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Remember and Observe
The Reverend John Leedy
September 17, 2017
A Reading from Exodus
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
For the past eleven years, Krystal and I have celebrated a ritual of sorts that marks the beginning of fall season. When the weather begins to turn and pumpkin spice everything hits the shelves, when all the kids are in school and life settles back into the familiar rhythms of home and work, we know the time has come for the ritual to begin again: Krystal and I will sit down on the couch, turn on the TV, and begin re-watching our very favorite show, Gilmore Girls, every single episode, all seven seasons, watching an episode or two every evening until we wrap up with the finale in early February.
Last October, Krystal and I interrupted our viewing ritual to make pilgrimage to the town of Washington Depot, Connecticut, the real life New England town that the fictional small town of Stars Hallow is based on in the show. There in Washington Depot, we were joined by 2,000 other “super-fans” for the first ever Gilmore Girls Fan Fest and y’all, it was amazing. Restaurants and coffee shops offered Gilmore themed treats and meals, there were tents set up to screen fan favorite episodes, and more than a few folks dressed in costume as their favorite characters – your two associate pastors notwithstanding.
So yeah, there have been folks that have called us a bit obsessed, like our friends, family, various church members, and yes, even the LA Times, who singled me out for an interview in large part because I was one of like, six other guys at this thing. And yes, we also met another couple that had named their infant daughter Lorelai, after one of the show’s main characters. It was a Gilmore Girls wonderland – a place of absolute magic – a place where Krystal and I were surrounded by an odd little community that shared the same ritual that we did.
For this community of the faithful, Gilmore Girls was not just another TV show, but something deeply ritualized into everyday life. So when I sit down with Krystal on Friday, September 22, the first day of fall, and we begin again this ritual in our home, something peculiar will happen. For the past few years, when I sit down on the couch and hear the familiar music of the opening theme song, the memory of every other time I’ve watched the show with my family seems to press in on that moment.
The memory of first watching the show together when we were dating in college, the memory of watching the show for the first time in our new seminary apartment, and later in our first home, the memory of watching the show when Krystal was pregnant and we were still trying to pick out baby names, go figure, and watching the show together for the first time with our baby girl, all of these memories press into the moment, collapsing time and space into something totally other, something meaning making for the Leedy family. In this moment of ritual observance, we are not recreating that first time we watched the show, but instead, all of the past viewings come together as if the passing of years were irrelevant.
Ritual is funny like that. When our lives are so ritually patterned around a moment from the past, that long ago moment has a way of coming back to life and making new meaning in the present. It becomes a thing not only remembered, but re-membered, literally put back together from the fragments of the past and made real and whole in the present.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”
This day you shall remember. This day you shall observe. Remember and observe – the two essential ingredients of ritual.
This passage from Exodus 12 marks the institution of the Passover, the holy and central ritual in the Hebrew faith. Earlier in Exodus, God had heard their cries of oppression and had begun moving in their midst. The Passover marks a turning point in the story of the people of God, a moment where the story shifts from bondage toward liberation, from despair toward hope. And God does something completely new in this story to mark the importance of this turning point. For the first time in Scripture, God establishes a ritual.
Prior to the institution of the Passover, we see biblical evidence of lesser rites of family religious devotion like sacrifice, circumcision, marriage, covenant making, and dying. But never before had God gathered an entire people and defined them by the remembrance and observation of a ritual. “Take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses… The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
Insofar as you remember and observe this miraculous and terrible night, this turning point, this holy ritual, I will know you as my own. By this sign, God says, I will know you. So remember and observe.
So every year in the spring, on the 15th day in the month of Nisan, Jews around the world gather in their homes around the Seder meal. They light candles and tell the story of that night. They sing the songs of lament and of hope. The children ask questions of the elders so that the story may be passed from generation to generation. They remember and observe. And it may be tempting for us as outsiders to this ritual to see it as a recreation of that night in Egypt long ago, that what this Passover meal symbolized was nothing more than a historical reenactment – a group of modern people looking to an event in the past and saying, “Gee, remember when…”.
For our Jewish brothers and sisters, observing the Passover has little to do with history. From the very moment of its institution, God established the Passover as a perpetual ordinance – a ritual that happened, is happening, and will happen throughout all of time.
The Passover ritual transcends time, collapses time in on itself, it re-members God’s great act of salvation out of the fragments of history and brings it to life with new meaning. One can only image the new meanings the ritual evoked as Jews observed the Passover in 16th century Prague, 19th century Russia, 20th century Germany, or in 21st century Charlottesville.
“The Israelites groaned under their oppression, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”
There is no such thing as Passover celebrations, there is only the Passover celebration – a singular perpetual story lived throughout time in the ritual life of the people of Israel. By this sign, by this ritual, these people are known to God and God’s great story of salvation continues, no matter what Pharaoh, King, Pope, Czar, Dictator, or skinhead stands in God’s way.
The people of God throughout antiquity have always known that time was a fluid thing, warping and bending as the ritual mysteries of God transcend chronological time in ways that are felt rather than measured.
In the modern era, theoretical physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking gave us scientific language around these mysterious aspects of time – how time is a relative thing rather than a fixed law – how string theory might create the hypothetical potential of time travel.
But I’m not a theoretical physicist. I’m just a guy that watches Gilmore Girls on his couch ever year. And when I sit back down a week from now and begin this ritual again, I will sense time in the corners of the room beginning to shift, drawing the past around me like a blanket of remembering.
But time doesn’t just misbehave with the past. Last year as I was watching the final episode of Gilmore Girls with my wife and daughter, and, let’s be honest, weeping like an idiot, I began to get a strange sense of seeing this moment in the years to come. The ritual had begun projecting the future onto the present moment. Just beyond the veil of time I could see Lorelai singing the theme song with me as a child, Lorelai rolling her eyes at me as a teenager, the last time Lorelai would watch with Krystal and I at home before leaving for whatever bright future God would one day call her into.
Ritual is funny like that. Past, present, and future, all collapsing in, as if time itself were but a stubborn illusion in the infinite life of God.
We as Christians honor the Passover ritual of our Jewish brothers and sisters, knowing that our own central ritual of table and meal, of remembering and observing, takes its roots in the Passover shared by Jesus and his disciples 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. When we remember and observe the Lord’s Supper, the laws of time and space are bent and warped. When we gather around this table and celebrate the ritual meal, we are joined with every other Christian at every other table in every other place in every other time in every other Communion that was, is, and will be celebrated.
There is no such thing as the celebration of Communions. We celebrate Communion. One story, one meal, one perpetual ordinance for all of time and for all people.
And time and time again as we gather around this ritual, new meaning breaks open for us. This is a table where all people, all races, and all genders are welcome. This is a table where none are left hungry. This is a table of peace where violence has no place. This is a table of where we freely share what we have.
And this is a table where all are equal, all are free, and all are loved, and no wall or fence or gate in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of Christ. Even today the ritual is speaking. Even today, Christ is calling to us, “do this in remembrance of me”.
I leave you with a quote from the holy book of Gilmore, season two, episode four where Lorelai says to Rory, “We’re almost there, but nowhere near it. All that matters is that we’re going.” Even though the events of the Passover and of the Lord’s Supper happened long ago and far away, they are as near to us today as they ever were. All that matters is that we continue to remember and observe. And by this sign, we will be known.