FIRST READING: Exodus (12:1-14)
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.
5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.
6 Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;
7 To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles with links of iron;
9 To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.
SECOND READING: Romans (13:8-14)
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (18:15-20)
Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Today’s first reading continues the great story of the Exodus. Most people view Exodus as the story of a journey from slavery to freedom; and, from one perspective, that is true. But Old Testament scholar Terrence Fretheim rightly suggests that it is also a story of a journey from slavery to worship. The entire book of Exodus has a liturgical theme running throughout its pages, one that is inseparable from the narrative.
Even when we come to the central story of the deliverance from Egypt itself – we’ll hear that dramatic event in next Sunday’s reading – even then the account is surrounded by and made part of a liturgy. The crossing of the Red Sea takes place in the context of worship. It begins with today’s reading, the instructions for the Passover meal, and concludes with a hymn of praise: the great Song of Moses in chapter 15.
Etymologically, “liturgy” means “the work of the people,” and that certainly is true. Liturgy is what we, the entire people of God, do together. But from another perspective, liturgy is also the work of God, because it is the means through which God makes present to us God’s great works of salvation and enables us to enter into and participate in those works in our lives.
The liturgy of the Passover, as it is described in today’s reading and as it has been celebrated in the Jewish tradition for millennia, brings every generation to participate in that great saving event, so that every generation can declare that, in the Exodus,” God delivered us.”
In the same way, the liturgy of the Eucharist for which we gather every Sunday, brings every generation of Christian believers to participate in the great saving event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that every generation can declare that, in Jesus’ resurrection, “God has raised us to new life in him.”
But, as the stories of the book of Exodus make clear, the liturgy does not end at the doors of the church or of the synagogue. During the people of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness and in their life in the Promised Land and beyond, they discovered that the ritual in which they participated was an integral and inseparable part of their entire lives: it nurtured that life and mirrored that life and gave meaning to that life. And they came to recognize that any disconnect between that ritual and the rest of their lives seriously disrupted their relationship with their God and with one another and even had a damaging effect on the rest of creation as well.
The gospel that we proclaim and the liturgy for which we gather speak of God’s love and forgiveness and of God’s call to us in Jesus to live that same love and forgiveness. Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel reading, as well as St. Paul’s words in our second reading, address the need to practice that same love and forgiveness even in the most difficult of circumstances. These aren’t pie-in-the-sky attempts at ignoring the very real problems that we face, but clear reminders of what we proclaim here each time that we gather in Jesus’ name to listen to God’s word, to lift up the needs of the world to God, and to break the bread and drink from the cup in remembrance of him.
Singing and talking and praying about love and forgiveness for one hour a week is easy. Living them during the other 167 hours of the week is hard.
During this coming week, the media will be filled with stories, reflections and commentaries leading up to the tenth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. It is at times like these that our liturgy, that our faith, has a vital role to play.
The responses to the mass murder that took place that day have led some to seek, not only justifiable efforts at self-defense, but what can be described only as revenge. Leaders who, especially during election seasons, proudly proclaim themselves to be Christians, have used that atrocity to justify the killing of thousands, the use of torture, and the devastation of lands far from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Yet our liturgy, for which we gather each week, invites us to enter into the death and resurrection of the one who refused to exact revenge, but who instead died praying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” It invites us to enter into the life of the one who countered hostility and violence by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, reaching out to those excluded from society and proclaiming Good News to the poor. It invites us to enter into the life of the one who refused to be overcome by evil, but who overcame evil with good.
As we gather here in his name, we allow God to renew us, to reconstitute us as the people of God, to incorporate us once again into the great events through which God has brought new life to the world. And, in doing so, we also recommit ourselves to living those great, saving events, forgiving as we have been forgiven, loving as we have been loved, and sharing with all the world, friends and foes alike, the great gift of new life given us by God in Jesus Christ our Lord.