Pausing on Passover

Click right here next Sunday at 10 to join your ASC friends online.

While the calendar tells us this Sunday is Easter, the news around us is telling us that our most difficult days lie ahead.  So, instead of trying to get our heads around the theme of resurrection that is embedded in the Easter story, let’s pause on Passover and delve deeply into the images, struggles, and promises contained therein!

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All Souls Church
Order of Service Easter 2020

Pausing on Passover

A Service Offered for All Souls Church, Unitarian Universalist

Easter Sunday 2020 – In the Midst of a Global Pandemic

Rev. Shayna Appel

 

Welcome & Announcements

Prelude:Only Love the Butterflies

Chalice Lighting: By Dillman Baker Sorrells

For holy days on which we recall the old stories, we light the flame.

For Passover which reminds us of the courage and strength of those seeking freedom in the past, we light the flame.

For Easter which reminds us that love is our greatest challenge, we light the flame.

For gathering today in this sacred [virtual] space, we light the flame.

For the opportunity to be together as a community, to remember the past, to plan for our future, to be alive in our present.

Opening Words: By Elizabeth Mount

In ancient times, they said

Dayenu

It would have been enough to have been spared after the plagues.

It would have been enough to have been freed of slavery,

It would have been enough to have had food in the desert,

Now we question, when will it be enough again?

Dayenu

Will it be enough to stay home?

Will it be enough if we are deemed essential, as we are made to work?

Will it be enough to wear a mask as we go to the grocery, to the office, to the gas station?

Will it be enough to keep us well, in the midst of plague that has not passed over?

Now we wonder, worry, wish for answers

Dayenu

It would have been enough. It will be enough again.

If the story of Passover is told and teaches us how to live in this time,

It will be enough.

If the stories of our ancestors bring us hope for tomorrow

It will be enough.

If we join together in remembering that we all come from people who have survived

Again and again,

It will be enough this year, as it is each and every year.

Dayenu, it will be enough that we are together today.

Come, let us worship together.

Music:Gather the Spirit

A Time for All Ages: Grandmother’s Lesson by Elisa Davy Permian

Once upon a time a there lived a brother and sister named Leah and Sam who were about your age. They were Jewish and Passover was their favorite holiday because there was so much to do. The day before the Seder they would help sweep the house clean of all bread crumbs, help set the table with special Passover dishes, and put an extra chair and cup for Elijah the Prophet. Then on the evening of Passover the relatives would arrive, and the Seder would begin just after sunset.

One year they came to a place near the end of the Seder where their father poured wine into Elijah the Prophet’s goblet and asked the children to go and open the door for him. This was one of their favorite parts because it was so mysterious. They ran to the door and looked up and down the street. They didn’t see anyone except the new children next door. They had just moved from Haiti and they were playing in their yard. No Elijah.

Leah came back to the table feeling sad. “Where is Elijah?” she asked. “Every year we pour him wine and open the door but he never comes. What does he look like? Will he ever come for Passover?”

Her parents looked at Grandmother.

I have seen him,” she said, “though I didn’t realize it at first. Elijah comes in many disguises.

“I saw him long ago when I was about your age. One cold day just before Passover I was minding my younger brothers and sisters and my mother was resting. There was a knock at the door. I opened the door and there stood a beggar. He was dressed in rags and had an old sack over his back. I saw that his shoes were full of holes.

“‘May I come in and sit by your fire and have some food?’ he asked. ‘I am so hungry and cold.’

“I knew we were not a wealthy family. My parents worked hard and still had barely enough for a simple meal, let alone a Passover feast. ‘We have nothing extra for you,’ I said, and I shut the door.

“I peeked out the window and saw the beggar walk to our next door neighbor’s house. The neighbors had even less than we did, since the father had died. The mother worked very hard taking in sewing but she had many mouths to feed. I was sure that she would turn the beggar away. But I saw her open her door and invite him in.

“The next day, my mother was cooking our Passover meal and I was setting the table. Suddenly, there came a cry from the kitchen. Our dog had grabbed the chicken from the counter, knocking over the apple-raisin pudding my mother was preparing. When my father got home he found us sitting and crying. There was no money to buy another chicken or to make another desert to celebrate our Passover.

“We were still sitting and crying when we heard a knock on the door. It was our poor neighbor. She smiled at us and said, ‘It seems that misfortune has come to you. I would like to invite you to celebrate Passover at our home this evening. I don’t have much, as you know, but somehow I was able to make more matzoh balls than usual from my flour, and my soup kettle is full.’ My parents thanked her and promised to bring the foods they had prepared that had not been spoiled.

“After our neighbor had gone, my mother asked me, ‘Who was that that knocked at our door while I was resting yesterday?’

“I said, ‘It was a beggar. I told him we didn’t have enough and sent him away.’

“‘Where did he go?’ she asked.

“‘To the neighbors,’ I shrugged.

“My parents looked at each other. ‘Do you know who that beggar was?’ my father asked.

‘No.’

“‘That was the prophet Elijah,’ said my mother. ‘He comes to see if we are helping to make the world a better place by being welcoming and generous.’

“We had a wonderful Passover with our neighbors. We found that when we shared from our kitchen, there was plenty for all. When it came to the part in the Seder where my father poured wine into the Elijah cup, I asked if I could go and open the door for Elijah. My parents smiled.

Grandmother finished the story by saying,

I didn’t see Elijah again, but ever since then I try to treat everyone as if they were Elijah, and I find that there is always enough.”

When Grandmother’s story was finished everyone was quiet. Then Sam asked, “What do you mean that you treat everyone like Elijah, Grandmother?”

Grandmother looked at them and asked a question:

What was the last kind and welcoming thing that you did for someone?”

I helped my teacher to carry some books because she was tired,” Sam answered.

“I invited the new girl at school to play with me and my friends at recess,” said Leah.

How did it feel?”

Good.” “Warm and happy,” they replied.

That is how it feels to treat everyone like Elijah.”

Then Leah jumped up from the table. “I think Elijah would like us to invite our neighbors to celebrate Passover with us. Can we invite them to our Seder?”

Mother and father looked at each other and smiled. The new neighbors weren’t Jewish. They had recently moved to the neighborhood from Haiti. This was exactly the spirit of welcoming that Elijah taught. “Yes, go and tell them that if they would like to join our Seder meal, they will find our door open.”

It seemed that Elijah did visit that Passover day after all!

Reading:Passoverby Kathleen McTigue from “Shine and Shadow”

When the escape from Egypt was certain, when the last furious wave had closed over their enemies’ heads and the dangerous waters lay smooth again, when the Israelites could finally turn toward the future without fear that the past would snatch them back–what did they see before them? Not the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, but the wide and terrifying wilderness that would claim them for forty long, hard years of wandering. They were not carried along on a surge of vindicated faith, but stumbled forward with paralyzing doubts. And instead of enjoying sweet unity after all they’d been through, they were torn by bickering and division. They walked into relentless uncertainty and discomfort, and fell asleep on the hard ground to wake feeling ashamed for dreaming of the easier life of slavery they had left behind…

These passages through the land of in-between are scary and uncomfortable, and the desert is a place we would rather barrel through as quickly as possible toward the welcoming ground of our destination. But our time in the desert is a passage of the heart, not a physical journey of the body, and it’s not in our power to speed it up…

After forty years in the desert, the Israelites in the ancient myth finally reached its end. They touched life-giving waters again, and waded into the Jordan, amazed and glad. Maybe they knew, even in that moment of deep relief and readiness, that the desert wasn’t accidental, that it had opened and cleansed them in some necessary way. Maybe they understood how the wilderness had sharpened their awareness and softened their hearts, so they could at long last receive, not just the gifts of the promised land, but the gifts of the desert that had brought them there.

Sermon:

According to our calendar, today is Easter Sunday. A day in which Christian’s celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and those of us who tend more towards Earth Centered traditions celebrate new life. Many UU’s are content to note ‘loves triumph over hate’ as the central tenet of the day. In the northeast region of these United States, most of us are usually just grateful to have come through another winter season.

But I can’t seem to get my head around that today. I just can’t do it. Not while we are immersed in a global pandemic, not on a day that the experts have forecasted will deliver the greatest loss of life this nation has ever seen in a single day. I…just…can’t.

The calendar may say it’s Easter, but my soul is pausing on Passover. From the plagues brought upon Pharaoh and all of Egypt by the will of the great ‘I Am’ and Moses’ hand, to the shores of the Jordan River, across which the Promised Land lie. My heart and soul have paused on Passover this Easter Sunday, with all of its challenges and imagery and so I ask you, my beloved congregation, to pause here with me.

Our reading for this morning by my friend and colleague, Rev. Kathleen McTigue, begins on the far shores of the Red Sea, after the Israelites had successfully crossed it, and after Pharaoh’s army had gotten swallowed up in it. But, of course, the story of the Passover begins well before that.

In most Haggadah’s, which are the books we read from on Passover, the narrative begins with God’s recognition of the suffering of God’s people, Israel. For over four hundred years, or four hundred and thirty years depending on whose account you’re reading,1the Israelites had done two things. First, they had worked themselves to the bone, and second, despite the first, they had managed to multiply to the point where there were more of them than there were Egyptians in Egypt!

Long story short, God sees their suffering and decides enough is enough. He finds Moses, who is on the lamb after having snuffed out an Egyptian slave master, and again, long story short, God finally convinces Moses to help him effect the Great Israelite Escape.

But in order to convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go, Moses first has to convince Pharaoh that he and the Great ‘I Am’ aren’t screwing around. So, seven plagues are visited upon all of Egypt. Water is turned to blood, then the place is infested with frogs, then gnats, then flies which, if you ask me, sounds like summer in Vermont…but I digress.

After the insect revolution came disease to all livestock, boils upon all humans and animals, (don’t ask me what the latter half of that equation had done to deserve such misery). Then came thunder and hail, (Spring in Vermont), locusts, darkness, and finally, the big one, the death of all first born sons.

I was recalling these chapters in the book of Exodus in about mid March. COVID-19 was really starting to make its debut here in the United States. Then there was a 5.7 magnitude earthquake just outside of Salt Lake City followed by a magnitude 6.5 earthquake west of Challis, Idaho a few days later. We were rapidly moving into the realm of physical distancing and zoom. It was all so surreal it actually started to feel a bit biblical.

As quickly as the chaos of the initial siege and the hoarding of toilet paper had descended on us, so did it seem to settle down. The virus was not yet claiming hundreds of lives a day here in the U.S., we figured out a way forward in the new normal, but what laid ahead? Certainly not the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, but the wide and terrifying wilderness that would claim us for God only knows how long?

As with the Israelites in those early days, wewere not carried along on a surge of vindicated faith, but stumbled forward with paralyzing doubts. And instead of enjoying sweet unityin light of all we were going through, we were torn by bickering and division, and a lack of necessary testing equipment and ventilators.As it was with the Israelites wewalked into relentless uncertainty and discomfort, and fell asleep on the hard ground to wake feeling ashamed for dreaming of the easier life we had left behind…the big difference here being that the Israelites had left slavery, while we have left behind a good deal of blind consumerism and environmental destruction.

Now we’re in the thick of it all. In the middle of the curve. And as Kathleen writes: These passages through the land of in-between are scary and uncomfortable,… the desert is a place we would rather barrel through as quickly as possible toward the welcoming ground of our destination. But our time in the desert is a passage of the heart, …and it’s not in our power to speed it up….

The desert passage is a passage of the heart. How is it right now with your heart? Is it still beating within the boa-constricting of your chest? Are you losing patience, losing time, losing hope?

The dessert passage is a passage of the heart. And I don’t know about you right now but I gotta tell ya…most days my heart feels like it’s being ground up in a Cuisinart. I worry about all of you, particularly those of you I know to be struggling, who I cannot sit with. I grieve for families who are losing multiple members within days of each other. As one who has sat vigil with family members around a loved-one’s dying bed, and who knows how incredibly precious and important that end time together is, I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the possibility of 60,000 American’s dying alone, never mind extrapolating that number of people out globally.

These passages through the land of in-between are scary and uncomfortable, and the desert is a place we would rather barrel through as quickly as possible. But this is a journey of the heart and there is nothing any of us can do to speed it up.

A colleague of mine from the United Church of Christ wrote a Daily Devotional that came out on April 3rd of this year. It was part of a series of daily devotionals the UCC was putting out during the season of Lent. The passage he was writing on was from the Book of Numbers, 21:9. So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

It’s a passage from Israel’s time in the desert wherein they are facing their own novel threat. Poisonous snakes were biting people in the camp and they were dropping like flies. Everyone was terrified and my colleague Quinn Caldwell was imagining what the talk of the camp might have sounded like.

I heard it’s not really snakes.”

Just hold your breath for ten seconds and the snakes won’t bite you.”

Those snakes aren’t that fast. I dodged one yesterday. It’s only gonna affect the slow people.”

If you get bitten, swallow a bucket of sand to soak up the poison.”2

God, ever present to any who find themselves in a desert, instructs Moses to make a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole. Then God said, everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live [Numbers 21:8]. Moses made the serpent, bitten people looked at it and, whaddya know? They didn’t die.

Quinn notes that we are not told in the story how this all worked. Maybe it was magic, or a miracle. Or maybe it was this: maybe Moses just forced them to truly look at what they were dealing with.

This is what it is. This is what is killing you. Not a conspiracy. Not vampires. It’s snakes. These snakes. If you do not change how you live, you will get bitten sooner or later. This is what we’re going to do…”

I imagine Moses remembering how it had gone down for the Egyptians when they’d had their ten novel infestations, what a scared Pharaoh’s leadership had done to them, how in the end they’d been inundated by their leader’s stubbornness. I imagine Moses informing the Israelites, with calm clarity, exactly what needed to be done. I imagine the sweet relief of facts—even hard, sobering ones—and of firm, steady leadership.

I imagine them grumbling, changing, complying. I imagine them surviving.

I imagine them writing the tale down, in case God’s people ever face such a problem again.3

Anyhow, forty years after having been liberated from Egypt, the Israelites in the ancient myth finally reached the end of their exodus. And when it was all over, they touched life-giving waters again, and waded into the Jordan, amazed and glad. In the words of Rev.McTigue,Maybe they knew, even in that moment of deep relief and readiness, that the desert wasn’t accidental, that it had opened and cleansed them in some necessary way. Maybe they understood how the wilderness had sharpened their awareness and softened their hearts, so they could at long last receive, not just the gifts of the promised land, but the gifts of the desert that had brought them there.

My hope for us all this Easter Sunday is that we find the courage and the tenacity of spirit to pause on Passover, to discover the gifts the desert has to offer, and to calm ourselves and our loved ones enough that we might look at what we are dealing with. Look with clear eyes, and see, and give thanks for every precious day we get to walk upon this earth.

Peace. Salaam. Shalom. And amen.

Music:There is More Love Somewhere

Offering:Share the Plate with Theatre Adventure

Offertory:We Tell Each Other Storiesfrom Considering Matthew Shepard

Closing Words: To My Haggadah, By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

[posted at ]

Over the years your staples have slipped

and pages loosened. Here a faded purple crescent

of ancient wine, there a smudge

from bricks of date paste.

But when you speak I swoon. Tell me again

how we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt

but the Holy One brought us out from there

with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

Sing to me of unleavened bread, of parsley

dipped in bitter tears. Remind me

if I wait until I feel fully ready

I might never leap at all. Waltz me giddy

through psalms of praise. Promise me

next year a world redeemed.

Music:Lo the Earth Awakes Again

Extinguishing the Chalice:

In gratitude for holy days and old stories,

For Passover and Easter,

Courage and strength,

We extinguish this chalice

And carry its light into the world.

Benediction:Life is short, and there is little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So, be quick to love and make has to be kind. Go in peace. Believe in peace. Create peace. Amen.

1400 years according to Genesis 15:13 & Acts 7:6. 430 years according to Exodus 12:40-41 & Galatians 3:16-17.

2Caldwell, Quinn. The Relief of Facts. April 3, 2020. Posted at UCC.org.

3Ibid.