Old Testament: 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.
The Response: Psalm 149
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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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
By now, all of our students are back in school and hard at work (one hopes) for another academic year. Among other studies, the older students are immersing themselves in some of the most important works of literature: those that have had lasting influence on our society and on our world. But one book is unfortunately missing from their curriculum: the one toward which we and the rest of our diocese are directing our attention this fall and in the months beyond, namely, the book of Exodus.
Exodus is, of course, foundational and critical for the estimated 14-15 million Jews and 2.1 billion Christians in the world. But it is also foundational for understanding our own country, its history, and its culture. Recent historical studies have shown the way that the exodus story exercised a powerful influence over the founders of this nation. And people throughout history have found in it the inspiration and the thought-framework for movements to set people free from all sorts of bonds. Its narrative was central, for example, to the Civil Rights Movement. And the words of prominent leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., are filled with references to and even direct quotations from Exodus. It is at least one of the most important books that humans have ever created.
Still, I would not recommend it as a literary pattern for students who are assigned to write a narrative, one with a plot that moves from its beginnings and rises to a definitive ending. Not only is the action of the story interrupted later on with chapter after chapter of laws and blueprints for building a tabernacle and for carrying out its services, even the central account of God bringing Israel out of Egypt is interrupted with today’s first reading, which, in its complete version, is twice as long as the one that we heard.
Exodus begins with the background story that we heard two weeks ago, describing the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt. It continues with last Sunday’s account of the call of Moses. It then goes into a narrative that focuses on a series of plagues that God brings on the Egyptians. But, just after the ninth of ten plagues and after a warning about the final, deadly plague, just as we find ourselves on the edge of our seats waiting for the final plague and the slaves’ deliverance to arrive, the book suddenly puts the entire story on hold. In the first reading that we heard this morning, it describes the ritual requirements of the Passover, not just for the characters who will soon be set free, but for all those will celebrate it “throughout your generations.”
It is only after an entire chapter that Exodus jumps back into the story. But it devotes just 14 verses to the final plague and the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt before it stops the action again for a section that spells out the Passover requirements. Only after that do we get to next Sunday’s account of the crossing of the Red Sea.
Why such a choppy format? Why jump in and out of the story to focus so closely on the Passover meal?
That approach is not at all a result of sloppy editing. Instead it deliberately places the entire story in a liturgical setting: within the context of a community’s ritual.
In describing the rationale behind this movement from story to ritual and back again, Rabbi Everett Fox explains (The Five Book of Moses, p. 312): “By means of such editing, the final text was obviously meant to move the Exodus story, with all its historical aspects, into what historians of religion call ‘mythical time.’ In our text, history becomes present event; the hearer is no longer ‘in the audience’ but actually acts out the story.” Because of that transformation, to use Terence Fretheim’s words (Exodus. P 135), “In and through the ritual, every generation of Israelites was the recipient of God’s exodus-shaped redemption. In every era, Israel confessed: God delivered us.” Through the retelling of the story and through the sharing of the Passover meal, believers of every age enter into the story and experience it as their own.
That is exactly what we do each week as we gather to proclaim that “Christ, our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast.” Well designed and rich, historically grounded rituals have the power to do that. We gather, whether in our usual place on Woodman Drive or here in Indian Riffle Park, to recount the story once again. Then we enter into that “mythical time,” allowing the story to become our own and joining with those of every generation who continue to proclaim that “God delivered us.”
But our ritual’s transcendence of time has to do, not only with linking our worship today with the great saving events of ancient times; but, much closer to home, it links our worship on Sunday mornings with our lives throughout the other 166+ hours of the week as well. It is our sharing by Word and Sacrament that gives context and meaning to all that we do seven days a week. It places our entire lives within the setting of God’s saving and liberating work, making every hour of every day sacred and potentially life-giving.
Conversely, what we do and what we proclaim in worship together makes no sense, and in fact is just a sham, unless we sincerely strive to practice what we say we believe in all that we do. Our affirmation that God loves all people and that all people are in fact our sisters and brothers, compels us throughout the week to treat all people in accordance with that assertion, regardless of their race, their nationality, their religion, their sexual orientation, their legal status, or anything else that we might use to try to exclude them. And our declaration that the exodus is an ongoing reality and that God continues to set people free requires us to extend God’s work of liberation to all those who are held captive by prejudice, by poverty, by lack of decent health care, by lack of education, or by whatever other bonds prevent them from living up to the fullness of their God-given potential.
That is the work in which St. Mark’s has been engaged since its beginnings in September of 1938. And, as we begin our 80th year, that continues to be our work today. For the exodus continues. The work of setting God’s people free continues. And it is no longer just the story of Moses and Aaron and Miriam and Joshua, living in the valley of the Nile. It is the story of each and every one of us, living in the valley of the Great Miami River, as well. Together with faithful people of every age, we gather together week by week to “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Ps. 149) and then go out to continue the great work of setting God’s people free.