Sermon: Plague Year – Where is our paschal lamb?
- Proper 18 Year A
- Exodus 12:1-14
- Psalm 149
- Romans 13:8-14
- Matthew 18:15-20
Proper 18 Year A.
Berkeley Divinity School Senior Sermon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God.
The passage from Exodus this evening is a familiar one. The final plague of egypt. The passover. I admit that my internal images probably come more from The Prince of Egypt than from any paper we read in Prof. Wilson’s class. But even in this instructional and almost periphrastic Word of the Lord, the image of the Hebrew people on what must have been a terrifying night is clear. “This is how you shall eat: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. You shall eat it hurriedly.” These are people ready to flee. I can’t help but think of similar meals people must be eating in our world today. The people hurriedly eating their refrigerated food after the hurricane knocked out their power. The people packing supplies and wearing real clothes to bed as the fire makes evacuations imminent. The people who don’t know if the rent check or the eviction notice is going to get there first, scrounging for a full meal in a dwindling cupboard. Be ready, the exodus passage seems to warn. The ultimate plague is coming and then you’ll have to flee.
It seems like we are living in a time of plague once again. Hospitals warn of overcrowding. Shortages of basic items continue. Every day we hear of a new terrifying symptom, and that’s just the coronavirus. There were 10 plagues in Egypt. We have plagues of fire and flood and unchecked state violence instead of frogs and locusts, but the result seems to be the same: we are looking for that thing that is going to protect us. That thing that will keep the plague from touching us. God told the Hebrew people that lamb’s blood on their doorframes would signal the angel of death to pass over them. What is our paschal lamb now? Somehow I doubt that installing zoom and wearing N95 masks are an equivalent signal, however practical they may be. Wearing a mask is more like eating with your shoes on. The plague is here, we have to be ready for the next disaster. But how can we make the plagues of our time pass over us? Where is our paschal lamb?
Jesus is the paschal lamb. That’s the Sunday school answer. But where is Jesus? How is the lamb protecting us from the plague, from the angel of death, today? What does passover look like right now?
Our gospel reading points to an answer. Whatever the followers of Jesus ask together, it will be done. Whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven. We, the community, *we* can make a sign that will be listened to in heaven. The Hebrew people made a sign with literal lamb’s blood. That marked them as part of the people of God. Our sign that we are the people of God is no less visible than blood red doorframes: the joining together of a community to ask, and act, together.
The important thing I see in this is that Jesus is telling us that we do not have to do things alone. In fact, we cannot do things alone. Even in the exodus passage, if a family was too small to eat an entire lamb in one night, they got together with a neighbor. The paschal lamb doesn’t have to be found alone. We are supposed to do this together.
In fall 2020, what does this look like? The most AD 2020 version of all might be making a quarantine pod out of people and families that are particularly alone. If your family is too small for an entire trip to Trader Joe’s, join with another family into a quarantine pod. You don’t have to eat an entire lamb by yourself. But it also looks like showing up to friends’ PhD defenses on zoom when you wouldn’t have been able to be there physically. It might look like giving your dad a call to see how he’s doing with all the wildfire smoke. Maybe it looks like giving of time or other resources to physically, materially help those who need it. By sharing our needs and helping each other, we prepare for the passover, for the disaster of plague, in the spirit of that first passover. We can lessen the burden of the plagues by joining together.
But what about the angel of death? What about that final plague? We all know that even by wearing masks or putting hand sanitizer everywhere, we can’t prevent all tragic deaths. Especially since the coronavirus is only one plague in our time. What is hand sanitizer going to do against wildfire? What is a mask going to do against a bullet? We can’t just cooperate to eat the paschal lamb in our quarantine pods. We have to signal on the outside of our door with the blood of the paschal lamb. But where do we get the blood of the lamb today?
If Jesus is the lamb, where do we get the blood of Jesus? In communion. This is also a Sunday school answer. And it also sounds like I’m making a politicized call to “get back in church”. While physically gathering and receiving the elements of communion might be unwise for protecting our community from an airborne virus, our communion remains every time we gather to invoke Jesus. Every time we gather in one accord. Jesus said that where 2 or 3 are gathered in his name, he is there among them. Where is Jesus? Where is the body of christ? The church *is* the body of christ. Wherever there is church, as small as 2 or 3 people gathered in communion, Jesus is there among them. Among us.
I can’t call for us to get back into church
…because we’re already here. Whether that’s this entire zoom call tonight or you and one other person sharing lunch. That is church. That is communion. Jesus *is* there. And the blood of the paschal lamb *is* there in our communion and community.
Jesus is there wherever, whenever people pray together. Jesus is there whenever, wherever a community invokes his name. There are no limits of time or geography. How can the angel of death get past that? How can death overcome the incarnate and resurrected Jesus? Jesus is our paschal lamb. The blood of Jesus, which we receive in communion, is a sign that the angel of death passes over us. Jesus is alive. We, the church, are his body. Jesus is here with us. When 2 or 3 or (however many people on this zoom call) are gathered. Jesus is here. When we are in community.