The readings for this Sunday are available here.
Believe it or not, it’s already September. September 2, 2020, to be precise. It’s also the Wednesday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, according to the steady tick of the church calendar. I for one don’t want to know how many weeks it’s been since we all ceased gathering in person sometime in the middle of Lent. Recently I’ve needed to do some solitary work in our beloved church building, and have intentionally left the purple cloth carefully wrapped around the processional cross.
As the lectionary makes its way through Exodus, we now come upon the Passover story: the story we heard in Holy Week and Easter, the story that Jewish families solemnly recite around the same time. Now we return to it on a random green-coloured Sunday at the beginning of September. Maybe it’s fitting that in this story, God commands His people to have a peculiar relationship to time:
- “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months”
- “They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs….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.”
- “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.”
For this Passover people, there is a temporal reset, and a time crunch. The year will start now, and this new start will be a “perpetual ordinance.” Because everything converges on this night: the slaughtered lamb, the blood on the doorposts, the angel of death and the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery. No time to boil the lamb slowly, no time for bread to rise, no time for leftovers, and no time to get dressed later. Because everything happens this night, “different from all other nights.” The forty-year pilgrimage begins now.
If Christians have any claim to being the People of God, it’s only and entirely as a part of this Passover people. That point was ingrained in me every night and day of my Messianic Jewish upbringing, culminating in that yearly night of our Passover celebration. You see, everything we believe about Jesus’ incarnation and ministry, his Paschal offering and our deliverance with him in his resurrection life, only make sense in light of the Exodus story. We say that the Passover celebration is “different from all other nights” except one: “the night he was betrayed.”
So maybe the lectionary’s return to the Passover story is quite fitting, especially among the St. Stephen’s community. For the last five years we’ve been on a pilgrimage, making incredible inroads into this neighbourhood under Jeff’s tireless leadership. And now we’ve entered a new phase of that pilgrimage towards a fuller and more active presence in our community. Maybe it’s also fitting that this new phase coincides with the introduction of a Spiritual Communion liturgy on zoom, which Jeff himself introduced. Even as we live within the limits of our present circumstances, we are called back to that night on which everything converged, when the Lamb of God saved the world. In this new phase of pilgrimage, we can still receive the effect of the Sacrament of this cosmic and communal salvation, through prayer, song and reflection on his Body and Blood.
Paradoxically, this means that it’s ok if your sense of time, of moments, days, weeks and months, feels somewhat blurred. And it’s ok if you need to ease up on the urgency of current tasks. The convergent time crunch of the Israelites in Egypt, and of Jesus in the Upper Room and the Garden, has already happened. The effect of Christ’s “hour at hand” has flowed out throughout all of time, and beyond. So a part of you remains in that eternal Upper Room with the crucified, risen and ascended Lord.
And if you need to rely on the steady, strict and unceasing tick of the Church’s calendar, of pattern and routine, then that’s good too. In this rapidly changing world, we all need to be held by the consistent reliability of God’s time. And we need to be held by each other and hold each other, which is why we haven’t recorded our zoom services, but instead we invite you to commit to meeting together online at 5 pm on Sunday nights. Like we all committed to gathering in the Upper Room when were able to converge on our beloved church building, we gather online to return to that “night he handed himself over to suffering and death,” and hands himself over to you and to me.
In these ways, both relaxed and committed, we keep this night as a remembrance throughout our generations.