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?
Now I say all of this about the Passover, because our Gospel reading this morning brings us back to it. In fact, it says that the two events that occur in our reading happen during the Passover. And this important because this detail functions as an interpretive key for the passage as a whole. You see the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is found in all four gospels--in fact it’s the only miracle found in all four gospels--but only in the Gospel of John is it mentioned that this event happened during the time of the Passover. This is significant for John. For only a bit earlier--at the end of chapter 5--which we did not read this morning, the author hints at the fact that Jesus is the prophet to come. That Jesus is the prophet like unto Moses. So these miracles that we read about today are not random displays of how awesome Jesus is. In fact, John speaks of them not so much as miracles but as signs. Signs that Jesus is in fact the second Moses. Signs that the second Exodus is quickly approaching. For just as God parted the Red Sea waters through the prophet Moses, so too Jesus shows his authority over the waters of chaos. Just as manna was provided for the people of Israel in wilderness when they grumbled unto Moses, so too Jesus provided the bread of heaven to those gathered before him.
And, interestingly enough, instead of being dumbfounded and confused like the disciples and his followers so often are about who is is and what he’s doing, the crowd ‘gets it.’ They see what he’s doing here. They make the connection. They see that he is the prophet like unto Moses. They see that he is the one Moses said was to come. And so they want to make him king. A good and noble desire. Here is the prophet; why not make him ruler. Here is a man who can make sure that we all eat; let’s put him in charge.
And you would think that Jesus, the one who elsewhere talks about how the kingdom is near or that the kingdom is at hand, would be down with this desire. Would be into being made king.
Why then, if he really is to be king, would he refuse their desire to make him so? Why, as the text says, would Jesus slip away not giving them what they want?
Why? Because his mission has not been fulfilled. Because the second Passover hadn’t happened yet. For the Word made flesh, the second Moses, did not come merely to liberate his own. He came to liberate the whole world. He came not to tell his people to sacrifice, but to be the lamb that was sacrificed whose own blood would be put not on the doorposts of houses, but on the doorposts of human hearts so that judgment and death might pass over all. Not just for the Hebrews, not just for his own, but for everyone. “Egyptians” included. For the second Passover was all-inclusive. It is not just for slaves, but scandalously enough, for ordinary, everyday, barely aware oppressors, too.
Jesus, the second Moses--in this second Passover--delivers yet again, not just from slavery and bondage, but also from Sin and Death. Not just for insiders but also for outsiders. Not just for victims but, scandalously enough, for victimizers, too.
And that’s the good news for you and for me. The good news that is a scandal, too. That whether you’ve been oppressed or you’re an oppressor, this Passover is for you.