Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Calvary - St. George's Church, Manhattan
Have any of you ever celebrated Passover?
Have any of you ever been to a seder?
Growing up in a Jewish family on my mother’s side, I went to seders almost every year. At these feasts we would celebrate the liberation of the people of God from their bondage in Egypt. The freedom of slaves from their oppressors; victims from their victimizers.
The point of Passover is to bring to remembrance the Exodus story, where God called on Moses to confront the Pharaoh--the ruler of Egypt--and tell him to let God’s people go. Only the Pharaoh likes being in control and he likes his slaves, so he refuses. In response, God brings judgment on Egypt, and he does so in the form of plagues.
The reason why the season is called Passover has to do with the tenth and final plague, where God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh that if you continue to hold my people in bondage I will strike down all of your firstborn. Pharaoh, stubborn to the end, again refuses. Instead of choosing liberation, he chooses the way oppression, and therefore, of judgment and death.
At this, Moses returns to the people of God--his people--and tells them to feast. He tells them to take a lamb, sacrifice and eat it, and to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses. With this the angel will know to pass over the house not taking the first born. The next day with this great and terrible judgment inflicted on all of Egypt, the Pharaoh, finally, let Moses and his people go...
I’ve always enjoyed the seder feasts that I’ve been to. They are joyous occasions filled with the stories of a great people. But a few seders ago I began to think about the story from the perspective of the Egyptians. Not from the perspective of the Pharaoh, the rulers of Egypt, or the taskmasters who subjugated the people of God, but from the perspective of the ordinary Egyptians who were just going about their ordinary lives. The ones who were minding their own business. The ones who might not have given a second thought about the people of God. Or, if they had, must have thought that having the Hebrews as slaves was just the ordinary way of things; the way things had to be.
But the scary thing about this story is that the text makes clear that these people--the ordinary, everyday, barely aware--were under judgment, too. These people were viewed as complicit in the oppression of the people of God. And this threw me through a bit of a loop. It made me wonder if I might unknowingly be an oppressor of the people of God. It made me wonder if I might be complicit in the victimization of the lowly. As an American with plenty, it made me worry that I, like the everyday Egyptians of old, might be on the wrong side of the fence. So I began to think about this story in a whole new way, and wondered what this passage might mean for me and the ones that I love?