Let My People Go: A Homily on Exodus 12

ADOTS Morning Prayer: Friday, 5 March 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A battle is raging across the pages of Exodus.  Confrontation by confrontation, plague by plague, it builds in intensity toward its climax in chapter 12:  the Passover and the death of the firstborn of Egypt.  It may seem like a battle of wills between Moses and Pharaoh, a clash between the interests of Hebrews and Egyptians.  But, that is only what we see with our eyes.  There are hints, and more than hints in Scripture — see Deuteronomy 32 and Daniel 10, for example — that conflict involving Israel is fundamentally spiritual in nature, a battle in the unseen realm playing out on earth:  as in heaven, so on earth.

It would be easy to read Exodus as political xenophobia:  Pharaoh responding to potential threat from the non-indigenous, Hebrew population.  It is tempting to read Exodus as social commentary:  a judgment upon the institution of slavery and even a call for reparations.  One could even perceive Exodus as the narrative of a Marxist-like, economic class struggle.  But this would be to misread the book, to miss or to twist its fundamental nature.  Exodus is the story of redemption, the world’s redemption played out first in the liberation of the Hebrews.  It is God’s response to all those spiritual powers and their earthly minion counterparts who stand athwart God’s purpose for the redemption of the world.

From the beginning, God’s call was unequivocal:

Exodus 4:22–23 (ESV): 22 “Then you [Moses] shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” 

This command becomes the insistent drumbeat echoing throughout Exodus, louder and louder:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  Instead, Pharaoh puts himself in the place of God and demands that the Hebrews serve him:  Pharaoh, the earthly representative of Egypt’s gods.  So God comes in judgment upon these gods, idolatrous representations of fallen spiritual powers, pagan deifications of nature:  the Nile, frogs, flies, the sun, and the like.  And with each plague we hear, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  One by one, God judges the idols of Egypt, coming closer to Pharaoh himself with each plague, until finally the unrelenting Pharaoh must himself be broken:  Exodus 12, the Passover and the death of the firstborn.

So, the real issue in Exodus — the real conflict — is not social, political, or economic, though each of these stem from it.  The real issue is the destructive nature of sin, exemplified in the idolatry of Egypt and in the pride of Pharaoh.

Egypt creates gods whom they can manipulate, whom they think they can manipulate for the people’s welfare.  Offer the right sacrifices to the Nile and the floods will come at the proper time to make the delta fertile.  Worship the sun, and its light and heat will grace the fields and bless the people with abundant crops.  But, the plagues reveal the truth:  all these false gods ultimately turn on their worshippers and bring them to destruction.  You cannot finally domesticate nature or control the fallen spiritual powers.  Nature will fail you, and the gods will destroy you.

Need I belabor this point, brothers and sisters?  Do we not see it clearly all around?  We have manipulated nature, treating it as commodity and cesspool.  And we are watching it turn on us:  fire, flood, storm, pandemic.  We have created gods of our own to manipulate for our welfare:  pleasure, power, wealth, honor, freedom, politics.  And we are now watching them fail us.  And all the time God is calling, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”

Pharaoh, in his pride, grasped for the prerogatives of God.  To God he said, “Your people will not serve you, but me.”  Need I belabor this point, brothers and sisters?  Do we not see it clearly all around?  Political figures of both parties who grasp our loyalty and demand we serve them and their agendas; ideologies to which we are bidden bow down, ideologies incompatible with the Gospel; causes we are commanded to embrace lest we be cancelled.  And now, we are watching these things destroy us.  And all the time God is calling, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”

These battles that we are fighting are not different in kind than the conflict we see raging across the pages of Exodus.  It is a spiritual battle for the redemption of the world and the salvation of our souls:  as in Egypt then, so here and now.  Idols are being revealed and judged.  Pride is being expose and will be cast down.  God is calling us out into the wilderness to serve him, and he is commanding all those who stand athwart his redemptive purpose for the world and his use of his people in that redemptive purpose:  “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  How many plagues must come?

In Exodus, the decisive conflict in the battle was the Passover and the death of the firstborn.  It is tempting to view the Passover meal as merely a symbol of that battle, and, in later years, as a memorial of it.  That may be, but only in part.  It was, I think, much more than that.  The Passover rite, and the meal in particular, were God’s ongoing invitation for his people to participate in his victory, to fight the good fight as fellow soldiers with God, and to enjoy the spoils of the battle.  In the Passover, God enlisted his people in the battle not just against Pharaoh, but against all the spiritual powers arrayed against God, spiritual powers opposed to his redemptive plan for the world through Israel.  And the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, its blood applied to the door posts and lintels of the Hebrew homes, the feasting on the lamb and unleavened bread:  all these were weapons in the battle, weapons through which God broke the bonds of slavery and trampled the gods of Egypt underfoot.  This is not just symbol or memorial.  All this was a participation in the battle for liberation and a foretaste of the ultimate victory of God’s redemption.

It is not then incidental that when Jesus was preparing for the ultimate battle against the spiritual forces that held all creation in bondage, he situated his actions in the Passover.  It is no coincidence, no quirk of timing, that Jesus gave his followers a meal:  not as a symbol of the battle to come, and not, in later years, as a mere memorial of it.  No.  The Eucharist is God’s ongoing invitation for his people to participate in his victory, to fight the good fight as fellow soldiers with him, and to enjoy the spoils of the battle.  It is all right there in the Eucharistic Liturgy:

In obedience to your will, he stretched out his arms upon the Cross and offered himself once for all, that by his suffering and death we might be saved.  By his resurrection he broke the bonds of death, trampling Hell and Satan under his feet (BCP 2019, p. 133).

Jesus is the Paschal Lamb whose sacrifice saves us.  His victory — his resurrection — is our liberation from bondage to sin and death.  It is his victory over all the spiritual powers who thought to stand athwart God’s redemptive purpose — a victory that tramples these powers, Hell and Satan, under the pierced feet of Christ.

By eating the bread and drinking the wine — by feasting on the body and blood of the Paschal Lamb — we enter the battle along with him as we are incorporated into him, as “we are made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him” (BCP 2019, p. 134).  And we share with him the spoils of victory:  access to the very presence of God and life eternal in his presence, adoption as his own sons and daughters.

Every time we come to the Eucharist we are strengthened for the ongoing battle.  Every time we come to the Eucharist we engage in the battle against enemies within and without.  Every time we come to the Eucharist we proclaim Christ’s victory until he comes again.  Every time we come to the Eucharist we share in the spoils of Christ’s victory.  This battle commenced in earnest is Egypt with God’s declaration, “Let my people go, that they may serve me,” and with the Passover and the death of the firstborn.  It reached its climax on Calvary with the sacrifice of God’s firstborn, the Pachal Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  And it is now our battle in and through the Eucharist and in and through our Eucharistic living.

“Let my people go, that they may serve me,” God said.  We have been let go to serve him.

Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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