close to forty years we have endured hunger, thirst, and great illness. In our anger and confusion we turned our backs on God more than once. But despite our faithlessness, God has been faithful to Israel. He has kept his promise, his covenant. In the fire of our trials and in God’s faithful provision for us, we have learned that redemption is not just physical, but also spiritual.
There is no such thing as redemption easily won. In order for there to be new life, the old life must be left behind. In order for death and the fear of death to be conquered, it must be faced.
One thing we have learned: when you pray for redemption, be careful what you pray for.
We arrived in Jerusalem a few days before Passover to celebrate the festival in the Holy City. Like our ancestors before us, we’d travelled a long way. Perhaps not physically, but spiritually. And like our ancestors before us, we had reason to wonder whether we had gone on a futile journey.
The journey wasn’t the one that we originally expected. And now we were deeply sad, bone-weary and more than a little bit frightened. What had begun with so much hope and energy looked like it was going to end in defeat, despair and death.
We remembered that, thousands of years ago, the Angel of Death passed over the homes of our ancestors… Yet, death seemed to be lurking just outside the door that night, biding his time, waiting for the right moment. We could almost see and hear the Angel of Death moving in the night shadows. We prayed fervently that he would pass over our doorpost that evening even as we wondered whether an agent of death might be lurking inside.
Passover – ha! – the festival of redemption. For us, it was looking more like a festival of defeat. Our ancestors might not have known where they were going, but at least they knew that they were escaping slavery, escaping death. It was beginning to look more and more like we had walked right into the jaws of death and would not be able to escape.
It had begun to dawn on us – and we kept pushing the horrible idea from our minds – when Jesus said that he was going to suffer and die, that he actually meant it in a literal way. If ever there was a time for Jesus to proclaim himself as Messiah and call down an army of angels, now was the time. If ever Israel was to be redeemed, now was the time.
As we ate, Jesus picked up the bread and gave thanks, nothing surprising in that. But our breath almost left our bodies as he picked up Elijah’s cup, poured wine and drank from it. He was proclaiming himself Messiah! It was what we’d been waiting for!
Then he told us that the bread was his body and the wine his blood. And we knew. Somehow we just knew.
Why did we ever think that redemption would be comfortable? As the reality hit home in this terrible moment, we laughed at ourselves for such an innocent assumption. We had longed for our redemption, but foolishly we had not imagined that it would come at such a terrible cost.
Matthew 26:69-75, 27:1-10
I wonder who it is you identify with in this story? I suspect that most people identify with me – Peter. I reckon that you can imagine what it was like to be in such a position: surrounded by people; not knowing who might be hostile and who might be a friend.
My life might have been in danger; I didn’t know. And so I took the safe route: I denied that I even knew him. Ha! That was a bit of a joke, the servant girl sussed me out right away by my Galilean accent. At the end of the day, there was no hiding who or what I was.
But Jesus forgave me. After his resurrection, he gave me the opportunity to heal. He let me tell him three times that I loved him. That’s what he was like and that’s what being his follower is about: forgiveness.
But what about Judas? You might not feel that you can identify him, but I can. I lived with him for three years: The thirteen of us: we travelled together, ate together, laughed together and cried together. I loved Judas like a brother. We all did. Believe me when I tell you that Judas loved Jesus; he wasn’t so different from the rest of us.
What it was that caused Judas to betray Jesus to the authorities, I don’t know. Perhaps he was disappointed with the course that events were clearly taking. Perhaps he was coerced. Perhaps he was afraid. Whatever it was that caused him to betray Jesus, clearly the whole situation caused him great agony.
The events surrounding Judas’ suicide haunt me even to this day. Because I loved him, I can identify with him. We even heard that Judas repented of his terrible deed. The only difference between him and me is that Judas couldn’t or wouldn’t imagine the possibility that he could be forgiven. And the results were tragic.
Did Jesus have to go to the cross in order that the world can be forgiven? I don’t know.
What I do know is that Jesus submitted himself to the worst that human nature could dish out: Denial. Betrayal. Shame. Humiliation. Rejection. Excruciating Physical pain. And he forgave. Even as he hung on the cross, he forgave.
Why did we ever think that redemption would be comfortable? We had longed for our redemption, but foolishly we had not imagined that it would come at such a terrible cost.