Welcome to Holy Week. Before we enter the story of Jesus’ last days let me take you back to another story, the story of the Exodus. For 400 years the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. The story never tells us why they were slaves. It certainly never says that it was because God was angry with them or was punishing them. In fact, when the Israelites cried out to God for freedom, God responded. God sent Moses and enough plagues to convince Pharaoh that letting the Israelites go free was a really good idea. The final plague was the plague of death. God would send an angel of death throughout Egypt so that the firstborn male child in every Egyptian household would die.
However, God instructed all the Israelite families to slaughter a lamb and cook it for dinner. And each family was to take some of the blood of that lamb and paint it on the door posts of their homes. When the angel of death came through Egypt that angel would pass over that house. As the story tells us the Israelites did as God commanded, and God did as God promised. Pharaoh was so overcome by that plague of death that he set the Israelites free.
Each year, to celebrate that remarkable event in their history, the Jews gathered with family to celebrate a meal of remembrance called The Passover. At that meal they would retell the story of how God set them free. That Passover meal is what Jesus and his disciples were celebrating in that Upper Room on that first Maundy Thursday.
But I want you to notice a few things about that Exodus story. The lamb didn’t die to save the people from their sins, nor did the blood of the lamb somehow enable God to forgive the Israelites. Or appease God’s wrath. Remember, God wasn’t angry with the Israelites in the Exodus story. The blood of the lamb in the Exodus story was a sign of God’s covenant, God’s promise to love the Israelites and to set them free from their bondage, their slavery.
So, 1500 years later, when Jesus celebrated that Passover meal with his disciples, raised the cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” he wasn’t saying that God was angry with them, and that he was going to die so that God could forgive them. He was saying that like the blood of the lamb in the Exodus story, his death is a sign…a sign of God’s promise to love them and all of creation and to set them free from their bondage…not to the Egyptians, but to sin and death and guilt and shame. Jesus is God’s promise, not God’s payment.
We don’t worship a God who is angry with the world. We worship the One who chooses to love us and all of creation, the One who so loved the world that he sent his Son into it so that we might know the depths of his love, to know just how far God will go to proclaim his love. And it’s that love that sets us free from our bondage to sin and death and guilt and shame.
That’s a good thing to remember as we move into Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. And a good reason to worship, giving God our thanks and praise.
Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.