Conflict, challenge and the holy...
Every time I read the account of the Passover, I get a chill. Part of it connects to the fact that I, like the ones who died in Egypt that night, am a first born in my family. The other image that gives me pause is that sense of terror, sorrow and despair which must have taken hold of the Egyptians in the wake of that awful night's events. Every single person had weathered the other plagues to date, but it is this last one that was more, well, democratic, than the others. The high born had servants to sweep away frogs and find clean water. The rich had the resources to buy supplies when the food was beaten down by hail, or eaten by locusts. But, when the destroyer visits the houses of the Egyptians at God's command, everyone knows the horror and sorrow of losing the first born. Every first born dies, even those among the flocks, herds and chattel of the peoples. Death is the great equalizer. And God set that day apart for the Israelites as a day of remembrance. This day is the first. This month is the first. You will mark time from this point forward. I am sure the Egyptians remembered that day as well as Israel did for different reasons.
It is hard to read stories like this one. We don't want to see this God of the Passover as the same one who in Christ calls us to lives of peace and goodwill to all, striving to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even if he does grapple with Pharisees and with a whipcord drives money changers out of the temple forecourt, we still see one in Christ who is more victim that destroyer, more for mercy than for destruction.
We can be tempted to split the God we know in Christ from the one we encounter in earlier testaments, but that is a mistake. God is god. If we reject the God who made the Passover, we don't get to see the Passover of our Christ. It is a "both-and" reality, not an "either-or."
What helps me navigate these stunning experiences of the holy that leave us questioning how God can love while accepting human suffering is the thought that even in the Passover, God is working to resolve the ugliness of human injustice. God is not being fickle in delivering Israel in such a dramatic fashion. In fact, Israel's identity will be formed in that deliverance. The freedom of Israel comes with a tremendous cost, and God does not let them forget. Remember that your freedom, and the witness of the might of God to achieve that, came with a steep price.
Remember as well, that in Christ, God gave Jesus as a first-born, only begotten son in order that the whole world might know peace and the grace of salvation from sin and death...and that was accomplished through Jesus' death on the Cross and his subsequent resurrection. It isn't easy to work through these challenging experiences of God's exercise of power. I will be struggling with these questions today, and I am sure for the rest of my life. What I do know is that God continues to call us to live as people delivered from oppression and death, who now know life. The cost of deliverance means that we will be living into a new life wherein mercy, mutual submission to grace and a resolve to seek justice and peace are not just abstract ideals. The come attached to deep responsibilities to act, to love and to live among the redeemed (and the "redeemable"), knowing what God seeks to accomplish in and through us-the salvation of the whole world.