Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months,” the Lord says to Moses.
It shall be the first month of the year for you.”
With these words the Lord initiates a new thing and indicates a promise of deliverance.
The beginning that the Lord announces –
the Passover and deliverance of God’s chosen people from slavery into freedom –
the beginning, oddly enough, hasn’t quite yet begun, actually.
Pharaoh still keeps the Israelites in bondage.
But time has begun, the Lord says.
The promise has been spoken.
The day when the Lord speaks to Moses, the day when the promise is given,
is the first of all months, the beginning of a new time,
the time of the Lord’s promise.
Now, the Passover itself won’t take place for several more days,
and the exodus will last 40 years …
Nonetheless, the beginning of months, the start of a new thing,
begins not when the people are actually delivered from bondage,
it begins not when the people arrive in their Promised Land,
begins not when something recognizable actually happens, oddly enough …
Rather, the new thing begins when the Lord speaks words of promise.
This shall mark for you the beginning, says the Lord.
We hear words of promise and see a new thing at this table.
Yes, before the horror of Friday and the glory of Sunday,
we have this night, on which words of promise are spoken,
a prelude of promise prior to the pain of death.
Echoing the promises that God spoke to the Israelites
before his saving act in the Passover and Red Sea crossing,
our Lord Jesus speaks promises to his disciples before his saving act
on the cross and in the empty grave.
To the followers of Christ about to experience gut-wrenching anguish,
God speaks promises of forgiveness and life.
This is my body, Jesus says. This is my blood.
Given. Shed. For you.
These words of promise were spoken first, before anything else happened –
before his betrayal, death, and burial;
before his resurrection and ascension;
before his coming again in glory.
Before all this divine activity, words of promise are spoken first.
And to us, God does the same.
To the baptized God has spoken words of promise –
promise of new life through the waters of baptism,
waters that represent a death and new life,
a drowning and a rebirth,
a washing and a renewing.
The first thing in the Christian life is a declaration of God’s promise
in the waters baptism.
First comes the promise.
God’s promises come first and, come what may –
War. Hunger. Oppression. Shame. Infidelity. Exploitation. Joblessness.
Poverty. Greed. Pain. Abuse. Immorality. Illness. Death. –
come what may, our Lord’s promise has come first,
before whatever else we might endure.
In the beginning was the Word, the first verses of John’s Gospel remind us.
This is the first day, the first month of a new beginning,
the Lord says to Moses before deliverance.
This is my body. This is my blood. Given and shed for you. For the world,
Jesus says to his disciples, before his crucifixion and resurrection.
Before all things, God’s promise comes first.
Tomorrow we will stand here and gaze upon the cross.
And on Sunday, we will gaze upon the empty tomb.
On this night let us gaze upon this table,
and let words of promise ring in our ears:
promises of liberation that were spoken to a people still in slavery,
promises of love that splash in the waters of the unlikely servant’s bowl,
promises of our Lord’s presence and forgiveness in the gift of his body and blood,
promises of life that are shared on the eve of death.