I know my parents read me bedtime stories when I was a kid – but, truth be told, what I remember most were certain tapes I had (yes, they were tapes) each with a particular story on it. My favorite? The story of the exodus from Egypt, led by Moses, on that first passover.
Now that I think back it’s a bit scary, actually – plagues of locusts and frogs, rivers turning to blood, and then, to cap it all off, the death of the first born child of every Egyptian household. It’s not, now that I think about it, really the stuff of children’s bedtime stories.
Except that it was. For me at least.
Perhaps kids are more able to absorb and integrate these things than we adults give them credit for. I do distinctly remember the wailing of the cries as the firstborn of Pharaoh and his kingdom were found dead. But I knew that the ‘good guys’ – in this case the People of Israel – were okay, safe and sound, because they had received the secret code from God before the night fell – to put the blood of a lamb on the doorpost so that the angel of death would know to pass them by, to pass over – not to kill them.
It was the horror of the tragedy that had befallen the Egyptians – even their ruler the Pharaoh – that gave cover and excuse for this exodus led by Moses, the reluctant spokesperson. Moses, who had been encountered by God in the burning bush, and who was now leading the people out of slavery, and toward a new life, a free life, in the promised land. The promised land that was reported to flow with milk and honey, as opposed to the land they had been living in, the land of their captivity which flowed not with milk and honey, but with difficulty, with hard and oppressive labor.
Last night here in our community of La Mision, we celebrated, remembered, this exodus event. I had been looking forward to it since last year when some of us spoke of sharing a seder meal together. For me, it’s something I’ve wanted to participate in for as long as I can remember – this passover meal that I learned of on those childhood tapes, and that I later learned was the basis for the meal that Jesus, a Jew, celebrated with his friends, his disciples, the night he was arrested, the night before he was crucified. This meal that in the Christian church has now come to be called Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.
It was on his final night walking this earth that Jesus of Nazareth took bread, took wine, as he blessed them and shared them with his disciples, and told them to do this in remembrance of him. The meal that was meant to remember a release from slavery, a liberation, a turning away from that which kept them in bondage and turning toward that which would offer them life, new life, new beginnings and a release from all that which enslaved them. This meal that was a celebration of the exodus – an exodus he was inviting them to find not just in remembering the past, but as Ron reminded us last night before we began our seder meal, it is a call for us to live this story ourselves – we are the ones who have been brought out of slavery, we are the ones who have been set free, and we are the ones to continue to work for the Jewish idea of the tikkun olam, the repairing of the world. Jesus often referred to it as the ‘kingdom of God’ – an inbreaking reign where those who were sick were being healed, those who were blind were beginning to see, those who were deaf were beginning to hear, and those who were dead were being given new life.
How sad and very ironic that it is this very meal, done in memory of liberation, that has often been the cause of so much exclusion rather than inclusion, has focused on keeping out those deemed unworthy (who of us is ever worthy?) rather than welcoming all in our worthiness and unworthiness. In our seder last night we included two additional items on our table as reminders of this continued need for liberation – an orange, representing our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors who have struggled for so long to find equality at the table, and an olive, on behalf of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who still live with the dream, but not the reality, of homeland and of freedom.
It is said, in the story of the exodus, that Moses held up his arms and the sea parted to allow the people of Israel to cross through to the other side, to freedom. As a young girl who had listened to this story countless time on my storybook tape, I tried repeatedly, when going to the beach, to hold up my arms and see if it might cause the waves of the Pacific Ocean to part. Though I tried and tried, I never seemed to be able to quite master it. The waves just kept coming.
I live not far from a giant statue of Jesus. He too is standing, facing the waters of the ocean. He too has his hands raised up, as if in blessing.
But I’ve begun to wonder if maybe he is holding his arms up, parting a way through, a way of liberation, a way of freedom from slavery.
And I wonder if he might be inviting those of us who claim to follow him to join him in that act, to raise our hands, even when the waves keep coming. To join in the invitation to be repairers of the world, in helping to usher in the reign of God – where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, straight or gay, Palestinian or Israeli, but where all people are welcomed to the table, all people are invited to share in the meal, the feast, this great banquet that is set before us.