Passover to Walley World

Walley World

In Exodus, we read the Lord’s instructions to Moses and Aaron about celebrating the Passover. The ceremony involves a sacrifice and a meal. The quintessence of the ritual is: Being in flight, leaving, moving. No time for the bread to rise, because this is a meal for the road. The angel of death will pass over our hovels, marked by the blood of the lamb. Then we will leave. We will pass over the Red Sea as if it were dry land, en route to the country God has given us.

This ritual sense of pilgrimage has passed into the sacrificial meal of the new and eternal covenant, the Holy Mass. The offering of the Body and Precious Blood of the incarnate divine Lamb saves us from slavery to sin and death. We consume Him under the appearance of unleavened bread as food for our journey. We keep our sandals on our feet and our staffs in hand. We keep our loins girt. What does that mean? It means now is no time for lollygagging, for malingering on the sofa. This is not our home. We have a destination to reach.

But wait a minute. Don’t we live here? Don’t we have duties, friends and loved ones, worthy tasks to accomplish here and now? And isn’t our parish-church building our ‘church home?’ Shouldn’t we especially love our parish church, as a home for our souls and spirits?

Good question. To understand this properly, let’s consider how Benedictine monks promise never to leave the monastery without the abbot’s permission. Talk about the opposite of “on the move.” The ancient Israelites celebrating the first Passover seem to occupy the opposite end of a spectrum from the monk confined for life to his cloister.

Except: the two share the same profound spiritual awareness. God has a home for us, and it is not here. No one has loins more securely girt for the great journey than a cloistered monk who lives for fifty or sixty years on one little plot of ground without going anywhere other than the doctor’s office.

passover seder plateOur parish church building counts as a bona fide “home” because it represents heaven. It represents the home we truly have, which is not here on earth.

Some people fantasize endlessly about vacationing in Disneyland, or Wally World, or the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’ll admit that I myself have a US map on my wall, marked with all the Civil-War sites I have visited. And my next traveling plan is to visit sites from the Mexican-American War. We’re not cloistered monks, after all; we’re allowed to take vacations sometimes.

But no one can take a vacation from the fact that this world will never make us truly happy, and someday we will all die. Someday soon. So we find happiness by calmly and patiently living out our lives on the little plot of land we occupy, frequenting the parish church, celebrating the holy Passover sacrifice—the Mass—hoping that today the Lord will return in all His glory.

Those Whom the Lord Prefers

When Pharaoh refused to allow the Israelites to go and offer sacrifice to the Lord, Moses promised that the angel of death would descend on the firstborn of the Egyptians.  But among the Israelites, not a dog would bark.  “Thus you will see how God distinguishes between Egypt and Israel.”

Meanwhile we readAt the judgment, the people of Nineveh will rise and condemn this generation of Israelites.

imelda_marcosSo:  God distinguishes, yes; He has a preference.  But based on what?  He can, after all, raise up children to Abraham from the very stones.

The “sign of Jonah” gives us the answer.

The Egyptians had some serious pagan pride.  “You Jews want to go into the wilderness and practice another religion, other than ours?  What do you mean?  We have it all going on!  Look at how good-looking we are, especially Pharaoh.  We are practically divine ourselves!”

On the other hand, Jonah preached to the Ninevites:  “Remember, man, that you are dust.  You will return to dust.  You will return to dust as sure as snow will melt when the temperature rises above 32 degrees.”  Hearing this reasonableness, the Ninevites repented.  They said, “Lord, you are the Almighty God!  We are dust and ashes.  Have mercy on us and spare us!”

God prefers people who repent.  It’s that simple.

If I might, let’s meditate on it like this:  If Christ came solely to save me, He would have to suffer every bit as much as He actually did suffer.  He suffered then for everyone, including Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and Osama bin Laden, all of whom could have been saved if they repented at the last minute.

Christ would have to suffer every bit as much, even if I myself were the only sinner ever.  I might, in some dark corner of my soul, coddle myself with this kind of half-thought:  “You know, if Jesus Christ were suffering only to atone for my sins, it wouldn’t be as bad.  He probably would just have to endure a headcold.  Just a headcold, with constant sneezing for like two weeks.  Or maybe just being put on hold by Appalachian Power Company for 25 minutes or so.  Then all my sins would be atoned for, if the Son of God endured those things for me…”

Negative, sir.  Not true.  Because the need for Christ’s sacrifice has not arisen primarily from the proliferation of human sins, or from their relative gravity.  Certainly, human sins have proliferated alarmingly, with plenty of grave ones.

But that, actually, pales in significance compared to another factor:  The dignity of the One we have offended by each and every one of our sins.  Every time I have acted in a thoughtless manner–every time I have harbored an unworthy thought!–I have offended the infinitely kind and good God.  I have offended Someone Who makes Mother Theresa look like Imelda Marcos by comparison.

But:  This is who the Lord prefers!  The people who say to Christ crucified:  “Yes, Lord.  I myself have nailed You to Your Holy Cross by my own negligence and nonsense.  I myself brought Your bitter Passion on You!  Have mercy on me.  Forgive me.  By Your cross and resurrection, give me a fresh start, Lord.  I am nothing; You are everything!”