For those who want a change from the Gospel
Maundy Thursday – Exodus 12:1-14
Why this blog series on the OT readings from the lectionary? For two reasons: firstly, I love the OT and feel keenly its neglect in a church which has become in practice if not in theology virtually Marcionite*, and secondly because there is so much richness to be found in its take on some of our lectionary themes. Maundy Thursday is perhaps one of the most guilty manifestations of Gospel-centricity: I’m sure that in the vast majority of churches sermons or meditations today will be about servant leadership and/or the importance of the Eucharist. But by looking at the OT background we can add layers of richness to the tired and politically correct footwashing narrative.
So what themes emerge from the instructions given for the first Passover? The immediate thing to strike me was the sense of new start: ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.’ v.2. The Passover represented a brand new beginning’. That’s the significance of unleavened bread. Part of the previous batch of bread would be left to go mouldy, and that would form the starter yeast for the next. So to eat bread without yeast meant a sharp discontinuity and the need to start from scratch after the break. We might meditate on the discontinuity for us before and after coming to Jesus on the cross, particularly in these days when we are told that ‘Damascus Road’ conversions are no longer the ticket.
Then there is the theme of salvation, seen here as rescue. After nine unsuccessful plagues God was about to unleash his most powerful weapon, and this, finally was going to be the means through which Pharaoh’s will was broken and the Israelites freed. Now it is the Father who loses his Son, and we who can be set free from the cruel and oppressive rule of sin in our lives. Again, my guess is that we rarely see it like that, and that for most of us Jesus is the icing on the cake of a comfortable life, not the means of rescue from a life bound for destruction. This can lead to a devaluing of the cross and a cheapening of what Jesus has done for us. It really is rescue.
Thirdly, how about the sense of journey? One of the memorable events in our family history is of eating our meal on Maundy Thursday with our coats and hats on and with walking sticks in our hands (no easy task). Our grown-up boys still talk about this, and the symbolism contains elements of haste and urgency, and, we know from hindsight, a long and winding journey to freedom. The footwashing symbolism is about arrival and preparation for the banquet: the Passover is about setting out. The cross is for us both a departure and an arrival. In the famous words, we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. But we have a long journey of sanctification, becoming more like Jesus, ahead of us, and our Passover meal provides rations for that journey.
My fourth theme from the Passover institution narrative is a particularly poignant one at the moment: that of sharing. Verses 3-4 give instructions for the meal to be shared with others, and God’s care for the solitary, whom he sets within families (Ps 68:6), is shown in this caring passage. Today we will worship via the gift of Zoom or Facebook, and sharing with others, particularly those who have no-one else, will need more creativity than usual. Let’s remember that what we are being called to by our government is physical distancing, and need not mean social distancing, and as we remember and journey forwards, let’s remember those with whom we walk.
*Marcion of Sinope was a 2nd century heretic who taught that the God of Jesus was a different God from the one of the OT, and so tried to expunge from his Bible the OT and all NT references to it. It was a very thin book!