This coming Sunday I am preaching on Exodus 12, the account of the first Passover and the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. It is one of the most important stories in the Old Testament, one which shaped and defined the Old Testament people of God. Again and again in the Old Testament we see references back to this story. It showed the people of Israel who they were and whose they were. God had chosen the Hebrews, the descendants of Abraham, to be God’s own. God had his eye on them and would rescue them. As they worshiped and obeyed, God would fight for them and act for their good. That was something they could hang onto when threats and troubles came.
As I looked at Exodus 12 it struck me that God went to great lengths to make the rescue of the Israelites very much a “community thing”. God’s instructions for the first Passover meal were for the whole community of Israel, Exodus 12:3 says. They all did the same thing at the same time. They prepared for the meal together and then ate the same foods in their households. Where necessary, there was sharing between households. And God told the Israelites to not just eat this meal together once, but to eat it again at a set time every year to remember and commemorate what God had done. God told them, “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time.” (Exodus 12:14) So each year the Old Testament people of Israel would come together in Jerusalem for the week-long “Feast of Unleavened Bread”. They would feast and remember. They would reconnect with God and each other. They would gather as households to eat and drink, to tell stories and practice rituals, to worship and to pray. The first Passover meal was about much more than saving the firstborn sons of the Hebrews from the angel of death – it was something God gave and God used to form and to shape the people of covenant promise over and over again, from generation to generation.
At the very centre of Exodus chapter 12, this very important chapter, God speaks of children: When your children ask you, ‘Why are we doing these things?’ you will say, ‘This is the Passover sacrifice to honor the Lord. When we were in Egypt, the Lord passed over the houses of Israel. The Lord killed the Egyptians, but he saved our homes.’” (Exodus 12:26-27) The symbols and smells and rituals of Passover were intended to make children curious, to spark their interest and their imagination. The Passover was a means of telling a shared story and prompting the questions of the children. It was designed by God to give adults an opportunity to tell their stories of faith, so that the faith would be passed on.
We live in a society which has become very much about the individual. It’s more about “me, I and mine” than “we, us and ours”. There’s some good in that, but I wonder if it has gone way too far. And when “me, I and mine” thinking begins to dominate how we think and act as Christians, I wonder if we have missed the point. While we are saved through the blood of Jesus as individuals we are never saved alone. Like the Hebrews of long ago, we are rescued to be a people who journey together and feast together and tell stories together and worship together. We are called to do life together in ways that matter – to share in a common faith life that is full of sights, sounds, smells, rituals and celebrations that cause the children to ask “What is going on here? What is this all about?” And if the children aren’t interested, perhaps that is much more a reflection on the quality and nature of our life together in Christian community than it is on the children.
Sharing the great story of our rescue in Jesus Christ is not the responsibility of Pastors or children’s ministry leaders. God’s great rescue story is our story and it’s our story to tell – congregation and households together as one community in the Gospel. That story will be told to greatest effect not through children’s talks or classroom lessons. It will be told above all through the many ways faith comes to life in home and congregation through the ways we interact and serve and celebrate and practice that story as our own community story.
In that way Exodus 12 is more than just a record of something that happened long ago to someone else. It’s a call for us to think deeply for what it means to be a community. It’s a call for us to reflect on how our life together speaks to and engages the children who are with us and around us. It’s a call for us to show and tell the children what our rescue through Jesus means to us, so that they too are caught up in the wonder and drama of that great story.