I have joked around a bit lately, by saying that the year 2020 is going to be remembered by all of us as the year that did not happen. Because of the coronavirus, all of our lives have been radically altered. We have never seen nor experienced anything like this in any of our life-times. This is an extraordinary thing and we ought to understand it that way. Almost everything that we would normally do has been canceled. But the more that I think about that little bit of a quip, the more serious and profound that it becomes to me. I’m not even going to begin to hint that it is God’s wisdom, or that it is even wisdom for that matter; it is after all, just a little quip that has some truth and some significance.
For us, this morning, God’s wisdom, at least, is contained in the 14 verses that I just read. But this year has taught us, as no preacher could, not only to “count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” but also to take heed of James’ warning in chapter 4 of his epistle. Both of those are profound teachings from the Scriptures, but both of them have been, until this year, objects of our scorn. Oh, we would not have scorned or scoffed at them with our words; that would have been an evil thing to do. But we have certainly scorned and scoffed at them in our hearts and in the ways that we have conducted our lives, at least until now. At least until this unexpected and unprecedented change has come over our lives. We are still between the old and the new, in what I called in an earlier sermon, and in a newspaper article, “the in-between time.” This is a time for us to be paying serious attention to what God is doing.
In our passage this morning, we are looking at the end of something old and at the beginning of something new. The old thing is slavery in Egypt. The new thing is life in the Promised Land. And this new thing that is coming, is so awesome and so amazing that it demands a whole new restructuring of time. The calendar is going to be changed; time is going to be reborn. Henceforth, this month, will be the first month of a brand new year. In October of 1969, the rock band “Chicago”, asked the all important question, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” And the answer from “Chicago”, and the answer from the Scriptures is, no; we really don’t know what time it is. In fact, we’re pretty sure that this is not even the year 2020. When the church restructured the calendar in the 6th century it made some mistakes. Our calendar is a few years off from reality, whatever reality may be. Reality is, of course, that time is completely irrelevant, and that this moment, right now, is God’s, and thankfully, he chooses to share it with us.
Our text describes the preparations for Passover. Passover is the most awful of the plagues that God cast upon the people of Egypt. But at the same time it is also the moment of a brand new beginning for the people of God. I believe that this is incredibly significant. The deaths of all of the first-born in Egypt drew a very sharp line of demarcation between those who were obedient believers in God and those who were not. Passover became death and loss and grief to those who did not believe, and life and joy and freedom to those who did believe. Several thousand years later, in much the same way, the death of Mary’s firstborn son on Passover, drew a very sharp line of demarcation between those who believe and those who do not. In death, Jesus accepted the punishment for the sins of every person who has ever lived, for every person who is now alive, and for every person who will ever have the privilege, in the future, of breathing. Jesus’ death and resurrection brings death and loss and grief to those who do not believe, and his death and resurrection brings life and joy and freedom to those who do believe. The death of all of the firstborn Egyptians brought about a community of faith that we might be tempted to call the “desert dwellers.” And they were desert dwellers, at least for a few decades. But really, much more than that, they are a brand new community of believers who have been rescued from the burden of slavery and redeemed from the clutches of death and hopelessness. In much the same way, the death and resurrection of our Lord, also gave birth to a brand new community of faith. We, too, because of the coronavirus, may feel as though we are desert dwellers from time to time, but we are in fact a blessed people. We have been rescued from the burden of our sins and we have been redeemed from the clutches of death and hopelessness.
As I was preparing this sermon, I began to think about what a grand model that Passover presents to those of us who are followers of Jesus, and who are gathered into a local congregation. Primarily, Passover is a corporate act of worship. The whole people of God is coming together for a common purpose. Everyone is together, everyone is participating, everyone is involved. Nobody, in the preparations for Passover, is spectating. Nobody is just looking on, nobody is just watching, nobody is just hoping to be entertained, and nobody is excluded.
But notice, please, that within the larger group, within the whole congregation, there are smaller, more intimate groups at work. And all of this gathering together, all of this participating together is going to be very important to God’s people in a very short time. God’s people are about to spend a very long time together. They don’t know it yet, they don’t even suspect it yet, but they are about to spend 40 years together in the wilderness. I actually think that it is a good thing that these people don’t suspect much, because if they did know what they were getting into, they probably would have chosen to stay in Egypt where they would have endured even more oppression and more abuse. Sadly, we do know, that once in the desert, many of them pined for the days of oppression and servitude. Nostalgia can be a powerful deception. It is a disease that will eat away and erode God’s design for a community of believers. It compromised the Passover community and it has compromised countless Christian communities over the years.
On the fourteenth day of the month, when it came time to slaughter the lambs, the whole congregation got together to do it. I wonder if the Egyptian people were even a little bit curious about what they saw? A worship service and the killing of this many lambs must have attracted some attention. Did anyone ask any questions? Did anyone wonder, why are these people doing this? What are they up to? We’ve never seen anything like this before! You know something? I don’t think that the Egyptian people asked many questions at all. I don’t think that they exhibited the least bit of interest or concern. They probably just decided that what the Hebrew people were up to was no big deal and therefore of no interest to them. Little did they know that they were only hours from having their whole, comfortable way of life radically altered. When the people of God are up to something, it is best to ask questions. The unbelievers of this world ignore what we do to their own peril.
From the time that the lambs are slaughtered, things move along rather quickly. Once slaughtered, the lamb is to be roasted over an open fire. The sense is that time, or at least this moment in time, is important to God. And so the cooking is done quickly and the eating is done quickly, and everybody needs to be dressed in the uniform of travel. Everyone must be ready to move out at a moment’s notice.
Because of the coronavirus, it is appropriate that we understand that we are on the cusp of something that God is about to do that will be very significant. There is no other way to look at it. We ignore what God is doing at our own peril. The world, and our lives are on hold, right now. The pause button of the world had been pushed. In a very real sense we are waiting for Passover. We are waiting to see what God will do. We just don’t know what it is yet. And so like the ancient people of God, we’ve got to be ready. We’ve got to be obedient. We’ve got to be ready to respond to God’s call to action at a moment’s notice. We’ve got to be dressed in our traveling clothes I don’t know what lies ahead. With things the way they are now, we just might have more difficult days ahead of us. But just because the difficult days may be lengthened, does not mean that God is not already at work preparing us to move forward in ministry. In the days to come, we might be called upon to give and to share with on another in ways that will stretch our souls and challenge some of our long-held traditions. But in doing so, our ministry and our witness will thrive. And we will thrive because we will be visibly living out the mandates of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And prayerfully, as we prepare ourselves for the new things that God will be doing in our midst, the Egyptians that surround us on a daily basis will be curious about what we are doing, and maybe, just maybe they will ask us some questions. And in asking those questions, they might discover that they, too, would like to become a follower of Jesus.
Let us, with great joy, then, eagerly anticipate what it is that God might be ready to do in our midst.