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Commentary on Exodus 12:1-4, [5-10], 11-14

Ralph W. Klein
10200
Passover in the Old Testament is at the heart of the Exodus experience.1
The Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8) stubbornly refused the demands of
Moses and Aaron to let my people go. The tenth and climactic plague, the slaughter of
the firstborn, finally forced Pharaohs hand. The threatened Egyptian firstborn represent all
classes, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne to the firstborn of the female
slave, not to mention the firstborn of all the livestock (11:5).

At midnight the tenth plague struck, involving all the firstborn, including even the firstborn
of the prisoners (12:29). The Pharaoh went into crisis mode and told Moses and Aaron to
leave at once and he adds an unusual parting request: Go, worship Yahweh, and bring a
blessing on me too (12:31-32). The narrator does not pause to give all the gory details of
the plague, but remembers instead one central purpose of all subsequent Israelite worship -to get a blessing for Pharaoh, heretofore their biggest enemy. So Israel is to pray for its
enemies, just as Jesus would later say, Love your enemies, and do good to those who
persecute you (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35).

Passover Explained
Right in the midst of these dramatic actions in Exodus, the narrator pauses and gives
instructions for the observance of Passover in Exodus 12:1-13, followed by instructions for
the feast of Unleavened Bread (12:14-20). Scholars wrestle with the complicated
background of these festivals, but one thing is clear in our pericope: Israels escape from
the tenth plague was no accident. Every spring from now on, in the first month on the
fourteenth day of the month, each household is to set aside a kid (either a lamb or a young
goat), butcher it, roast it, and eat it -- more or less on the fly: your loins girded, your sandals
on your feet, staff in hand, eaten with haste (12:11). Who wants to stay in Egypt when
freedom is just across the Reed Sea?

But it is the blood of that lamb that makes the difference. It is to be smeared on the two
doorposts and the lintel of the doorway as a sign (12:7). The blood serves as a sign first of
all for the Israelites, but more importantly a sign for Yahweh, who will see the blood and
pass over each Israelite house. The rainbow in Genesis 9:14-15 is such a double sign too.
First, it is a reminder to God of his everlasting covenant with Noah and all his heirs, just in
case they might think that God has forgotten them. But of course it is not only God who
sees that rainbow; we also see its seven colors and remind ourselves that God never forgets
us. There is no threat for Israelites in that tenth plague. The blood of the lamb means life for
them.

The Passover according to Exodus 12:48-49 was an inclusive festival. While no


uncircumcised male could participate, resident aliens were welcome at the feast once they
were circumcised. There is one admission ticket for native Israelites and resident aliens
alike.

Passover and Lords Supper


Passover, of course, remains a central ritual in Judaism to this day, but Christians remember
that in the Synoptic Gospels at least it was at a Passover celebration that Jesus instituted the
Lords Supper. This meal too means liberation for all who partake, freedom from sin,
freedom from the world, and freedom from all demonic powers.

As the Lords Supper, it is open to all whom the Lord invited, all the baptized, who
remember that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The blood of the one who hosts this
banquet means that God will pass over the sins of all the communicants. As often as we eat
this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lords death until he comes. The infinite One
meets us in these finite elements: bread and wine/grape juice.

At the Old Testament Passover, the narrator said: When your children ask you what you
mean by this observance, just tell them that we are remembering the night when Yahweh
passed over all the Israelite houses (Exodus 12:26-27). Thats when we became Gods
liberated people. And so at our Christian Eucharist, Lords Supper, or Holy Communion,
we tell each other, especially our children, just why we celebrate this little banquet so
frequently. It is not blood on our doorposts, but the bread and the wine, the body and blood
of Jesus that says, You are free! Its so real you can taste it.

All the baptized are welcome here -- every age, every class, every gender, every sexual
orientation, every race, sinners included. In fact, sinners -- long-time-member sinners or
new-to-the-faith sinners -- are invited to be first in line. As we feast at this table, we hunger
for those who have hurt us, who speak ill of us, or who even hate us. Can our healing of
ourselves at this table lead us to pray that God would bring health to all of our enemies as
well?

Our Eucharists catch us on the fly, between Saturday and Monday, or in this week between
Passion/Palm Sunday and Easter. Our stay at the table is short term, just as Jesus stayed in
the grave short term. We are soon on our way back into our daily life where we live out our
freedom, for others.