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Monday, April 18, 2011

"Pass me not"

There were no leeches.

It always seems like there should be leeches. Is there anything worse?

Do you remember all of the pestilences that plagued the Egyptians as the Hebrew people were liberated from slavery?

Boils. Frogs, the frogs that "shall come upon thee and thy people and thy servants." Frogs. Do you know how slimey creepy awful that would be? And more. Water turned to blood. Lice, for god's sake. Swarms of flies, worse than Maine or Minnesota in June. Disease ruined the cattle and the camels and the asses and the oxen and the sheep. Thunder and hail, sadly familiar around here. Locusts. Locusts are disgusting, and, as I did once before, locusts would cause me to drive my chariot off the road. Darkness: it's only upside being to hide the locusts and the ugly boils but it would make me shiver out of my skin knowing about all those frogs everywhere.

And finally, the death of the firstborn child.

Tonight our Jewish friends celebrate this passover, and we wish them the blessings and fruitfulness and peace that were clearly meant for them as they escaped into a new land, one of "milk and honey," of freedom. An exodus from awful to, as it turns out, initially perplexing,then annoying, and really really long.

It is impossible for me, who did not grow up within Jewish culture, to know emotionally what that means. Exodus. Christians have been stealing the Jewish passover seder for years, trying to truncate it into something about Jesus who, in fact, was Jewish and did celebrate Passover but not the passover that his followers have invented to feed their own theology. Passover is a Jewish cultural and theological event, a celebration that comes from the inside. And the fact is, I'm not inside that culture.

But it always does make me think. And every year it is about something different.

This year I am struck by the reality that none of us gets passed over, not finally, entirely, completely. Not even Jews. We all end up suffering from boils or frogs or lice and gnats or swarms of flies or locusts and most certainly darkness. And some of us suffer the death of the one most close, our firstborn or first-loved or most beloved parent.

None of us get out of this unscathed. (None of us get out of this alive either but that's a story for Sunday.) Egyptian or not, there are lice in our forecast.

Tonight I'm identifying with the Egyptians. And the Jews who later again had to suffer. We all do. We create suffering for others, we watch and feel helpless, we cause conditions that make others suffer. We're in it up to our necks. There are not enough bitter herbs to cover the bad taste.

But, as we suffer, we do so not without hope. We are freed to make our suffering redemptive, to make it count, to make it benefit others, and to work for others to make it go away.

We face suffering with hope. Why? Because that is the way it is. Suffering brings us to the heart of the ultimate, or Ultimate life, where we are healed, freed and made new.

When I was a child we sang a song at church, especially on Wednesday nights, at prayer meeting, that went something like this, "Pass me not O gentle Savior. Hear my humble cry. While on others thou art calling, do not pass me by." A different kind of passing over. A prayer for healing, for courage and strength. Stop here. Heal me, too. Give me the gifts of life, too.

I don't think that really has much to do with Passover but it is authentic to my culture, my tradition, and it is my prayer this night for you and all whom you love, all who suffer. Peace.

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