Sunday, February 23, 2020

Rev. Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

Holy Week and Passover

We are a story-telling, story-loving people. Whether we are reminiscing with family about the good old days, caught up in the action and excitement of a great movie, or captivated by the plot of a great book.
Stories can comfort us and confront us. Stories can be our salvation, but stories can also be dangerous. And our Bible readings for this week are set within a dangerous story: Passover, which always occurs during the Christian Holy Week.
The story of Passover tells of a small group of foreigners who became slaves. But these slaves knew that their present condition was not what God wanted for them. They knew that they were children of God, precious and loved. And so, they escaped. They gathered their families and they ran. But even as they approached the boundaries of their freedom, they became scared. They almost turned back. But their leaders, Moses, Aaron and Miriam, called and sang and danced them into freedom.
The Passover is a dangerous story. It was dangerous for the Egyptian Pharaoh and his people. It was dangerous for the Hebrew Slaves. It was dangerous for Jesus and his followers. Perhaps more than any others, the Romans knew that this story was dangerous. And they were ready.
Last week, we read the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with our Jammin for Jesus youth group at Community Congregational Church. We read the version from Matthew which says that the city was in turmoil.
We helped the kids understand the meaning of turmoil—agitated, filled with despair. Later, I was reminded that a better translation from Greek is “shaken.” The city was shaken by the beaten down people who gathered anyway to tell and remember their story together the Passover story. The city was shaken, and the Roman authority was ready.
The “pax romana” would be on display. Roman peace came at a high price. Peace for the Romans meant an absence of conflict. You get rid of conflict by silencing it, either through fear, death, or fear of death. At each gate into the city were wooden crosses and revolutionaries hanging on them. This is how the authorities kept “pax romana.” Some empty crosses were there also, reminding what was ready for any Jew who caused trouble.
Jesus, his friends, followers, and supporters knew what was at stake. They knew that the first leader, Moses, had not made it into the Promised Land. Did Jesus wonder if he would make it? As he continued to preach and teach that the outsider, the unclean, the poor, the widow, the outcast, that these very people were loved by God, did he wonder what would happen to him?
The Passover was a dangerous story to know and to live. But every year Jesus and his whole community celebrated this great day; they remembered and rejoiced that God could not forsake them. God had stood by them even when they were slaves in a foreign land. Nothing would keep their God from being a presence in love for the people.
Each year, Jesus had celebrated this: had heard the Passover story, had shared the meal, had felt that love. Now he had to go where the story led him—right into the thick of things. And so along with countless others, he entered the city to celebrate the Passover, to celebrate the release from slavery and oppression, the journey to freedom and redemption, the hope for the future. Jesus’ celebration with his followers that year is remembered by Christians as the Last Supper.
The story of Passover is dangerous. It calls us to do more than we ever thought possible. It calls us to leave our comfortable lives to journey with those who are enslaved.
But the good news is that the journey will bring us hope, that we will have moments when we can glimpse the world as God imagines it, and that we can be partners with God to bring about that imagined world.
Stories propel us forward. They nudge us into the thick of things. They entice us to take that first step. That is what I believe the stories of our faith do. They mean something to us today just as they have for centuries before us. Are these faith stories doing that for you? Do you carry the story of the Passover out the door of the church and into your home?
Does the story follow you into the grocery store or the senior center or the gas station? I hope these biblical stories take up residence in your lives because they have the power to transform you, the power to change how you live and how you live in community with others.