Tag Archives: Passover

“Return”

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
2 Chronicles 30:9b (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I wrote a play and the entire play was created out of one simple truth: At some point, you have to return home. From there I reached out and plucked a leaf off the tree of tales about a young boy who ran away from his true love and stayed away for many years. When tragedy strikes just over a decade later he has no choice but to return home, and with it he must face the thing he’s been running from for so long.

The theme of “returning” is a big one across the Great Story. There are so many stories in which people find themselves off in some kind of wilderness. Sometimes they place themselves there and sometimes they are there against their will, but somehow they eventually return in some fashion whether they are led, they are invited, they are forced by circumstance, or they simply choose to do so.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of King Hezekiah who is trying to help his nation heal after years in which they’ve willfully wandered from the God of their ancestors and many find themselves in the wilderness of captivity. In yesterday’s chapter, Hezekiah had the Levites clean out the temple and prepare it to be used as it had been intended for the worship God. In today’s chapter he sends out a proclamation throughout the land, even to neighboring countries where people were living in exile and captivity. The proclamation simply asked people to do one thing:  return.  Hezekiah wanted all of the Hebrew people to come to Jerusalem for the biggest annual festival on the Hebrew calendar. The Passover feast celebrated God delivering their nation from slavery in Egypt.

Along my journey I’ve seen the theme of return play out in the lives of many people in many different ways. I’ve observed that we often abandon faith in God early in life. Sometimes it’s a willful choice out of disagreement with the faith institution of our childhood. Sometimes it’s prompted by pain or a tragic victimization of some kind. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing to go our own way. So we wander, and often our spirits are stuck back in childhood. Then later in our life journey I observe people returning, not necessarily to an institution, but to God whom they find altogether different than those childhood memories of pain, anger, doubt, and frustration. Not because God has changed, but they have changed and with it their understanding and perceptions.

In today’s chapter the people of Judah returned for the Passover. Just as Joseph returned to his family. Just as David returned after years as mercenary in exile. Just as the remnant returned from Babylon in Nehemiah’s day. Just as the prodigal son returned in Jesus’ parable. Just as Peter returned after denying Jesus. Just as Jesus returned to the Father after His resurrection.

Just as….

No matter how far we may wander, no matter where we may roam, I’ve found that God’s Spirit is always whispering to our spirits:

“Return.”

 

The Events Which Define Us

ExodusWhen Israel came out of Egypt,
    Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.
Psalm 114:1-2 (NIV)

There are sometimes life events which, for good or for ill, help define who we are and give us a sense of identity. I’ve seen it happen in families, in which a young child dies or a parent commits suicide and the family system shifts to ceaselessly revolve around that tragic event. I’ve seen it happen with sports teams, in which a team like the Boston Red Sox live under the “curse of the Babe” for almost a century, and my beloved Cubs continue to languish under the curse of the Billy Goat and tragedy of the Bartman ball. I’ve seen it happen in cities like my hometown of Des Moines, when the great flood of 1993 created a new sense of community out of a sudden lack of fresh water. I believe that Americans are only beginning to understand how the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have changed and defined us.

For the people of Israel, the defining event was the Exodus when God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. The story is retold and referenced countless times in the Old Testament by the historians, prophets, and poets. Thousands of years later, it continues to be retold and celebrated by millions of people around the world each Passover.

Today’s psalm is one of many lyric references to this defining event. It was likely written after the time of Solomon when the kingdom was split in two. Notice the reference to both Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) in the verse above. The song writer uses this common heritage to remind the people of both nations that despite their present political differences, the Exodus unites them in a common bond.

Today, I’m thinking about the events which helped forge my identity and gave definition to the person I have been, am now, and am becoming. What family events, even those from previous generations, affected my family system which influenced that person I became? What happened in my hometown, in my country, or the larger ethnic group from which I came that has impacted me personally and culturally? What would happen if I understood them with greater clarity? Which are worth celebrating? Which should I let pass away?

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 13

Hands clasped in prayer. "Redeem every firstborn child among your sons. When the time comes and your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you tell him, 'God brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery, with a powerful hand. Exodus 13:13 (MSG)

When I was a child, our family had a few rituals. At dinner, we held hands and my father prayed for the meal. We, as children, then said a Dutch prayer our grandparents taught us. As I grew, I began to understand the depth of the simple, daily act. Holding hands not only served to keep young children from grabbing at the food, but created a unified circle of family holding each other hands. Touching. Clasping. The individual was part of a whole that was greater than himself/herself. Our father praying silently established his spiritual leadership and his prayer was a humble reminder that even dad recognized he was under a higher authority. The Dutch prayer spoke of history, of family, of the reality that our daily journey is part of a larger story.

God is a God of metaphor. The Passover meal represented the story of deliverance from Egypt. The Passover meal became Communion which represents the sacrifice of Jesus. Baptism metaphorically speaks of a person being buried in the likeness of Jesus' death, raised in the likeness of Jesus' resurrection, our sins washed away. Ritual, on a grand scale and on a daily basis, teaches us Truth with a depth of meaning that mere lecture or conversation can't reach.

I sit today and think about our daughters. One is getting married in a few weeks. The other is going to be graduating from high school in a few months. Have I instilled metaphors and simple ritual that will still resonate in their hearts when they have children of their own?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and soldiers media center

Facebook readers: Spacing and formatting issues result in the auto import from the original blog post. My apologies to all English teacher types.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 12

The Passover meal. When he sees the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, God will pass over the doorway; he won't let the destroyer enter your house to strike you down with ruin. Exodus 12:23 (MSG)

Many years ago some friends came over and prepared a Passover meal to celebrate with my family. To this day, I remember how blown away I was as we went through the ritual of the meal. There were so many parts of the story and the meal that, metaphorically, point directly to Jesus, who would arrive centuries later.

I love the way God's message fits together. As I read about the blood of the lamb covering the doorposts of the Israelites and Death "passing over" those who were covered by the blood of the sacrificed lamb, I can't help but think of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb whose blood covers us and swallows up Death through the power of His resurrection.

I've known many people who avoid reading the Old Testament because it's not always easy to connect the history to our lives today, But, without the story of the Passover, it's hard to fully appreciate the depth of who Jesus was, nor the way God's plan is woven through history.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and rmommaerts