The search for identity begins with the questions, who am I,and where do I come from. The search is a process that begins as soon as we realize we are somehow different and separate from others. My nephew Noah, when he was five, knew there was something unique about him. My brother and sister-in-law adopted him soon after he was born from South Korea. By five, Noah new he looked different, and intrinsically knew that his origins did not coincide with the rest of the family. One night, while dining with my parents at a Chinese Restaurant, Noah proudly told the waitress that he was from Korea and this is why he liked egg rolls.
Who am I, and where do I come from. On Ash Wednesday, we are given the first of many answers to this question. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. The answer to where do I come from can not get anymore basic than this. The words “you are dust” bring us back to the book of Genesis where we are told that God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. These words also tell us that we are not gods, but mere mortals, that our time on earth is limited and the grave is ultimately where we will find ourselves some day.
However, we are more than dust. At Baptism we are anointed with oil and told we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Therefore, by virtue of our Baptism, we are children of God, and bearers of the light of Christ in the world.
But who am I? Or better yet, who are you? This question is asked over and over again in an age old encounter game in which participants continually are asked to go deeper and deeper in defining who they are at the core of their identities.
So who are we if we are more than the dust of the ground and children of God? Tonight we are told that we are also the children of the Exodus as our Old Testament reading brings us into the story which underpins the Passover feast.
In this passage, the Children of Abraham are told how to prepare for their escape from the bonds of Pharaoh. They are to slaughter a year old goat or lamb. They are to splash its blood on the head piece and sides of the entrances to their homes. They are to eat the whole of the animal, leaving no remains behind. And they are to eat their meal ready to run on a moments notice. They are not told how God will facilitate their escape, or how they will cross safely out of Egypt into the wilderness of the Sinai. NO, they are simply told how to prepare for the great escape and to trust that God will take care of the rest.
It is in the telling of the story and the sharing of the Passover meal that Jewish Children are told who they are and from where they have come, and no matter what form of captivity they find themselves, to trust in God, for God will eventually lead them back to freedom.
It is in the context of this meal that a second Exodus is observed. This meal takes place on the night Jesus was betrayed. Once again, the Children of Abraham are being held captive, this time, however, by legions of Roman soldiers and figure heads that control the masses through the threat of death. The sense we have of the meal is almost clandestine. In a small upper room, in the darkness of night, the meal begins. Jesus as the head of the household raises the loaf of unleavened bread, the bread of liberation, of rebellion. He then blesses it and tells the disciples that this is his body, given for them. After supper he picks up the cup reserved for Elijah, a cup that is placed on the table in hopes that the Messiah will come and usher in world peace and brotherhood, and then he tells them that this is his blood, the price our new freedom will cost. With this, the disciples begin to realize the second exodus has begun, but as Jesus has taught them, this exodus is not an exodus from earthly rule, but an exodus from something greater, an exodus from the bonds of sin and death.
In this, the second exodus, we are brought beyond the boundaries of earthly bondage. For, as Christ’s body is broken and his blood is shed on the cross we are led beyond the boundaries of the Red Sea to the dark and murky shores of Sheol, the sea of death. And, it is with the cross that Christ parts the water of death so we can journey safely to the promised land of Heaven itself.
Who am I, or better yet, who are we? We are no longer the children of the dust. Instead, we are the Children of God. We are the children of the first Exodus, in which God led us out of the slavery of Egypt and into the freedom of the Promised Land. We are the children of the second exodus, the event in which God led us through the waters of death into life with God. We are the children of the second exodus, redeemed by God through the cross of Christ. We are the children of the second exodus, connected with the saints of the past, with each other today and with the saints who are yet to come through the simple meal of bread and wine.
For on this night he was betrayed, in the midst of the re-telling and the re-living of the first exodus, Jesus took the bread of liberation, broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, take, eat, this is my body broken for you, do this as often as you shall eat it in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper, Jesus took the cup of wine, the cup reserved for the prophet Elijah, the cup of hope for the Messiah and the peace of God and said,” this is my blood which is shed for you. Do this as often as you shall drink it for the remembrance of me.”