When I See the Blood
Exodus 12: 1-14
East St. Louis Trinity UMC
September 7, 2014
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Someone has said, “America has a love affair with steak.” My seminary years vouched for that. Although my wife and I pinched pennies, we splurged on our trips to the steakhouse. Occasionally, we enjoyed our steak nights with seminary colleagues. As usual, the waiter noted our cooking preferences. Some liked it rare. Others said, “well done.” Medium well was my preference. On rare occasions, some of my colleagues ordering his/her steak rare seemed to say “unless I see the blood on my steak, I don’t want it.” Served with lots of pink showing, they’d go to town on a rare steak like I did on my prime rib of beef cooked medium-well.
In our scripture today, seeing spilled blood is not just a harbinger of bad news; it’s good news. The liberation of God’s chosen people from slavery in Egypt is set in motion by God who declares, in a phrase of Exodus 12: 13 (NIV), “when I see the blood.” Why did God set his saving acts in motion?
To understand, we have to sketch the story of Joseph in Genesis. Jacob has a number of sons. However, Joseph is his favorite. Upset and mad, Joseph’s brothers hate him for two reasons. One, he is the favorite child and gets special treatment. Two, Joseph is a dreamer. When Joseph informs his brothers about a dream predicting that he will rule over them one day, it’s the last straw. His brothers decide to kill him. Thankfully, his brothers change their mind. Instead, they sell him to band of merchants. Eventually, Joseph ends up in Egypt as a slave. There, Joseph develops a reputation for interpreting dreams. Word of his skill comes to Pharaoh. So, Pharaoh gives him a troublesome dream to decipher. For correctly interpreting the dream, Pharaoh makes Joseph second in command in Egypt. Over seven years, Joseph stores massive amounts of grain. His dream indicates a seven year famine is on the way. Consequently, there is no food crisis in Egypt during seven years of famine. Also when Pharaoh learns that Joseph is a Hebrew, that he has family and a people in another country, Pharaoh invites them to reside in Egypt. They are welcome in Egypt. They present no immigration problems. Because of Joseph’s invaluable assistance to the country, Egyptians and non-Egyptian live side by side in peace for years until that Pharaoh dies.
Things changed with the coming of a new Pharaoh. Pharaoh “knew not Joseph or Josephine.” Unwilling and unable to trust non-Egyptians among them, Pharaoh made the Hebrew people his slaves for generations to come. How or why Pharaoh and the Egyptian people turned against non-Egyptian people when they had made such a vital contribution to the country is beyond me. By the time God got around to having a conversation with Moses and Aaron about the plight of his people, guess how long the Hebrews had been slaves in Egypt? Was it 70 or 100 years, maybe 200 or 250 years? What about 400 years? Wrong, Egyptian oppression lasted 430 years! Hear the words of Exodus 12:41, “At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.”
This ancient history has repeated itself ad nauseam down through the corridors of time. The 2012 General Conference, held in Tampa, Florida, passed legislation asking every Annual Conference to plan and conduct programs and worship services focused on “Acts of Repentance Toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous People especially Native Americans.” Three hundred ninety-four years (394) ago, they owned the land and had established their way of life. After the Pilgrims landed on these shores and survived their first winter with the aid of their Native American sisters and brothers, their land is gone. Most of them are confined to reservations. Their way of life is relegated to the back pages of second class citizenship. History books and movies still portray them as savages. As a result, some Native American political activists call our celebration of Thanksgiving Day a Day of Mourning. Why? Native American acts of kindness, i. e., helping the pilgrim arrivals through the first winter resulted in wars, rumors of war, new diseases, death, and relocations to reservations for those who walked and survived the Trail of Tears. Asked when they’d stop calling Thanksgiving Day a Day of Mourning for Native American James Moonanum wrote this excerpt in a speech dated November 26, 1998. “Some will ask: will we ever stop protesting? Some day we will stop protesting: We will stop protesting when the merchants of Plymouth are no longer making millions of dollars off the blood of our slaughtered ancestors.”
Was Moonanaum’s statement a version of God’s declaration “I see the blood?” The enslaved predicament of Hebrews under 430 years of captivity and the 393 year confinement of Native Americans raise the question of deliverance, restoration, reconciliation and repentance. How do wrongs get righted? Is a worship service emphasizing Acts of Repentance enough? Or, how shall the people of God free themselves of Egyptian slaver? Shall it be with sword, the pen or drowning their sorrows in bubbly? Not really.
God will deliver and/or rescue his people without resorting to the sword, the pen, the bubbly or anything else. In other words, God does many things by simple obedience to His will. For instance, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to a valley of dry bones. He does. And folk get up from the grave. Jesus tells a blind man to go wash his blind eyes in the pool of Siloam. “I went and washed and received my sight,” the man said. Gabriel tells Mary that he wants her to deliver the Savior of the world into the world conceived by Immaculate Conception. Mary said, “For nothing is impossible with God. I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” There was a man sent from God to bear witness to the light. He was not the light. But he was a voice crying in the wilderness, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” By the hundreds, the repentant were baptized and saved.
Check this out. To gain Israel’s freedom from a 430 year bondage, all God asks of God’s people is obedience. Moses and Aaron give lay out God’s directions. A.) On the 10th of the month, purchase a lamb. Share the cost with another family if money is tight. Make sure the male lamb or goat is without blemish. (Comment: Under their breath, some Hebrews might be saying, “What does this have to do with liberation?” B.) On the 14th of the month, slaughter the animal. Put some of the blood on the doorposts and lintel of your houses. (Comment: I ain’t no butcher. Or, this is a new house. Why should I put blood all over the doors?) C.) Eat the lamb roasted on the same night with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. If there are leftovers, burn them. D.) Eat the meal with loins girded, shoes on and a cane in your hand, as if you have to leave the house any minute. (Comment: God had a strange way of liberating us from Pharaoh.) E.) the Lord will passover the houses and strike down the first born among man and animals. “When I see the blood on the doorposts and lintels of your house, I will passover you and no plague shall destroy you.” Do this and your 430 year bondage in Egypt will be over. More often than not, our deliverance is tied to trusting and obeying God. F.) Last but not least, celebrate the Passover from generation to generation. Consequently, our Jewish brothers and sisters have faithfully celebrated Passover from that day to this day. God delivered them from 430 years of Egyptian slavery.
Think about what you just heard. Moses and Aaron speak the word of God to God’s people. Israel has a choice. She can follow God’s directions or dismiss them as futile, nonsensical and impotent. History shows us that Israel follows God’s directions. Mourning and crying breaks out all over Egypt and in Pharaoh’s house as the first born in every household is slain. Summoning Moses and Aaron, Pharaoh decides to let God’s people go immediately with their flocks and herds. Freedom comes to the people of God like a thief in the night. No sword, spear, knife, rock or vile epithet is required to walk away from Egypt as free men, women and children. If they had not obeyed God, their firsts born would be dead and they would have remained slaves in Egypt. “Trust and obey for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
John the Baptist gives us some idea of why the Jewish Passover experience has something to say about Christ coming on earth. He comes to prepare the way of the Lord. Personally and corporately, life in first century Israel is in a mess. When crowds of people hearing his message ask, “what should we do?” John does not bite his tongue. Stop being selfish, greedy, using extortion, slander and death threats. In other words, if someone needs a coat and you have an extra, share it. Tax collectors must cease ripping people off. Soldiers ought to be satisfied with their wages instead of using lies, extortion and the threat of death to live an abundant life. Our Lord made a similar case in his first sermon. He was not going to knuckle under to the status quo of injustice extant in his world. Jesus said, “The spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And like God, who destroyed Pharaoh oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt, Christ would accomplish this liberation without resorting to the sword, spear, knife, dungeon or psychological warfare.
In 2014, we live in a world full of exploitation, selfishness, oppression, gun violence, degradation, lies, poverty, selfishness, etc. Some commentators suggest there is more oppression, violence and slavery being practiced today than at any time in the history of the world. Can I prove it? Not really. What I do know is the same Christ who came to clean up things in the first century has been at work among us doing the same thing. He used and is using non-violent methods to get it done, i.e. the spilling of his own blood.
On the night before he died, Jews were celebrating the Passover. In fact, Christ instructed his disciples to prepare the Passover meal. That they did in the Upper Room. When all were assembled in the Upper Room for the Passover Meal, our Lord changed things. He did a new thing. He started a new tradition. As Jesus sat at table, “He took the bread and broke it and gave it to them saying this is my body. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22) “And when the supper was over, he took the cup gave thanks, gave it to his disciples and said, drink from this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins…Do this in remembrance of me.” Our communion ritual goes a little further with the blood talk. “Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood.” In short, the blood of the lamb brings liberation for the Jews from captivity in Egypt.
The blood of Christ brings liberty in for those in captivity by human sin.
When I see the blood, I think Christ our Passover. He is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. When I see the blood, I know forgiveness of my sins. When I see the blood, I know Christ is a rock in a weary land, a bridge over troubled waters. When I see the blood, I know Christ is a God of our weary years and a God of our silent tears, a God who will let the oppressed go free.”
When I see the blood, I remember the famous words of songwriter Andraé Crouch. “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary. The blood that gives me strength from day to day; it will never lose its power. It reached to the highest mountain. And it flows to the lowest valley. The blood that gives me strength from day to day; it will never lose its power.” Amen.