Exodus 12:1-14 - link to the NRSV text
How we keep time says a lot about our priorities.In his book Introduction to Christian Worship, James White offers these observations:
The way we use our time is a good indication of what we consider to be of prime importance in life. We can always be counted on to find time for those things we consider most important though we may not always be willing to admit to others, or even to ourselves, what our real priorities are…Time talks. When give time to others, we are really giving ourselves to them…Time, then, is a definite representation of our priorities. We reveal what we value most by how we allocate this limited resource.
The same is true of the church. The church shows what is most important to its life by the way it uses time. Here again the use of time reveals priorities of faith and practice. One answer to What do Christians believe? Could be, look at how they keep time! (White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 49).
So I don’t think that it is just an afterthought that the Torah is concerned with time and how the Israelite people were to keep it. At the heart of this concept of “holy time,” represented in our text for the day from Exodus concerning the institution of Passover, is a fundamental reality: the story of faith is not something to be remembered but something to be enacted.
When I first read the text for this week, I scratched my head. The story read as if someone took the instructions for how to prepare for Passover and wedged them in the middle of the story about God warning Moses about the last plague, the death of the first-born. This is reinforced by v. 21 and following, where Moses repeats all those instruction for a second time in the chapter. And the part that struck me as the strangest was God commanding the observance of this festival “throughout your generations” (v. 14) even before the event ever happened.
Now, by inner historical-critical voice tells me the historical-critical answer: that the compilers of the Torah took the Passover commands and tied them to the Passover narrative. But theologically that answer doesn’t quite suffice.
By tying the event and the instructions together, by putting them side-by-side, I believe that the author(s) of this text are suggesting something more than just incorporating priestly law into the narrative, but making a fundamental claim about the way we are to live out the life of faith. It is a reminder to us that our faith story is not just something that occurred “back then,” but is something we live out now.
The instruction to observe Passover is at its heart a reminder for the later generations to remember the story and to instruct, encourage, and incorporate the story into their own faith story. Christians do the same in our observations of Christmas and Easter, and even when we observe the sacrament of the Eucharist and retell the story of God’s activity in and through Jesus of Nazareth. The language of the Eucharistic prayer is the language of “we” and “us,” not language about “them,” or in other words “those that came before.”
The command to remember, be it in the Passover celebration or in the Eucharist or in the observing of any religious celebration, is at its heart a command to make the past reality our present reality, to incorporate the story of those that have gone before into our own story.
Our priorities are shaped by our time, and thus the command to observe the Passover or other festivals of remembrance shapes our lives and gives them a contour that emphasizes God’s place in our story. It is a meeting between God and ourselves within time in order that we might remember our true calling, to be God’s people shaped by God’s story and redeemed by God’s love.