“Head, Legs, and Inner Organs”
By Rev. Dr. Jason Byassee
Sunday, April 2, 2023
Reading: Exodus 12:3-4, 6-9, 29-32
Blessed Palm Sunday to you. It’s the day when Jesus and the twelve ride into Jerusalem. Instead of riding on a stallion, arms at the ready to take the city like a great general, Jesus bumps along on a pitiful donkey. He is acclaimed by the people, but mostly by children, who are not good soldiers. And when Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he doesn’t plant his standard and claim his kingdom, he looks around, shrugs, and leaves. Let me read the story to you. It’s a good one. It’s why we’re here today.
They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
A bit of an anti-climax, wouldn’t y’all say? Jesus knows us. Our hearts are fickle. We who acclaim him with “hosanna,” that is, God saves, will soon be calling for his head, shouting “crucify.” Fame is fleeting. He’s not after being King in Jerusalem. He is already King in all creation. And he will reign from his cross. Please come back Thursday and Friday to see how holy week unfolds.
We have been in a series on the book of Exodus this year that will conclude with Easter next week. You heard the story of the first Passover a moment ago. It is the tenth plague God hurls at Egypt to loosen Pharaoh’s grip on enslaved Israel and let the people go. And it is the most severe. Egypt enslaved all Israel. Pharaoh tried to exterminate Israel by killing baby boys. In the Passover, the tenth plague, the firstborn in Egypt are all killed, human, and animal. There is not a home without a crushing loss. From Pharaoh on his throne to the prisoner in the dungeon. This is a grim democracy of grief. It shows what happens when you enslave a people. You lose your own child. There is mercy in the severity: Pharaoh tried to commit genocide and failed because of the Hebrew midwives’ wisdom. In return his people are not eliminated, as would be just—an eye for an eye. They lose their firstborn, not all children. But make no mistake this is a heavy story. There is no celebration of this loss. The action happens offstage, the deaths not even seen or described.
As we’ve been in Exodus all year, I’ve also been reading a history of the Underground Railroad called Bound for Canaan. As some 100,000 souls headed north from slavery to freedom they spoke of Canada as Canaan. While they were in the US, even in free states, they could be kidnapped by slavecatchers and returned to bondage. But Canada was freedom. Britain outlawed slavery, so the soil of Ontario was the promised land. Black communities sprung up here, offering education and the chance to work, to build a family and wealth. To live. Meanwhile the US descended into civil war, some 600,000 soldiers dead. It’s the same lesson as Exodus. Enslave another people and you end up enslaved. Kill another people’s sons and you lose your own. A severe logic. As the kids say, karma’s tough. As they say in the black church, quoting scripture, as you sow so shall you reap.
The action slows way down in our story from Exodus. Very precise instructions are given. Every family take a lamb. If a family is too small, join with another family. If there is a democracy of grief in Egypt, there is a democracy of feasting in Israel. Eat together. The family that matters is God’s people, more than biology or household. A year-old lamb. When its tender and good. No blemish. That is, don’t offer to God a sickly one, with a broken leg, that’s dying. No, offer your best. Eat only unleavened bread. No time for bread to rise. Eat the whole thing roasted. That is, no time for leftovers. No space for storage. We are leaving Egypt. And eat it this way. Shoes on feet. Staff in hand. Crouched. Ready to spring to freedom. For this very night you shall be saved. This isn’t a leisurely feast with a nap after. This is a hearty meal to set out into life.
Christians have always seen signs of Jesus Christ in this meal. His Last Supper is this holy week. He gathers with friends and celebrates what’s sort of like a Passover meal. But it’s reoriented around himself. This is my body. This is my blood. Take, eat, and be part of me. St. Paul promises that Christ is our Passover. He’s the one in whom we pass from death to life, from slavery to freedom. When we baptized folks last week we spoke of the Exodus, how God is always leading people to freedom through the sea. The sea is our sins. Our slavery. Our bondage. Baptism is miraculous delivery. And the Lord’s Supper is our Passover: our meal on the way to freedom.
Our Jewish friends celebrate the Passover as the meal that makes them Jewish. It’s the foundation. And I love how they do it. The adults are supposed to act strangely, until one of the children asks, “How is tonight unlike any other night?” And then they tell the story. This is the Passover of the Lord. He acts to save the Jewish people. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, the only God there is intervenes in history personally to free slaves. They eat unleavened bread. They taste bitter herbs to remember bitter slavery in Egypt—usually horseradish. One Jewish friend tells how in their home they ask what’s been your Egypt this year? Your mitzrayim? The place of slavery God is delivering you from? Her granddaughter said she’d been through puberty, had her first period that year. That’s difficult! Mitzrayim. One nephew said he’d gotten divorced that year. That’s devastating. Mitzrayim. I wonder about you. What’s your place of slavery? Bondage? From which you want freedom? Mitzrayim. You know what God is always doing? Setting the oppressed free. That’s all God does. That’s all God is.
There is a deep democracy of grief in Egypt. A democracy of freedom in Israel. And here, now, among us, a democracy of grace. Find me a chain. Right there you’ll see the God of Israel and Jesus smashing that thing. That’s all God does. That’s all God is.
Then we hear the aftermath. Another meeting with Pharaoh. Previously, after some of the other plagues, Pharaoh bargained. Okay, you can go, but not your animals. Okay, you can go for a few days. Okay, you can go, but not your elderly. Not your kids. Here Pharaoh begs them to leave. Go away. You have meant death for us in Egypt. But then Pharaoh adds this strange request: “Bring a blessing on me too.” Now remember, in most of world history if you want to name the embodiment of all evil, you name Pharaoh. Until Hitler. Now it’s always Hitler. But until that unfortunately mustached Austrian corporal, it was Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks Israel for a blessing. If you know your Bible you might remember that way back in Genesis, the patriarch Jacob himself, renamed Israel, comes to Egypt. It’s a famine. His family is starving. They hear there’s food in Egypt. And they go. And they discover Joseph in charge of all Egypt. And Israel meets Pharaoh. And blesses him. “Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh.” The last of the patriarchs blesses the embodiment of evil. Jesus’ greatest teaching is to love your enemy. Not your friend. Not your spouse. Not your kids. Not even your self. But your enemy. And he gets it from here, in Israel. Maybe Pharaoh doesn’t mean it. He sends his army after Moses and the Israelites and they drown in the Red Sea. You’ll hear about that next week at Easter. But I just wonder if there’s wisdom here. My greatest pain in life is a scar now, from which I bless others. A Winnipeg singer I love Alana Levandowski sings, “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you”. I wonder if there’s wisdom in giving thanks to God not just for blessings. But for sorrow. That’s where God meets us. In the hardest, most severe places. Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone. Some people get strong in the broken places.”
You have no doubt heard about the violence on the TTC in this city. Last week near where we live a 16-year-old kid was stabbed to death by a total stranger on a bench outside Keele Station. The victim’s family came from Brazil to Canada because they thought it’d be safer for him to grow up here. It is, on balance, but not for him, or for that family. That’s a wound in a family, in a city, in humanity, that will never close. Lord have mercy. But there is a deeper wound. The one in God’s own heart. It holds all our wounds. And will one day heal them. Lord, make that day soon. And have mercy on us all.
And now we turn to the Lord’s Supper. Our Passover. My wife Jaylynn and I like watching Murdoch Mysteries, set in Victorian and Edwardian Toronto. And there’s an episode where the holy grail is discovered in Markham. At one point a police sergeant guffaws: “The holy grail, in bloody Markham?” It is ridiculous, the very cup of Christ in suburban GTA Ontario. But we claim the same here this morning. The cup we are about to share is the very cup of Christ. Not only that. He’s the bread. He’s the wine. He’s one another. We are his body. And in us and through us he’s making all things new. Especially the things that hurt most. Amen.