“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you…” (Exodus 12:2)
So begins this section of Exodus where Moses and Aaron receive instructions they are to pass on to the their still captive people:
- Words about taking a lamb without blemish.
- Directions about when it was to be slaughtered.
- A command about how the blood should be smeared on the doorposts of those who would eat it.
- Instructions about how it was to be roasted and what would accompany this memorial feast.
- And yes, even a word about the posture of those who would eat it.
And yes, all this would be sign and symbol which would mark the beginning of a new time.
- A time after all those years of struggle and suffering which went before.
- A time marked by new-found hope.
- A time when the cries of those who have been enslaved has been heard and answered. A time of freedom!
Indeed, for those who took the lamb and slaughtered it and smeared its blood and roasted it and ate it standing up with sandals on their feet and their staffs in their hands prepared to travel, time itself hinged on this memorial meal.
“It became the first month of the year…”
And oh, isn’t this how we all mark time? Yes, the world would have us mark the days from January to December, from 1 to 28 or 30 or 31, but for people who live and breathe and one day die, for fragile folks who struggle and suffer and now and again triumph, for those who love and give our hearts to this world and to one another, isn’t time always marked in this way?
For you remember it, don’t you? That moment upon which all the time yet to come would hinge?
That time when it dawned on you that you were born for “this?”
That instant when love took your breath away and you knew you would, given the need and the chance, die for your beloved —- child, friend, lover, spouse?
That time and place when spring replaced winter, when hope triumphed over despair, when life was proven more powerful than death?
Time starts all over again then.
Just as it did for the people of Israel released from their long captivity in Egypt.
And just as it did when the disciples gathered around a table and heard their Master say words we still repeat whenever bread is broken and wine is poured. “This is my body given for you, my blood shed for you…”
They didn’t know it then of course. Not the people of Israel and not those who first heard the words we still speak at the table — words we know by heart. They didn’t know, could not possibly know how the events of those next days and months and years would shape their faith, deepen their resilience, confirm their identities as God’s Own Beloved, and send them out to live as those so shaped, so deepened, so confirmed for the sake of the world. They could not have known it then. But we do. You and I do.
And because we have seen and heard it in them, we know what to watch for in ourselves, in our communities, in our world even now. Indeed, because we have witnessed it in them, we can make our way through the days of this Holy Week and take into ourselves the betrayal, the denial, the torture, the suffering, the abandonment, the dying, and yes, the rising which marks these days. We can wonder to ourselves when time starts over again —
- Will it be when a woman breaks an alabaster jar and anoints Jesus for burial?
- Will it be when he struggles at prayer and his disciples fall asleep again and again?
- Will it be in Judas’ kiss, in Peter’s denial, in Jesus’ silence before the authorities?
- Will we mark the start of time all over again when the soldiers mock him and divide his clothes among themselves?
- Will it be when Jesus cries out his abandonment and the world goes dark and the curtain in the temple is torn in two?
- Will it be when his body is lowered to the ground and buried in an unused tomb?
On what moment will all future time hinge for you in the days to come? What moment along the way will the enormity of God’s love for you and for all this hurting world strike you as though it were for the first time?
Or will it be early on Sunday morning when the tomb is found empty once more and the realization dawns that death has been defeated and if this was so then, it surely still is so today!
Indeed, my prayer for you is that sometime in these Holy Days in this Holiest of Weeks, time might start all over again for you once more.
As it did for the people of Israel so long ago. And as it did for those who shared a meal with Jesus and followed him to the cross and who discovered the tomb empty on that first day.
May this be the beginning of months for you…
May time start all over again for you as well.
- Spend some time this week re-reading the Passion Narrative in one of the four Gospels. What captures your imagination or your memory this time through? Can you see how all of the time yet to come could hinge on that for you?
- Don’t stop with the Passion Narrative. Read the Easter Gospel in at least one of the Gospels. Again, what captures your imagination or memory this time through? How does all of the time yet to come hinge on that moment for you?
- Can you remember a moment in your life of faith when it all changed — an instant on which the future hinged? When was that for you?