Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.
-from Exodus 12
Jacob moved his whole family to Egypt to be near Joseph, and they settled in the good land of Goshen. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful.
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.
“Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor.
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
A Hebrew boy was born, and his mother hid him as long as she could. When she could hide him no longer, she placed him in a watertight basket and floated him into the Nile.
Pharaoh’s daughter found him, in the river, and the baby Moses grew up to become part of the royal household.
Grown Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, and fled from Egypt. In Midian, he found a wife, had some sons, and worked for his father-in-law as a shepherd.
He learned how to lead a flock through the wilderness. That will be useful later on. Meanwhile, the Hebrew people prayed for deliverance, and God heard their cries.
One day, as Moses was tending the sheep, he came to Horeb: known as the mountain of God. There, he saw a bush that appeared to be on fire but was not consumed. It was the presence of God, calling Moses to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.
Moses was initially very hesitant, but God convinced him.
Pharaoh had no intention of letting the people go, though. The plagues began, as God demonstrated divine power over the gods of Egypt.
Frogs. Flies. Locusts. Darkness. Each time, Pharaoh was hard-hearted toward the Hebrew people. Each time, he refused to let them go.
As we approach the climax of the story, the author seems to run down a rabbit trail. The narrative takes a moment to have God explain to Moses exactly how to have a dinner party. Moses has to get them all to eat lamb prepared in a very specific way, all on the same night, while dressed to go and wearing their sandals and with their staffs in their hands, after having wiped the lamb’s blood all over their doorframes.
Can you imagine the logistical problem here? Here’s the entire nation of Israel, and it’s not like Moses can just send out a mass text. There are an awful lot of details, and each one has to be managed just right. The angel of death is coming. If you mess it up, then you or your kid might die.
These details are so important, though – and so worth obsessing over – because this isn’t just any meal. It’s a meal that establishes a new identity.
The Exodus is seen as such an important event that the calendar is to be recalculated. From now on, the year will always begin with remembering that they are a people called into freedom. This story is a new beginning.
God acts in power, and God’s people are freed. The story can go any of a million directions from here, but this is where it has to start- with freedom.
During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.
As soon as they were gone, though, Pharaoh changed his mind. He chased them to the Sea of Reeds, where God miraculously parted the sea in order to let the Hebrews cross. When Pharaoh once again ignored God’s power and attempted to have his army follow in their chariots, the wheels got stuck in the mud and then the waves came crashing down on them.
And so the story ends with the first praise song in the Bible, sung by Moses and Miriam and all the people as they celebrated God’s deliverance from Egypt. We find here in this story the first uses of the words redemption and salvation, which will go on to be so crucial in Christian theology.
And we find, over and over, the command to remember this story.
It’s a wise approach. Stories don’t last long, if we aren’t intentional about telling them.
You know how it goes. You run across an old journal, you see an old letter, you chat with an old friend. Suddenly, you’re reminded of the way in which grace was present with you during a difficult time that hadn’t come to mind for ages.
We have to tell the stories, if we want to remember. At the heart of our faith lies a story of resistance, of a hope fulfilled in unimaginable ways. It’s why we can say with the Psalmist, “Some will trust in horses and some will trust in chariots, but we will trust in the name of our God.”
Christian storytelling is marked by these stories of peaceful resistance. In recent Quaker history, we can look at the example left by Tom Fox: a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams who risked and lost his life in Iraq.
Christian Peacemaker Teams was the first major organization to publicly stand against the torture of Iraqi prisoners, long before any reports were made public on Abu Ghraib. Tom was in Iraq to promote the human dignity of Iraqi detainees and to work with their families.
Tom was kidnapped in 2005, and found dead in 2006. His friend Michele Naar-Obed remembers Tom as “committed to trying to create a world in which violence would not dominate.“
When we tell Tom’s story and remember his witness, we’re reminding ourselves that our God is not a God of the past tense. We’re reminding ourselves that resistance is worthwhile, that God is ultimately on the side of the peacemakers.
Tom may have lost his life, but he gave life to the people who saw his witness. And it’s those who lose their lives who find them in the end.
Tom Fox’s story isn’t the only one we can tell. There’s Bayard Rustin, a black gay Quaker man, who served as a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bayard studied with Gandhi and brought his nonviolent resistance techniques to bear on our own nation’s history of racial injustice.
Bayard Rustin’s witness to peace, even while being marginalized for his sexual orientation, helped shape our country for the better. He left us with this advice, “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.”
Just a week and a half ago, many of us were gathered in the meetinghouse at Wilmington College to hear about some angelic troublemakers. We were listening to stories about Maynard McKay and Luther Warren and other brave men from Clinton and Highland Counties who served with the American Friends Service Committee during WW1.
I’m sure they heard their fair share about how unpatriotic it was not to support the war effort by enlisting in the army, but they invested their time and risked their lives for the cause of peace anyway.
That’s what the Gospel looks like. I can’t help but think that those fourteen men remembered stories they had been told about Civil War resisters, about the first Friends, about the man who said, Blessed are the peacemakers. They remembered their stories, and so they were able to tell their own.
Every year, Jewish people tell this story of the Exodus. They use the ritual of the Seder meal to help them teach the story and to help them remember the story. I know that ritual can be a dirty word among Quakers, but hear me out here. We have rituals of our own, because rituals are part of being human.
We open committee meetings with a short period of silent worship. That’s a ritual. This ritual reminds us that we are to seek God’s will in all our decisions.
We shake hands after worship – we greet one another as Friends – because a handshake communicates equality. Male and female, old and young, experienced Friend and new to Quakerism- when we meet in Christ, we’re all on the same level. Shaking hands is meant as a reminder of our essential equality.
Moses goes into great detail in describing the Passover meal, not because he (or God) is an authoritarian tyrant, but because he wants the people to remember this moment.
He wants them to remember that they told and lived this resistance story. Moses wants them to remember that the story came true.
In the sitting area over there, I’ve left a stack of children’s books that are about Moses or about the quest for racial justice and an end to slavery. If you have a young reader in your house, please look through them and take what you think they’d like.
One of them, a Caldecott Honor Book, is titled Moses. It isn’t about Moses, though, or at least not exactly so: it’s a retelling of the story of Harriet Tubman. It uses the story of Moses as a frame for telling the story of a woman brave enough to escape slavery herself and then return for others.
Moses tells a resistance story, and it becomes the way in which Harriet Tubman can tell one, too. And both of them come true- that’s the Gospel part of this story.
And both of them need to be told, which is also Gospel. These are stories that we need to share.
Each Sunday, we have a ritual. I talk here for awhile, and then I sit down, and everything gets quiet. We bow our heads, or we look at the windows, or we pray for our neighbors, or we assess how our week has gone, or we read the back of the bulletin while making a mental grocery list, but regardless of all of that, here is the ritual: we sit together, and we wait.
Once a week, in the silence, we remind ourselves and each other that God is truly present with us. Once a week, in the silence, we remind ourselves that this God really might choose to speak.
Once a week, in the silence, we remind ourselves that we might be the vessels of what God has to say.
Once a week, we reënact the story of salvation, as we sit quietly with the reality that the God who created the whole universe chooses to be present here with us.
God was present with Moses, and liberation came: this is the promise of Passover. God was present with Harriet Tubman, and liberation came.
God is present with us, Friends. It’s our job to tell that story. How are God’s promises here with us now? How will God’s liberation come?