Rebirth, New Life, & New Beginnings

Though I know Easter is behind us, & Christmas on the distant horizon, these thoughts have been swirling around in me since April, so I though I’d put them down for others to engage with.

I was raised in a non-believing home, so I had only the vaguest notion that Easter had anything to do with Jesus – if anyone in my family had ever mentioned it, I didn’t remember – but the excitement of Spring, new life, and EXCESS AMOUNTS OF REESE’S EASTER BUNNY CANDIES just moved my SOUL, so it didn’t surprise me whatsoever when I began exploring the Bible late in my teenage years that Bunnies, Eggs, and Spring all represented new life and were a living arrow all pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus.

My younger brother and I would get up early on Easter Sunday, sneaking out into the kitchen to find our huge Easter baskets – packed full of candy, and toys – and Mom & Dad would be awoken by the ruckus, joining us shortly to cook a full-out breakfast of  pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash-browns.  Then we’d empty our Easter baskets in our room, and take to our immense 8 acre back-yard to hunt for eggs for the next hour or so.  And when THAT was through, we’d  hop in the car and drive across town to Granda & Papa Wilkinson’s with the rest of the extended family, hunt eggs again at their house –  except they had mostly plastic eggs with MONEY INSIDE – then eat a huge Easter lunch that would make Thanksgiving recoil in fear of it’s huge-osity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone here has some sort of annual traditions that you uphold – whether the big one takes place at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas… or SUPERBOWL.  There are things in each of our lives that we count on year after year to happen a certain way, and often just ride through the experience – simply going through the motions.  Well, Jesus was a Jew, and the Jews had a LOT of traditions they upheld, but few as important as the passover…

About 1500 years before Jesus, the Israelites – the Jewish people – were enslaved as an entire nation by the Egyptians.  If you’ve seen “The 10 Commandments” or “Prince of Egypt”, or attended any Sunday school classes as a child, then you know what I’m talking about here.  God told a sinner with a lisp named Moses to be his mouthpiece to the Egyptian Pharaoh, and to lead the Israelites to freedom.  Pharaoh wasn’t too hip on the idea, so God sent one miraculous plague after another to make Pharaoh’s life miserable, but the last one was the worst of all:  He sent the Angel of Death to kill the first born of every house-hold in Egypt.  Yet, as God tends to do, He also made a way out from this judgement.

Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals (a spotless lamb) for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door-frame. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.”  (Exodus 12:21-23).

To this day many Jews, and even some Christians, celebrate this historical event – when God chose to have his judgement “Pass Over” those whose homes were covered by the “Blood of the Lamb” – and it is called a Passover Meal, or a Passover Seder.  I’ve taken part in 3 seders in my life: you eat horseradish and bitter herbs to remember the tears of the slaves in Egypt, a sweet honey-apple mush to represent brick-mortar which the slaves were forced to make, a broken piece of unleavened bread, all of which are to bring your minds to think back to what God has done in the Passover.  And then there’s the wine: you drink 4 cups of wine during Passover, each representing and celebrating a different act of God – the first cup is to celebrate being brought out of Egypt, the second is to celebrate being freed from Egypt’s bondage of slavery, and the third – this is the most important – THE CUP OF REDEMPTION – is to celebrate being redeemed – bought back, literally, by the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, and the last is to celebrate our being made God’s very own people.  These are all powerful symbols!

But traditions die hard – and usually they die slowly.  Like the person who takes communion every week at church, but no longer really thinks about what it means – they’ve done it all of their life, and it’s just WHAT they do.  The same thing tends to happen with any tradition when practiced year after year.  Even my annual Easter Egg hunt eventually lost its appeal for me.

We have record of Jesus celebrating the Passover mere days before He was crucified, and though his disciples may have been merely going through the motions of a tradition that happens every year, for Jesus it was far more than a mere ritual.

Here were the disciples, laying around a table with their Rabbi, having just finishing up the meal – there is an actual meal in the middle of the Passover Seder – and Jesus continue on with the tradition: breaking the unleavened bread, serving the cup of redemption, but with a SHIFT…

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’.”(Luke 22:19-20).

Think about what has happened here.  It’s sorta like, but not exactly – during an Easter Sunday when I was almost in middle-school – I first realized that MOM was – in fact – the Easter Bunny… though, I must say, that was a bit of a disappointment.

Here in the middle of a traditional meal that the Jews had taken part in every year for 1500 years, Jesus says, in essence, “oh yeah – this next part is all about me” and turns the whole event on its head.  God’s presence – God’s love – God’s REDEMPTION, made VERY personal.

Jesus was taking this story, this moment from the disciple’s history, and saying, “This is not about what God did hundreds of years ago; this is about what God is doing –  through Me –  for you – NOW.

Jesus was saying that from this moment on everything was going to change. Things were going to shift. From this moment on, this meal would be about His death for us and because of His death, the ability for us to have a personal relationship with Him.

With these few words, Jesus was summing up not only who He is, but also His purpose.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body being broken for you.” Body, flesh, skin, the humanity Jesus took on. John 1:14 says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

All of the things God had made known to His people in the past became a living, breathing Person. Jesus became those words. He showed people God’s love. He lived in ways that showed what was most important to God. He built relationships with people who thought God had forgotten about them because of the way everyone else in their culture treated them. And that body would be broken. His body would endure great pain as He became the sacrifice for our sins. He would endure not only great physical pain, but the existential weight of our sin.

Jesus also said, “This wine is me being poured out for you.” Jesus wasn’t just a great man – He was God with skin on, living among us, showing us how to live and how to love—not just through His words, but also His actions.

So will you take the bread? Will you take the wine? It’s not a ritual without meaning – not a snack to tide you over until your next meal.

Taking the bread is to say, “Jesus, I believe IN You, and I BELIEVE YOU – I believe You are who You say You are – I believe You will do what You say You will do. And even though I don’t understand everything, I want to follow You. I want to go where You go. I don’t want to take one step in my life without You. Sometimes I’ll follow well, and sometimes I will stumble. But no matter what, I’m going to keep following. You are my King & my God…I choose to trust You!”

Taking His cup is to say “Jesus, I believe that You died for me, so I could have a personal relationship with God. You endured great pain to make that happen. I’m not perfect. I make choices every day that either draw me closer to You or pull me away. Please forgive me.

This is personal, and it’s THAT SIMPLE. Every time we take the bread & the wine we are acknowledging who we are and reminding ourselves who Jesus is.

Oh, how I am looking forward to taking communion with you again some day!

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