On Telling Your Children About Egypt

widetableBrothers and sisters in Christ, grace + peace is yours in the name of the one who came to break every chain that binds, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

In the early 1930s, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr was the pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He looked around the city and lamented the lack of unity he saw among the churches around both Pittsburgh and the country as a whole. So he decided to do something about it. He worked through the Presbyterian church to begin what he called World Communion Sunday in 1936. It was an opportunity for any church that wanted to participate to join their brothers and sisters in the faith around God’s table in remembrance and celebration of the gifts of grace found at God’s table.

Now, to be sure, there were people who were not happy about this. They were not content to share the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ with just anyone. Can you imagine how scandalous that would be? And yet they went ahead with the celebration. It continued year after year. The first Sunday in October became known as World Communion Sunday – where churches all over the world gather around this table, eat this bread and drink from this cup in remembrance of the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

Today is the 80th year that communities of faith have been gathering around the table for just such an occasion: to remember that we belong to something bigger that’s happening in the world.

The story we heard of the first Passover from Exodus 12 and 13 is an incredible story to tell as we celebrate this Sunday. The Israelites have been slaves in Egypt for longer than they care to remember. Every day is just like the one before.

Moses and Aaron keep petitioning Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s heart keeps being hardened. There are 9 plagues sent on Egypt and after each one, Pharaoh still keeps the Israelites enslaved. Until the 10th plague. God tells Moses and Aaron that the Israelites are to take a lamb for each household — and if one family is unable to afford a whole lamb, their neighbor is to invite and welcome them into their home. They will then slaughter the lamb at twilight, take its blood and put it on their doorposts as a sign.

God will then pass through the land of Egypt and kill the firstborn of every Egyptian family — every family without blood on the doorposts. When God sees blood on the doorposts, God will simply pass over that house and move on. After the Passover, this Israelites will be freed from slavery and are then commanded to eat unleavened bread as a way of remembering the God who frees them from slavery.

The Hebrew word used here for Egypt is the word mitzrayim.
The name is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “narrow place.”

So for the Israelites, and all who would come after, the process of leaving Egypt is the process of leaving a narrow place or a narrow understanding of themselves and their place in God’s story for a more expanded or broadened view of God or of themselves or their community.**

Have you ever had an experience where you realize that you were thinking narrowly and then something happens that expands your point of view? A time in your life when you have moved from a narrow place to a wide place? We hear this language in the Psalms often thanking God for bringing us to a broad or wide place. We’re circling around this same quality of God. God frequently brings us from narrow understandings to wider understandings.

For the Israelites, the command comes from God through Moses to remember, then to tell following generations about the time God brought them out of Egypt — out of mitzrayim, out of a narrow place.

I wonder what that experience has been for you. The grace of God has a way of expanding our understanding of God’s love in the world. I wonder about a time when you have sensed God’s grace in a real and tangible way. 

For us, as followers of Christ, it comes to us around this holy table as tangible as the bread we eat and the wine we drink. Though our experience at this table may be intensely personal. On a day like today, World Communion Sunday, we are also reminded of the wideness of this table.

It’s a table that Jesus shared with his disciples, even the one who was about to betray him.

This table, which leads to the foot of the cross into new life, continues our journey to a wider place.

So today, as we join millions of Christ followers around the world in communion with one another, we come forward remembering the God who leads us from narrow places into broad places, from sin into grace, from brokenness into wholeness, from death into life.

Amen.

** More is covered on this in Rob Bell’s conversation with Rabbi Joel Nickerson in episode 98 of the Robcast.

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