The Bible starts with the Creation story. You know the words:
“In the beginning,
God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
It is a beautiful story, but it is not the only creation story. God is always creating. In this story of the first Passover, God is creating. He isn’t creating the world. He is creating a people—his people—God’s people.
He had started that process with Abraham. He had made a covenant with Abraham. He had promised Abraham that he would make of Abraham a great nation. Abraham said,
“How can that be? I have no son.” God said, “You will have a son.” And Abraham and
Sarah did have a son—Isaac.
God had started with Abraham and Sarah to build a great nation. It was not much of a nation to start with—just one little boy. But Isaac grew up and had two sons—Jacob and Esau. Jacob grew up and had twelve sons. One of those sons, Joseph, became a powerful ruler in Egypt, and invited his father and brothers to bring their families to Egypt. Seventy members of Joseph’s family moved to Egypt.
That was not a nation yet—seventy people. You could call them an extended family—or even a clan—but they were not yet a nation. But God had started creating a nation—a people—his people—God’s people. And when God starts something, don’t get in his way.
That family remained in Egypt four hundred years—much of it in slavery. Four hundred years is a long time. Just think about our nation’s history. The Declaration of Independence was signed a little more than two hundred years ago. The Pilgrims arrived in America less than four hundred years ago.
The Israelites were in Egypt longer than white people have lived in America. Just think how many changes America has seen since the Pilgrims arrived. Very few people lived in America in 1620. Now there are people everywhere!
That is what happened with the Israelites. Seventy people grew to be six hundred thousand people. God was making real progress in creating a people—a nation. But it takes more than numbers to make a nation. Something has to bind them together. God was getting ready to do that!
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The event that would bind these six hundred thousand people together was the Exodus. God would free them from their slavery in Egypt and would lead them to the Promised Land. Enroute they would become a nation—a people—God’s people.
But first, God had to free them. Pharaoh would not let them go, so God sent a series of plagues to persuade him. The last of these plagues was the death of the firstborn in each Egyptian household.
We don’t like to think about God causing the death of these children. But God was, in fact, far more merciful to the Egyptians than the Egyptians had been to the Israelites. If you will remember, the Egyptians had set out to kill every Jewish baby boy.
God gave the Israelites very explicit instructions concerning the plague and the Passover.
• Each family was to slaughter a lamb and put the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of their house.
• Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it that very night.
• They were to eat the lamb dressed to travel: Loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in their hands. They were to eat hurriedly, ready to leave town.
God promised that, when the death angel saw the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, he would pass over that house, leaving its inhabitants untouched.
Finally, God instructed:
“This day shall be to you for a memorial,
and you shall keep it a feast to Yahweh:
throughout your generations you shall keep it
a feast by an ordinance forever” (12:14).
And so the Jewish people today observe the Passover as one of their holiest days. All over the world, Jews crowd into synagogues at Passover to remember the first Passover and the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.
Then God instructed:
“It will happen, when your children ask you,
‘What do you mean by this service?’
that you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of Yahweh’s Passover,
who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt,
when he struck the Egyptians, and spared our houses'” (12:26-27).
Today, at Passover, all over the world, a young child in each Jewish home asks, “What do you mean by this observance,” and the parents tell again the story of the Exodus from Egypt. And so, in every Jewish home, the traditions are passed on—the traditions that make them a people.
When I read the story of this first Passover again, I was reminded of the first Christian Passover. Jesus had gathered his disciples to observe the Passover feast in the Upper Room.
“The Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread.
When he had given thanks, he broke it,
and said, “Take, eat. This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in memory of me.”
In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink, in memory of me.”
(1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
At the first Jewish Passover, as they prepared to leave the slave-huts of Egypt, the Jewish people began to remember—and in their remembering became a nation—a people—the people of God.
At every Jewish Passover, a young child asks, “What do you mean by this observance,” and the parents pass on the traditions—the traditions that make them a nation—a people—the people of God.
At the first Christian Passover, as Jesus prepared for the cross, he helped his disciples to start remembering—and in their remembering, they became a people—the New Israel—the new people of God.
At every Christian Passover, as we gather around the Lord’s table, we remember Christ again—his love—his sacrifice—his death—his resurrection. And remembering, we become again a people—the new Israel—the new people of God.
At every Christian passover, as we gather around the Lord’s table, we pass the traditions on to our children—the traditions that will make them a people—the people of God.
In his recent autobiography, Colin Powell tells about serving as a senior warden at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. He talks about his parents. They had always been active in church. Luther and Arie had passed the tradition to young Colin Powell. Now he was passing the tradition to his children, Michael and Linda. He says:
“Like Luther and Arie before us,
we helped organize church bazaars, pancake suppers,
and the thrift shop.
During this period
we crystallized as a family in our own right….
I watched Mike and Linda assisting at Mass
and saw myself in my cassock
waving the incense burner before the altar at Kelly Street.
The tradition had been passed to the next generation,
from one St. Margaret’s to another,
like an endless stream.”
And so we gather to worship Christ—to remember—to sing the songs, to hear the word—to break the bread—to carry on the faith—to pass on the tradition. Jesus said:
“Do this in memory of me.”
The apostle Paul said:
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26).
Colin Powell says:
“You pass on the tradition
from one generation to another,
like an endless stream.”
And so we do!
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.