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When I was a child, I remember watching Bob Hope TV specials. Bob Hope was the comedian of my parent’s generation, but still I liked his humor. He would end his show the same way every time: "Thanks for the Memories" It became his song. It could have been Israel’s song and it could be our song. Memories are important. Memories play a huge role in forming who we are.
And the Lord knows this. In today’s passage, which admittedly is strange… the Lord is trying to build a memory for his people.
The strange part of course are those detailed instructions about preparing for the deliverance of God through the 10th plague of the Passover. You have those detailed instructions, worthy of a combination Rachel Ray recipe detailing how to prepare your last meal… and a Cary Code book telling you when and how you can eat it. No detail is too small- take a lamb from each family… just enough for the family to eat and if you are in a small family, you can share it… roast, do not boil the lamb… (who cares?) one year old… without blemish… wait until everyone gathers together before you slaughter your lamb…at twilight (not 4pm, not 9pm… but twilight)… don’t eat raw … cook the whole thing including the stomach, liver, intestines and head…Before you sit down for the meal… get dressed… get your bags packed… get your walking stick and get your shoes on… because you will not be dining… you will be eating on the run. Spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and the lintel (top of the door)… and God will pass over you as God delivers one final message to Pharaoh who would not let them go.
And you thought the rules and regulations of the church were bad sometimes! Imagine preparing a potluck dinner this way.
And you wonder why all the detail… why the instructions? Well the Lord tells us why-it is to help us remember:
"This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance"
The Lord wants them to remember… but not just for the sake of remembering… but for the sake of their souls. At least that is how I’ve come to hear this passage.
I didn’t understand this until recently. You see, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about memory and the role it plays in our lives. My Dad has early stages of Alzheimers and in my weekly calls over the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of memories. Slowly over time his memory is fading like an eroding shoreline. First he had trouble remembering the names of his grandchildren. Later, he would forget birthdays… and I remember the first year he forgot mine… it was sad. Birthdays had always been a big deal in our family. Until recently, he could remember that I was serving a church in Cary, North Carolina. This week he said, "Now where do you live?" Memories are important because they connect us to our stories. They remind us who we are.
Memories also have a powerful role to play in helping us to face the future. They offer us hope. Especially in difficult times. Memories of the past can help us look ahead.
I think that is how this story functioned for Israel and later for the Christians. There is a good reason that they would remember this story for centuries to come. It was the story they needed to remember. It reminded them that in their darkest hour… of most desperate need… God did not remain aloof in heaven- deaf and apathetic to the pain of his children… But God listened to the cries and got down and dirty with us…. Sending help… and working within the limits of human history to deliver his oppressed children.
This is the story Israel would remember again and again. I can only believe they remembered this story years later when they suffered in exile… as many wondered if God had forgotten them once again….
You remember the exile don’t you? Their nation destroyed… the best and brightest taken away to live in Babylon-it felt like God had forgotten them. Many were found weeping… singing songs… that reminded them of Zion… the good old days… when God felt near…
It was the time when you could hear people praying hard and crying:
"To you, O Lord, I call; My rock, do not refuse to hear me,
For if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the pit" (Psalm 28)
I’m thinking that throughout the centuries to come… when God’s people had experiences of despair– they knew to call on the name of God…to cry before the Lord… to lament to the Lord… they did this because they remembered another time of desperation that led to the deliverance… they remembered the time God listened and delivered them from Pharaoh. They remembered the Passover… and they remembered that deliverance may not be quick or simple… for the wilderness is ahead… but they remembered that in times of despair, God will save.
I think God wants us to hold on to the memory of salvation for dear life. The Christian faith was built on that kind of memory. When Jesus is celebrating the Passover with his disciples… he works with that memory and builds a new one for us… "Take eat, do this in remembrance of me…"
Jesus is saying, the night before dies… remember me… remember this moment… remember that in my darkest moment, before my darkest hour… remember we were celebrating another memory of God’s deliverance. Almost as if to say, I remember the God of the Passover, and I place my trust in this God to see me through the future… which God did. Jesus wasn’t spared the suffering and death… but Jesus was delivered in the resurrection. It’s a memory Christians have held on to for dear life ever since.
It’s the memory of the Passover of the children of Israel and the memory of the deliverance of Christ that has held us strong.
In Romans we hear from Paul… Christians are dying… days are dark… and what does Paul tell them? "I consider the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us… what are we to say to these things… If God is for us, who is against us… who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…"
How does Paul know that? Because Paul remembers… just like the Jews remembered… they all remembered the faithfulness and love of God… the God who delivered under Pharaoh would deliver them in the time to come.
That’s why I think the Lord wanted them to remember. To help them through whatever life brings in the journey yet to come.
God never promised a way out of suffering… a way around suffering… but God promised that he would be with us through the suffering until we come to the day of our deliverance.
I know my Dad believes that. I know it because he keeps telling me as much. One of the interesting things about my Dad’s Alzheimer’s’ is not what he forgets, but what he remembers. Even today when he is forgetting names of grandchildren and where I live and all that… even today, on our Sunday conversations, we often return to another time in his life. The time is around 1942-45 when he was in the infantry, in the pacific and fighting the Japanese. It’s where he says he learned to take cat naps because he had to do that in a foxhole in a war. He says that often his fellow soldiers would ask him how he could sleep when the fighting was going on.
And then he would tell them something like this:"My mother taught us that each one of us has a guardian angel. I believe that my guardian angel is with me. I believe God is with me. So I sleep."
And then comes back to the present to say, his guardian angel has been with him all his life. In fact, he can’t complain (after 5 bypasses, a couple of strokes and all that comes at age 92)… he can’t complain because his angel would wack him over the head.
Now, I don’t know what you believe about guardian angels. But what I think my Dad was saying is he trusted in the goodness of God who would be there with him to deliver him. Just as God was with the Israelites in the first exodus, in the exile… in so many experiences of their lives… Just as God has been with Christians through many a danger, toil and snare… Dad believed in that God. And maybe… maybe the reason he still remembers the story of the war and God’s faithfulness… is that this is the memory that helps him now at the end of his life. For surely the God who was faithful then… will be faithful in the unknown future yet to come. Surely this is a God you can count on.
So thank you God… thanks for those memories… that give us comfort in the present and hopes for years to come. Amen.