On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
By Pastor John J. Pawloski - September 10th, 2023
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole Israelite community: On the tenth day of this month they must take a lamb for each household, a lamb per house. If a household is too small for a lamb, it should share one with a neighbor nearby. You should divide the lamb in proportion to the number of people who will be eating it. Your lamb should be a flawless year-old male. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You should keep close watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month. At twilight on that day, the whole assembled Israelite community should slaughter their lambs. They should take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and on the beam over the door of the houses in which they are eating. That same night they should eat the meat roasted over the fire. They should eat it along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over fire with its head, legs, and internal organs. Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry. It is the Passover of the Lord. I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day will be a day of remembering for you. You will observe it as a festival to the Lord. You will observe it in every generation as a regulation for all time.
I may not look like it now, but I ran track in high school. I can remember the words expressed right before the chaos of any race: On Your Mark, Get set, and the sound of a race pistol firing a blank. In some ways, your mind would vary from being in a blank state where all you could experience is your own breathing to experiencing something akin to being underwater where you can hear surface noise, but in a way that blurs the sound making any particular sound indecipherable.
Today’s scripture lesson discusses a similar sort of human experience for the enslaved Israelites in Egypt. They are on the precipice of being released from bondage, and are gathering in the moments just before the transition from slave to free. Time was of such an essence, they did not have time to let bread rise. One can only imagine what was going through their minds: fear, excitement, confusion, hope. Perhaps for some, if not most, they had no experience as a free person, having lived as slaves their entire life. Perhaps some had no idea what to expect.
A lot of the prior focus on this scripture focuses on the salvific aspect of the lamb’s blood, and its obvious parallels to Jesus as the Lamb of God. But today, I want to center our focus on a different aspect, the immediacy of going from slave to free person, and what comes next. With the benefit of knowing what happens: that there will be forty years (a long time) wandering in the desert. That Moses dies right before getting to the Promised Land. There will be bad behavior and longing for their prior state of enslavement where their food was more predictable. There would be the raising of a golden calf out of the gold jewelry the Egyptians handed over, as an attempted appeasement for enslaving the Israelites. The Ten Commandments. Then there is the provision of doves and manna each morning, with the warning not to stock up for tomorrow (that would show a lack of faith).
One would think that once having been freed, one would never want to go back to slavery. But humans are fickle. Sometimes we prefer the devil we know to the devil we don’t know. Life in Egypt was predictable, even though it was extreme. They knew there was a better life out there that was possible, but it was not a certain life. Forty years is a long, long time to wander in the desert waiting for God to reveal the promises made long ago. To some degree we can understand why there would be resentment (or at least impatience) about this delay. Perhaps that resentment would be so strong that slavery actually might seem preferable to unstructured freedom.
It seems almost impossible for us to understand how any people would prefer slavery to freedom. But are we really that much different than the people of the Book of Exodus? We may not want to be slaves, but we are creatures of habit. We do continue however to be enslaved to our ways of sin. I know my own sins, and I certainly have my favorites which I continue to commit, even though I know better. In this sense, I am enslaved to sin in a way that is similar to the bondage of the Israelite people of Egypt. Do you have a sin you commit over and over?
We have other kinds of bondage that we seem to be mired in as well. Our ways of thinking. When was the last time that you changed your mind about something you believed for a long time? Can you even think of an example? We are probably wrong ten times a day, but one of the hallmarks of modern life is we don’t have to change our minds, we need only change the station to hear someone who agrees with us (even if we are wrong). God had a name for the Israelite people and their hard to manage attitudes of resentment: stiff-necked. The origin of this term comes from farming with oxen and a plow. The oxen are “stiff-necked” and required a metal prick to steer them in the right direction.
So what gets you to go in the right direction? Prayer, perhaps. Maybe a retreat? Do you ever make space in your busy life to consider the ways you may need to change? Let me recommend something to you: carry a notebook or pad of paper you can keep in your pocket, car, purse/briefcase, or other ready accessible place. When you have downtime, pull out the pad of paper, and center yourself. Then take an inventory of your life, and the ways you might improve it. Think about the ways God may be asking you to change. Take a picture of this list on your phone so that you can refer to it from time to time to remind you of the ways you need to improve. There is freedom out there if you choose to pursue it. But you have to join the race to go after it. On your mark, get set, go!