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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on September 4, 2005

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16th Sunday after Pentecost

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Ethan Cole

September 4, 2005

When Jesus, or early followers of Christ like St. Paul speak of the scriptures, they mean the scriptures of Israel--what we call the Old Testament. We call it the Old Testament because since the earliest days of theological reflection about what God accomplished in Jesus Christ, believers claimed that in Christ God established a New Covenant that grew out of the Covenant that God made with Israel as recorded in their scriptures. Testament is another word for Covenant, hence we have the Old Testament that records God's dealings with Israel before Christ and a New Testament that records God's dealings with Israel, including the incorporation of the Gentiles, that God has accomplished in Christ.

The relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament took many years for the Church to work out. One of the earliest heresies of the Church claimed that the Jesus came to save us from the wrathful god of the Old Testament who was a false God of judgment while Jesus represented the true God of love. This heresy rejected the Old Testament completely and claimed that Christians need pay no attention to it. This was a powerful and dangerous heresy--it was this heresy that motivated the Church to begin to declare which documents were legitimate for the Christian to read and study and which were not. Prior to this collection which would come to be called "The Bible" there were many writings circulating that all claimed some kind of authority. The novel The DaVinci Code makes much of a few of these writings that didn't make it into the Bible like the gospel of Thomas or the gospel of Mary Magdalene.

I say all this emphasize the complicated relationship that Christians have with the scriptures of Israel. Many Christians through the ages have claimed that they posses the true understanding of those scriptures superceding the Jewish reading of the same texts. We see this most particularly at Christmas time when we read from Isaiah and the other prophets various passages that we see as pointing to Christ, but Jewish readers say mean no such thing.

We have reached a point in our relationship with the Jewish religion that I hope we can recognize that we are two religions sharing a certain set of scriptures. We read them side by side, each making claims about what they mean. While Christians see Jesus Christ in the scriptures of Israel, and Jewish readers do not we respect each others' readings. Unlike ancient and medieval and some modern Christians, we do not claim that we have the only correct way to read the Old Testament and that Jewish readers are mistaken--rather, we are two faiths reading the same texts side by side and coming to different conclusions, using the texts to inform our faiths as is respectively appropriate to each faith, Jewish or Christian.

All this has been a long preface for me to talk about the Old Testament lesson from Exodus: the institution of the Passover feast. It is an ancient Christian practice to read a text like this in a allegorical and spiritualized way. They claimed that this spiritualized reading was the true reading and that Jewish readers who did not see it this way were somehow blinded from the truth. I am going to follow in the first part of that tradition and read this passage in a "spiritualized" way, but not the second half of that tradition. Jews who read this passage and do not see what I see are reading the text appropriately with the eyes of their faith, as am I with the eyes of my faith--the readings may be quite different.

This Passover story is woven intricately into our worship. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we follow St. Paul, quoting his words, calling to mind a Christian interpretation of this Exodus passage. In a few minutes, at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, before he invites us to communion, Bishop Fricker will say the words, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." We will reply, "Therefore let us keep the feast."

In this way we fulfill what the words of the passage: "This month shall mark for you the beginning of all months." We mark time as sacred on the first day of the week by recalling the chief event of our redemption--that Christ is our Passover--the destroying angel that moved through land claiming victims has passed us over because of what God has done in Christ--we are rescued, protected, and redeemed by the Lamb of God who is the unblemished offering that seals us in the love of God and takes away the sin of the world.

Exodus commands that "you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance." We do this in our annual celebration of Easter wherein we lift up and remember in a powerful way the mystery of our salvation--a celebration that Christians have been observing since the earliest days of the Church. But the power of the Paschal mystery is so compelling that we recall Christ's work as Lamb of God Sunday by Sunday because the first day of the week is sanctified as the day of the week on which Christ overcame death and the grave. Further, we celebrate the Eucharist Monday through Friday here, extending the Sunday celebration into the week as an expression of our joy at the graciousness of God.

We rejoice as we keep the feast because what God prefigured in Exodus he accomplished once for all at Calvary--we do not need to roast an unblemished lamb--because it has already been done. Our salvation in Christ has been secured once for all. The great feast in which we will partake in just a few minutes is a holy pledge of God's graciousness towards us in Christ. We eat his body and drink his blood as he commanded us to do, keeping the Passover feast.

This is the spiritual food and drink that calls our mind back to the two stories that are the foundations of God's Covenant with us: take and eat it knowing that he brought his people out of bondage in Egypt with power and great wonders into the promised country and that he brings all people who come to him out of bondage to sin and death in the many forms they take in our lives with the power and great wonder of his cross and resurrection. Amen

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York