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Winter Quarter: Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 3: Holy Days
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 7, 2016
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Exodus 12:1-14
Background scripture: Numbers 28: 16-25 and Mark 14: 12-26
In this final unit of the Winter Quarter, we will be walking with Jesus through the major festivals and celebrations of the Hebrew faith to discover their meaning for Him and for us. Never forget, God sent His Son into the world within
the world of Jewish life and practice.
We begin with Passover, which is the centerpiece of Jewish faith and practice. Surely you know the story of the beginning of this celebration! What happened in Egypt so long ago is “the reason for the season
.” As Pharaoh ignored all the other signs of God’s power and purpose in freeing the Hebrews from centuries of bondage, the slaying of the first-born finally brought to fruition what God intended. The message was loud and clear, but came at a fearful cost.
Still today in the Passover celebration in Jewish homes, the youngest child, who is able, always asks the question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?
” Once again, roasted lamb (either a sheep OR
a goat!), bitter herbs, green sprouts, unleavened bread, and cups of wine are the heart of the menu because each element carries part of the story. This teaching moment is engrained in every Jewish child to form a memory carried throughout life. The life of faith begins with remembering what God has done in the past so we can live into an uncertain future.
In our United Methodist service of Holy Communion, we too invoke remembrance of God’s faithful acts in the past, AND
we say the words of Jesus: “do this in remembrance of me.
” This repetition of sacred memory is critical to keeping the faith, teaching the faith to the next generation, and sharing the faith with others.
Passover began with shed blood spread on the doors to protect those who lived within. The scripture gives specific instructions of when and how the feast is to be celebrated. The time refers to the months of the lunar calendar of the Hebrew people and the knowledge that the day begins at sundown. (Look at the reckoning of time in the Creation account in Genesis 1.)
Initially, Passover was a one night event marked with stand-up eating, dressed for traveling. Of course, it became a more sedate celebration with communal eating and leisurely fellowship, but with the memory of what happened so long ago.
As Frederick Wilson so often encouraged us, use your holy imagination and picture the home of Mary, Joseph, and their children celebrating Passover! The same wonderful feeling we have at Christmas of remembering and anticipating what God has done and will do would be theirs. At one point in His childhood, Jesus would have asked the question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Later, He would listen to James or another sibling ask the same question. Is it any wonder that before His crucifixion, He would declare to His disciples His deep longing to share with them the Passover meal? At that last supper, John may have been the youngest of the disciples and would have asked THE
Remember, Passover, like all the Jewish festivals, was a family event. At this point in Jesus’ sacred mission, the disciples were His family. Likewise, the Church is our extended family, and we remember together.
Very early the Church linked Jesus with the Paschal (Passover) lamb and saw His sacrificial death within the context of Passover. We too have been freed from slavery, created a new and redeemed people, and launched on a journey of faith to the Promised Land where God reigns.
At the close of the meal, the disciples sang a hymn which was certainly one of the Psalms 113-118, the so-called Hallel (praise) psalms. From there, Jesus went to Gethsemane and from the Garden to the Cross. Is it any wonder, like the Hebrews of old, we Christians see in this past event the assurance for today of God’s eternal purpose?
The association of event and Word cannot be separated. We must not divide the act (history) from interpretation (meaning). These relationships are all of one piece. As Passover for the Jews is looking back to an event long ago so the present generation can know the power, purpose and nature of God, Holy Communion is for us the moment the past is re-presented in the present.
The God of Sinai and Calvary are brought forever together! The Old Covenant and the New are eternally joined, for God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
This union of the God of history and the God who leads us into an uncertain future is what faith is: absolute trust in the ways of God. Because we know how God worked yesterday, we can trust God to carry us into tomorrow.
When Sam was an active pastor, some church members would say, “I don’t come to church on Communion Sunday!” Sometimes, they would try to soften the declaration by relating communion to a shortened sermon or meditation or the fact the service took longer than the traditional hour. However, the real reason was simply “they didn’t get it!” For them, the service was just ritual or habit, without personal meaning. We discovered on the Walk to Emmaus how lay people came to a personal awareness of the vitality and power of the sacrament, changing forever their attitude. Thankfully, this transformation can happen when we remember and give God the glory for His mighty works – yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus is our Passover, and we are His people – ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.