“In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.” – Exodus 12:11
“Freedom can’t wait for the bread to rise.” –Dr. Anathea Portier-Young
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am extremely impatient. In fact, this has always been true of me. For as long as I can remember (and probably longer) my parents have called me “Demand-a”, a flattering nickname to be sure. This impatience didn’t develop with age as my time became more precious and less free; I have always hated waiting.
I am most certainly not alone in that. The fast pace of the modern world attests to the universal impatience of human beings who have devoted millions of dollars and, ironically, billions of hours to find the fastest ways to live. We have fast travel, fast food, fast socializing. Planes, trains, and automobiles are great, but walking in the afternoon sunshine while being cooled by a gentle breeze is soothing to the soul. Fast food is great, but nothing tastes better than a home-cooked meal. Social media is great, but it could never replace building a relationship through physical presence.
There is something to be said for patience. I would argue that the best things in life are slow as well as free. Although I become indignant when this phrase is applied to me, there is a nugget of truth in the idea that ‘good things come to those who wait.’ Yikes. I’m in trouble.
Then, of course, there is the fact that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. I cringe every single time I hear it:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Galatians 5:19-23
Who knew the Bible talked about orgies? Apparently, the Galatians needed reminding… Paul wrote to these “foolish Galatians” to censure them for how they had been wrong in carrying out life in the church. Essentially, they needed reminding about what it looks like to be filled with presence of God, about what it looks like to produce fruit from the Holy Spirit. In other words, they were engaging in the top list, and neglecting the bottom one. Or perhaps they were just impatient like me.
As cliché as it sounds, anyone who considers themselves a Christian should govern daily life based on this list. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of the God of the Universe inside of human beings. If that presence isn’t changing the way we live our lives, we are doing something terribly wrong.
If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are fruits of the Spirit, then they are also attributes of God. When we love through the power of the Spirit, we are bringing God to earth. In this way, we can be bearers of the divine in a world that has decided on hate, sorrow, war, impatience, cruelty, evil, unfaithfulness, harshness and self-indulgence.
That being said, there are times when God is impatient, too. There are times when God cannot wait any longer. God even modeled for us what it looks like when God is impatient. We find this model in the well-known story of the Exodus.
The descendants of Jacob, who were becoming known as the nation of Israel, were enslaved by Egyptians after they had sought refuge in Egypt during a famine. They were living out God’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply” to the point that their multitudes made the Egyptian people nervous.
The Egyptians forced them to labor without pay. The historical dating of the story in Exodus is a complicated matter, but we know enough to say that these people were enslaved for generations. Sound familiar? It should.
The people could not take it anymore. Their conditions only got worse. More and more was expected of them as they kept growing larger. As people in the midst of unthinkable suffering often do, they cried out to God.
The text tells us that they were begging for help. It says that God heard their groaning and remembered his promises to the people. And then it says this: “God saw the people of Israel – and God knew” (Exodus 2:25 ESV).
God knew. God knew about the inhumane living quarters. God knew about the untenable working conditions. God knew about the whippings. God knew about the slaughtered babies. God knew. And so God acted.
God sent Moses to instruct the Egyptian Pharaoh to release all who were enslaved. In the face of Pharaoh’s refusal, God made ten signs, also known as plagues, to convince Pharaoh that God was the one who had power and control.
Finally, Pharaoh relented. But the cost was high. The final plague, the death of all the firstborn humans and animals in Egypt who were not protected by God’s special instructions, was what pushed Pharaoh to let go. Those enslaved were instructed to slaughter a lamb, and paint the blood of the lamb on the door posts. This would keep them safe and allow God to pass over their houses when the time came for this last plague.
Many people who read this story are disturbed by this idea of God sweeping through the land, all the while taking life from every household indiscriminately. God doesn’t need a defense, and I don’t have all the answers here. But it is important to understand that evil of this magnitude has consequences. God knew what it would take to free God’s people from slavery. As often happens in this broken world, the price of freedom was the blood of human beings.
The institution of Passover is the direct result of this story. God invites the people into a yearly celebration of this day when God won freedom for them, a celebration that continues even in the modern world.
God instructs the people to eat this celebratory meal fully dressed, ready to go at any moment. God also commands only the cooking of unleavened bread. These seem like odd, specific instructions from the God who just displayed all power and authority through horrific signs. However, the reason is made clear: there is no more time to waste. God tells them, “You have been enslaved too long.” In the words of my esteemed Old Testament professor, “Freedom can’t wait for the bread to rise.”
This is the God we serve. This is the God who created us, who intended perfection for us, who allows us to choose otherwise, and who still makes provision for us when we have messed everything up. This is the God who is at the same time patient and impatient for us. God is patient when we turn away, and impatient to see us returned to freedom.
There is so much in our world today that makes God impatient. We who are free have only been granted freedom at the expense of other people. Even now, thousands of years later, there are still people who are enslaved around the world. The effects of both literal and figurative slavery are still seen today in our own nation, despite the fact that it prides itself on “freedom”.
The beautiful part of the story of the Exodus is that God did not just free Israel for their own benefit. God had much bigger plans for Israel than life in the Promised Land. See, God had made a promise with good old Father Abraham: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2 ESV). God called the nation of Israel to be a blessing for the world.
In the fullness of time, Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise because he becomes the ultimate Passover lamb. It is his blood that spares us from the consequences of our sin. As a result, we are freed from our own sort of slavery when we accept that sacrifice on our behalf. We are no longer slaves to missing the mark or to choosing the wrong way.
Just like the Israelites, then, we who are now free in Christ are called to continue in freedom and to bless others with it. We are living in a world enslaved that desperately needs the freedom we have been given to share.
God is counting on us to be liberators, and God doesn’t like to be kept waiting.
Grace and peace,