Thanksgiving and the Angel of Death

I have been away from writing for a few weeks because of recent changes in day-job and schedule. I apologize for the lull in posting, but I am thankful for the many ways that the Lord provides for my family and I.

God is good, all the time.

But now… let’s talk about turkey, pumpkin pie and… plagues of frogs, days of darkness, and a river turned to blood! Because uniquely… they have something in common.

“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord–a lasting ordinance…Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt.”

Exodus 12:14 and 17

One absolutely terrifying night in Biblical history, death itself walked the streets of Egypt. Preceding that moment were nine spectacular and public miracles that challenged the authority of Pharoh, the power of the Egyptian gods, and even Israel’s own concept of who their God was, and what that God could and would do.

  • A river was turned into blood – in a gruesome throwback to Pharoh’s mass infanticide, for the story of Exodus begins with Pharoh throwing children into the Nile.
  • A supernatural amount of frogs then left that river and flooded the Egyptian towns and cities… and then died. I had one frog die once in a pool, and the smell was atrocious… just from one.
  • Then gnats as numerous as the dust of the earth plagued and harassed the Egyptians
  • As if that wasn’t bad enough then came flies… supernatural swarms of them.
  • And disease struck the livestock, claiming the lives of the Egyptian animals of burden and food… but as everyone watched… only the Egyptians animals were harmed, not the animals of the Israelites, whom they were holding as slaves against their will.
  • And then disease struck the people, afflicting them with terrible and painful sores.
  • And then… it got epic… A record hail fell and crushed the Egyptian agricultural system. The fields were beaten down, the trees were stripped.
  • And a plague of locusts came in on the wind and invaded Egypt, consuming everything that survived the hailstorm.
  • And the Egyptians watched as Moses the man of God stretched out his hand toward the sky, and the sun itself was blackened at God’s command.

And throughout these nine world-shaking events Moses asked again and again to the king. “Will you let my people go now? … Will you let God’s people go free?” And Pharoh said no, and then yes, but changed it to no, and back and forth the power struggle went… each time Pharoh losing but holding on his perception of power with the tenacity of an untethered toddler… but with lives at stake.

And throughout all these nine plagues the Egyptians watched, in horror, as their gods and idols could do nothing to protect them… and the Israelites watched in awe as a God who they feared had gone silent rose to defend His people.

All of this drives the story to its final moment, the last plage that will break the Egyptians. The night death itself will walk the streets in a terrifying return of the first plague of the Exodus… the one enacted by Pharoh against the Israelites… the death of a generation. Except this time… Pharoh’s plague is returned upon his own people… this is the final act of God that will break the king of Egypt.

And then…

Something really odd happens in Exodus 12 and 13… The whole story pauses and instructions for a meal are given. A special meal? Really? Here in the middle of such a climactic moment we’re given recipes, table settings, and very very specific instructions…

  • There will be roast lamb, the slaughtering of which has some very important instructions
  • Served with unleavened bread
  • Side dishes include bitter herbs
  • You have to eat the meal dressed for travel, even with your shoes on

For the Israelites in the Exodus, this special dinner, and the mark it puts on their family, on their home, is how the Angel of Death will know to pass them by… And if you read Exodus cover to cover, right after the dinner is explained, then it’s explained again only this time as a lasting ordinance for the people of Israel to do every year.

The whole story stops for these dinner instructions… they are that important. God is associating this story of rescue with a table setting, a set of smells, tastes, fellowship, and ritual (for this special dinner involves telling the story of the Exodus for your youngest)…

Sit down and eat dinner, and remember the power of God. Remember the moment that you got to sit down to a peaceful meal while the world was literally falling apart around you. Sit down and eat together as a family while God in the background deconstructs the power of your oppressor. Let the Lord prepare for you a feast… in the presence of your enemies… and keep you safe while you eat this special food, in this special moment, together…

In my family, right before Easter, we keep a variation of this Passover feast each year, a sort of Messianic Passover meal, holding to the old Biblical traditions. It is fulfilling, important, and worth remembering, for our God saves when we cry out to the Lord.

In fact it is this very meal that Christ prepares for his disciples on their last night together… on the night before Christ was ready to sacrifice himself for our salvation… he chose this meal to sit one last time with his disciples, to have special food and drink… and to promise once again… even when the world falls apart… I will always be with you.

SO… Next week if you choose to sit down to a special meal with special rituals, connected to a story of hope, a place of…

  • Turkey and Pumpkin Pie
  • Family football and the annual political debate
  • Grandma and Grandpa’s special recipies
  • The old mixing with the young

A place of American history that is filled with a meaningful but… lesser story… the promise of Thanksgiving: that perhaps just for a moment in history… we could actually get along.

As you do this, you participate in a non-religious, national ritual that borrows some patterns of the Passover: A special meal, done in a special way, that contains a story… Perhaps that’s enough for us to be intentional about including God in or time of thanksgiving:

Not for the purpose of retelling the story of the Exodus, for that is it its own moment, with its own special table: Passover and Easter are in April next year, as we get closer to it I’ll share more. No, I’m not advocating that you co-opt thanksgiving with Passover, let Thanksgiving be what it is…

I’m just encouraging you to pause for a moment and render a word of thanksgiving, together as a family, or with the friends at your table… or even if it’s just you. A moment of thanksgiving for a God who listens to us when we are in pain. Thanksgiving for a God who sent his Son to walk this earth with us, teach us, and sacrifice for us. Thanksgiving for a God who can set a table for us, even in the midst of chaos, strife, trouble, and more, and give to us… a moment of peace… a story of hope… and a promise to be with us always.

For these things, let us give thanks.

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