Exodus 12:1–20, Nehemiah 8:1–18, Psalm 133
The Exodus story, specifically the first Passover, always comes up around Easter. Which makes perfect sense, as Holy Week revolves around Passover, along with the seemingly obvious linking of Jesus being the ultimate Passover lamb (i.e., the sacrifice needed for Passover). All the Israelites were going to sacrifice a lamb for a household. This was a large communal thing. One could (and did) ignore it at their peril.
Communal is something done or shared in a community, such as a church. An action done by everyone creates a powerful effect. In the US, we’ve forgotten a lot of communal activities, much of this having to do with our culture of independence. We miss a lot. It is why communal celebrations such as Communion and Baptism are so important to the life of the church. There is something also very powerful—and community building—in sharing a meal together.
“If the household is too small for a whole animal, that person and the neighbor nearest his house are to select one based on the combined number of people; you should apportion the animal according to what each will eat.” (Exodus 12:4)
There are 2 important observations in this verse. The first is how important and sacred this sacrifice is. Sacrifices mentioned later do not have this built-in focus on not wasting the sacrifice; just properly disposing of it. This one mentions not wasting it as part of the sacrifice itself. It is to be part of the consideration when choosing the lamb to be sacrificed. There is a shared burden for neighbors to make sure that each other has enough, but not too much.
The second observation is that by setting this boundary, extra emphasis is added to the communal nature of this specific sacrifice. This sacrifice and celebratory observation of Passover is not to be done in isolation.
Isolation—the internet notwithstanding—allows us to not learn from others, not to be in community with others, and not love others. When the Israelites return from exile, we read (Nehemiah 8:1-18) that the Israelites learned, mourned, and celebrated in community. Upon learning that there was supposed to be another festival—the Festival of Booths—they gather together (community) and celebrated it. Our celebrations, our learning, our mourning are (generally) more powerful in community, rather than in isolation. Fellowship and unity grow. Yet, we still tend toward isolation.
Psalm 133 sums it up:
How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in harmony!
It is like fine oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down Aaron’s beard
onto his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
falling on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord has appointed the blessing—
1) Do you find yourself tending more toward isolation rather than community? Why?
2) If you are an introvert, how will you allow yourself to be drawn and actively seek community? If you are an extrovert, how can allow and encourage people to join the community without overwhelming them?
3) What other communal rituals (including secular ones) can you think of? What power do they have in people’s lives, and why?