A Day of Remembrance



Sermon Title “A Day of Remembrance” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  Today I want to talk about remembering, and how what we remember shapes who we are.  Memory can be tricky; I am good at remembering occasions and dates and especially hooking the two together, as in, “I remember the year we went to California and visited my college friends, it was April of Joel’s senior year of high school.” In fact, I’m so confident that I am correct in these cases that the joke in our family is that I remember everything — whether it happened or not.  Remembering numbers — not so much.  I know about four phone numbers by memory, and that’s only because four members of my family got on a phone plan at the same time, so we have consecutive numbers.  Anything else I have to use my Contacts, because even if I key in a number to make a call, I won’t remember it two minutes later.

The text which Mary Lou read for us this morning is God’s direction to Moses for him to pass on to the Hebrew people.  The inhabitants of Egypt — both Egyptian and Hebrew — have just been through a series of plagues: Water turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, locusts, livestock sickening, thunder and hail, darkness.  Pharoah has refused or reneged on releasing the Hebrews from forced labor.  God is instructing Moses on how to prepare the Hebrews for the final plague — the angel of death which will take the life of every firstborn human and animal in Egypt, except at the houses which have prepared according to God’s instructions.  The angel will pass over those houses, which is why this Jewish feast of remembrance for this day is known as Passover.  God gives detailed instructions about when this will happen, what kind of lamb is to be sacrificed (a one-year old male without blemish), whether two smaller households can share a single lamb (yes), what time of day the lambs are to be slaughtered (twilight), how the lamb is to be prepared (roasted — not raw or boiled), what to serve with the lamb (unleavened bread and bitter herbs) and what should be done with any leftover lamb (it should be burned that same night).

There are even directions about how to eat the meal: fully dressed (I don’t even want to consider other options) including with your sandals on and your staff in your hand (I guess this means you have to eat single-handed), and eat in a hurry — standing over the kitchen sink, maybe.  Of course, all of those directions are because as soon as the angel of death passes over, the Hebrews are going to have to get outta Egypt as soon as possible.  Pharoah is going to let them go, but for those of us who know the story, Pharoah is going to change his mind and send his army to get them back.  They need to put as much distance between themselves and Pharoah’s army as possible.  So essentially, these directions are: Get ready, and when I say run, you run as fast as you can.

Verse 14 gives us a key to all of these preparations: “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.”  This is not personal remembrance, it is corporate remembrance: this liberation from Egypt shapes the identity of the Hebrew people — not only the ones who were there that night, but generations to come.  Many generations: Passover has been celebrated by Jews for 7,000 years — this event in Egypt happened 5,000 years before Jesus’ birth.

Jesus stands in the Passover tradition in a complex way.  Jesus was an observant Jew, and he celebrated Passover with his disciples, most notably in John’s gospel when the Passover meal was the last supper he had with his friends before he was betrayed, arrested, condemned and killed.  Jesus was also the Lamb of God, the sacrifice without blemish which has allowed the angel of death to pass over us, despite the fact that we are sinners, and the wages of sin is death.  The gospel stories of Jesus and other books in the New Testament — especially the vision of Revelation — weave together the Passover lamb and the character and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I said at the beginning of this sermon that what we remember shapes who we are.  This is true of individuals: if I remember every hurt or offense or slight, I am likely to be a bitter person.  If I remember every kind word or positive interaction, I am likely to have a sunnier attitude.  So should we try to remember only the good things and forget all the painful stuff?  I don’t think so.  Tomorrow, as you know, is a day of remembrance for this country.  It is the 22nd anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon, and the attack on the US capitol which was prevented by downing a plane in the countryside near Shanksville, PA.  There is a whole generation of young people who were not yet born, or were too young to remember those attacks.  They need to hear the story of that day, and what it meant for our country. There are physical memorials which have been constructed in the past 20 years, and there will be services of remembrance as well in NY and PA , when names of the deceased are read out loud.  These include not only passengers on the planes, but first responders who ran into danger and gave their lives trying to save others.  9/11 was a day which shaped this nation and changed the way we saw ourselves — powerful, perhaps, but not invulnerable.  The dedication and heroism of first responders is something we should never forget.  If we remember only the “good things,” we are missing a significant part of the story — in fact, the story might not even make sense without remembering the pain and trauma of that day.  Heroes respond in adversity or crisis; if nothing ever goes wrong, we don’t need people of character and courage.

God’s charge to Moses and the Hebrews to remember is not new.  It is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament.  The Shema is a prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  The name comes from the initial letters of the opening sentence.  You’ll recognize the opening lines as some of the words of Jesus in the New Testament:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

This prayer was prayed evening and morning (“when you lie down and when you get up”) If you have been watching The Chosen and seen the disciples touch doorframes of a house as they go in and out, this is the reason why.  Doorframes are where the blood of the Passover sacrifice was placed so that those inside would remain unharmed.

Never forget.  That is the mantra of surviving Jews and of new generations after the Holocaust of the 20th century; it is the slogan of 9/11.  Never forget.  But the act of sacrifice and the heroism we remember as Christians is not what we have done, or even what terrible things have happened to us — it is what God did for God’s people; it is what God’s Son did for us.  Not only are we not the heroes of the biblical story, it is actually our persistent sinfulness which needed intervention in the form of Jesus Christ.  If we say (and believe) that Christ died for me, then I was part of the problem.  Christ didn’t die for me because I was so brave and enlightened and ethical; Christ died for me because I was wrong and broken and lost.  We need to remember that part of the story and not reduce salvation to a cheery slogan we can put on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker.  Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, because the world was a damned mess.  Jesus did what no other person before or since has done: he took the sin of the world upon himself; he took on death itself and he won.  It’s never the wrong week for an Easter sermon.  Resurrection is something we should celebrate every Sunday, but along with that goes the memory of the death which Christ suffered before resurrection was necessary or possible.  That was for you; that was for me; that is for us.  Never forget.  Amen