Before Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday, there was Thursday. We celebrate Easter once a year but as a church, we remember what happened that Thursday at least once a month and some churches remember it every day.
Why? What makes that night different from all the other nights?
On Thursday, Jesus wasn’t calming any storms or healing any sick or raising anyone from the dead. He wasn’t dying on the cross for all the sins of everyone ever or conquering death once and for all or being seated on a throne, exalted.
No, Thursday wasn’t this grand thing. It quiet. It was intimate. It was the calm before the storm. On Thursday, Jesus was in some upstairs room of some unnamed guy, sitting around a table with a small group of friends, eating the same meal they’d eaten year after year, retelling an old story they’d probably heard hundreds of times before.
Like Pastor Matt shared with us two Sundays ago, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the Passover meal that night. It was and is the holiest of celebrations for Jews, the jewel in the Jewish calendar, a celebration of when God brought the Israelites out from under an oppressive slavery in Egypt. And ever since then, this Passover meal had been a memorial to the Exodus, a reminder of what God had done for them as a people.
Jesus has chosen to enter Jerusalem to die at a strategic time, just as Passover is beginning. It was typical for families to worship God during the Passover together in the home, feasting and celebrating as extravagantly as they could afford.
The aroma of fresh herbs would have encircled in the air at sundown. Unleavened bread would be ceremoniously set. Goblets would have been filled to the brim with good wine. Candles would have flickered next to food roasting on the spit, every element ripe with meaning and tradition. An unblemished lamb would have been sacrificed earlier in the temple for each family or community. And as the family feasted, the patriarch, the father or grandfather, would lead the liturgy of praise and prayer to remember The Story.
It was, after all, a Story worth remembering. Centuries before Jesus, the Jews had lived as slaves in Egypt. Moses pleaded with Pharaoh to let God’s people go and when he would not, God sent plagues on a hard-hearted Egypt and finally delivered his people from bondage.
Four cups of wine were passed at Passover and they’d drink to the dregs, each representing a promise of God found in Exodus 6:6-7:
I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage I will redeem you with an outstretched arm...and I will take you as my people.
I will free you.
I will deliver you.
I will redeem you.
I will take you as my people.
And year after year, they’d remember the Story of God’s deliverance; they would eat the bread and drink the wine and celebrate their freedom. And so, the twelve disciples prepared to celebrate and remember salvation with Jesus. Little did they know that this Passover would be unlike any they’d ever known. Jesus wouldn't retell them an old story that Thursday. He would tell them a new one, the story of the Exodus, their Exodus and ours, from slavery to freedom, from our old selves into our new ones, from death into the best kind of life there is.
“Now when you remember the Exodus, remember me. I’m the main event now. I’m the Exodus now. I’m the end of slavery now and forever.”
Once and for all, and for generations since, we’ve been remembering the same Story but with a new bent - deliverance, not just for Israel, but for the whole world. We, too, have been freed and delivered and redeemed and claimed and that’s a Story to remember and anticipate.
Over and over at Passover, God reminded them to have hope in the future because of what he’s done in the past. We see these reminders all over Scripture and in the Stories we share of God’s deliverance.
“I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob...”
“I am the God who brought you out of Egypt...”
“Remember me because I have remembered you...”
I see this reminder all over my own life. I have seen the consequences of sin in my own life, anger and shame and fear. I have been cheated on, rejected, betrayed by friends, and I know I’m not the only one. And yet, I have hope because I have seen God come in over and over to free and deliver and redeem my Story and take me as his own.
And so on Sundays as we take communion, we remember the story of God's deliverance. We eat the bread and drink the wine and celebrate our freedom.
"Do this in remembrance of me..."
We live in a world that is still full of pain and bondage, one that is still being redeemed and restored, that is still being made new. And in the midst of this world, it can be easy to lose hope. It can be easy to feel like we’re not making much of a difference, to get caught up in our own hurts and struggles and want to give up. And yet, we have hope when we look around and we remind ourselves of the Story, of what God has done, what God will do, and what God is doing in our midst in the meantime.
And so over and over, when we are tempted to forget, we remind each other of hope by telling and retelling the Story of God. The feast is laid and the candles are lit and a chair has been pulled out for you. There are reminders everywhere, if you’re looking for them.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
Today, what stories of God’s faithfulness can you remember? How have you experienced God’s deliverance in your past? How might that give you hope for the future? Who in your life could use a reminder of God's faithfulness today?
Think through how you have seen God’s faithfulness at work in your life and in our church so far this year. Write them down and give God thanks for these reminders today.
As you think through and give thanks for these things, find a stone. A fairly large one. Set it up as the centerpiece for the table you typically eat at. On this stone, with paint or crayons or markers, write the letters “R.G.F.”, which stands for “Remember God’s Faithfulness.” Congratulations. You just created an Ebenezer.
*Join us tomorrow night for our own Passover Seder, 6:30pm at 211 Bridge Street in Salem.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Num. 15:41.
- Ebenezer or “Eben Ezer” literally means, “Stone of Remembrance.”
- For a beautiful article and another creative way to remember God's story, visit Kerrie James' blog post here (Kerrie is one of the leaders for our Creative Arts Team and is our featured artist for today!)