Have you ever experienced an event so important, so momentous, that it changed the way you understand time? For the people of Israel, there was life before the Passover, and then everything that came after the Passover.
They start out as a people descended from Abraham and Sarah, from Isaac and Rebekah, and from Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah, and then it’s Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, who moves the whole family to Egypt where they’re supposed to live happily ever after.
But generations pass, the people of Israel become more numerous, and the Egyptian leaders get nervous about this ethnic group becoming too big and powerful. What’s worse, the Egyptians don’t remember Joseph anymore—they forgot their history and how it was Joseph, an Israelite, who saved Egypt during a famine. Fear takes over, and the Pharaoh decides to enslave the people of Israel, working them mercilessly, even killing off their baby boys.
Moses miraculously survives to adulthood, murders an Egyptian taskmaster and flees to another land, but then God calls Moses back to Egypt, this time as a leader of the people of Israel, to intercede for them before Pharaoh. God sends plagues: the rivers turned to blood, then a plague of frogs, then gnats, flies, diseased livestock, open sores on people’s skin, a huge hailstorm, then locusts, then three days of darkness, and each time, Pharaoh’s heart became even more hardened. No mercy.
The last plague would be the death of all the first-borns, humans and animals, but the people of Israel would be spared. This is the moment that Pharaoh would be overcome, and the people of Israel would escape their slavery but they needed to be prepared to move fast. Before they even get all the instructions, God tells them “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.” This is so important, you’re going to re-orient yourself in time, re-number the months, for this fresh start, this new beginning, this salvation, this liberation.
It’s not going to be a battle, but a getaway—pack up your things, wear your travel clothes, and cook up the meat because you’re going to need your strength, and you are also going to need the blood, to paint on the doorposts of the house as a sign of the God you follow, and death will not come to your house but will pass over.
How do you prepare for an emergency? Like anyone who has worked with disaster response will tell you: have your go-bag beside the door, packed with food and water and a change of clothes and medicines and a flashlight with some batteries, and share the plan with your family so you’re all on the same page.
The plagues, the deaths, the urgency to flee—it all sounds really bad. It would be enough to simply survive it and deal with the trauma later and try as much as possible to put it out of your mind. But God reorients the people toward the future: this will be a day of remembrance, to celebrate as a festival, throughout the generations as a perpetual ordinance. You will not forget your God is the one who saves you. Admittedly, things may look bad right now, but you have a future.
In these weeks of September, this season of creation, we’re looking at Scripture through the lens of what God has created. It made me notice in this Passover story how much the sun and moon are referenced, as keepers and markers of time, these huge light-givers bearing silent witness and giving structure to our days. Not only marking time in the past, but the future as well: the sun rises anew every morning.
We might be paying more attention to the sun these days as the surface of the Earth is warmer than it has ever been, though it’s not the fault of the sun. The sun didn’t get hotter, but human activity has changed the atmosphere that blankets the Earth, decreasing Earth’s ability to deflect the sun’s rays and trapping its radiant heat. What happens way out there—the sun is some 93 million miles away--very much matters right here.
Apparently, outer space even has sounds. In 1964, two radio astronomers built something like a huge horn on top of a hill in New Jersey, like a telescope but for your ears. The New York Times reported this week that when these men aimed their horn at the sky, they could hear a faint hiss of microwave radiation, which they learned was the last sigh of the Big Bang which birthed the universe 13.8 billion years ago.
None of us were present to witness this, but we live with the effects. Scientists all over the world measure the movements of planets, moons, the births and deaths of stars, and how all of these interact with us here on Earth. Throughout history, the sun and moon have been worshipped as deities, but we come from a tradition that introduces us to God the creator, who made the sun and moon, who gave us a way to mark time.
We can’t necessarily explain how God did all this, but we get excited about scientific discoveries from time to time, reorienting ourselves and finding our place within this vast cosmos, how very small we are, how very big God is, and what a marvel that God gives any time to us at all.
It’s because of love, you know. It’s God’s love for the cosmos that allows us to be here. It’s God’s love for the people of Israel that their slavery was ended, through dramatic displays of power, and it’s God’s love and liberating power which are remembered every year, in every generation celebrating the festival of Passover. Love is what Paul says is “the fulfilling of the law,” then he says: that means you know what time it is!
Paul inspires urgency among the followers of Jesus Christ—you already know the law and how to avoid trampling upon one another, but we’re not here to tally up points for righteousness, we don’t have time for that. You know what time it is, and it is time to wake up. The sun is out, shining on everything; you can’t hide, and you don’t have to hide. God already knows you and still loves you anyway.
Not that it’s easy or simple for humans to love one another, even when we know we are loved immeasurably by the God of infinite love. Jesus spells it out for his disciples, how to repair relationships broken by conflict: it isn’t too complicated. First, go directly to the person who hurt you and deal directly with them. If that doesn’t work, take another friend or two with you, because you’re not alone when seeking justice and right relationship. And if that doesn’t result in reconciliation, then bring in the rest of the church, because accountability is important. All of these measures have the goal of repairing relationship, because we are all connected to each other.
And if a relationship is unable to be repaired, Jesus says “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”…and before you start thinking that means “ignore them because their opinions don’t matter,” consider how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors—with special care, with respect, explaining things specifically because he would not expect they’d know the Jewish laws and customs that Jesus followed.
Did you know these very words of Jesus about how to deal with conflict, this is what we’re supposed to do as a congregation, and it’s even written into our congregational constitution, our local governing document. It’s in chapter fifteen. I’m not making this up! This is how church is supposed to function through conflict, even though we’d usually rather avoid it. But just imagine being set free from worrying about what to do when you’re in a conflict—it’s so simple! But being free, it’s not easy.
Last week, here in The Ville neighborhood of St. Louis, St. Philip’s Lutheran Church hosted a revival, making space for prayer and song among the faithful, seeking the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. On the final night of the revival, the pastor at St. Philip’s, Richard Ashley, preached a sermon that recalled the history of Black Americans and their ancestors who had once been enslaved. Pastor Ashley spoke of “slave Bibles,” which were the Judeo-Christian Holy Scriptures but edited to remove anything that might incite rebellion among slaves, any stories of liberation, like most of the Exodus story.
Slave Bibles, however, left in the parts of Scripture suggesting that slaves obey their masters. Slaveowners wanted their slaves to be obedient Christians, not those troublesome kind of Christians who pay attention to God’s history of liberation, or those troublesome Christians who keep telling the stories of their history, or those meddling Christians who talk about knowing what time it is and how it is time to wake up.
When people know precisely who they are and whose they are, and where they are and what time it is, well, friends, that’s a threat to systems of corruption. Liberation is dangerous to systems that want to keep people enslaved, to reduce human value based on what those humans can either produce or consume.
That’s why being set free is such a big deal, a big enough deal to reorient your sense of time. Christians re-ordered their calendar to correspond to the resurrection of Jesus Christ: there’s everything before Christ, what we used to call “BC.” And there’s “AD” which is Latin for anno Domini, which is “in the year of our Lord.” But we changed these to say “BCE” for “Before the Common Era,” and the current times we call “CE” for “Common Era,” because Christians aren’t the only ones in the world.
The disciples were not thinking of all this while Jesus was being crucified and buried, even though Jesus told them more than once what would happen and what to expect. But Christ’s resurrection got their attention, and here we still are, showing up to worship God on Sunday, the day of resurrection, the day of light, the day of the sun. Here we are, still being set free.
God, wake us up to your great love for humanity and for the cosmos, for everything on the Earth as well as for everything beyond the Earth. Remind us that your love is even bigger than we can imagine.
 https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/1164/how-big-is-the-solar-system/#:~:text=As%20noted%20earlier%2C%20Earth's%20average,That's%201%20AU.  https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/04/science/astronomy-holmdel-antenna-microwaves.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare  Here’s a news reference: https://www.npr.org/2018/12/09/674995075/slave-bible-from-the-1800s-omitted-key-passages-that-could-incite-rebellion