What story do we tell ourselves about our purpose, meaning and fulfillment in our lives in the 21st century? Is the meaning of life different today than say 2000 years ago? The banter at our house about the meaning of life comes from the Douglas Adams book “Life, the Universe and Everything: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” The question is asked in the book what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? And the answer? 42. Clean, neat and simple. Unfortunately, the answer of 42 doesn’t hold up in our day to day lives that involve real quandaries, crises and suffering. And it certainly doesn’t give us a framework to make meaning of our complex lives. We have all probably tried to tell ourselves a story that gives our lives meaning. Maybe it’s the story of over working, overeating, drinking, over shopping, smoking, drugs. Or even a story that might seem more positive: yoga, or focus on exercise and diet, reading self-help books, sports. But at the end of the day, these are all human made concepts that we use to attempt to control the world around us and to have it all make sense. These stories might help us for a while. But eventually… they don’t. Other stories creep in: illness of mind or body, layoffs, violence, accidents, discrimination, broken relationships and suffering of all kinds. What story will we live in?
As modern people, we are not unique. This has been the age old existential crisis of humanity from the beginning of time. All the stories that humanity tried to tell themselves in the past also failed: conquering other cultures, oppression of some people while elevating others, gathering riches, or worshipping whatever seemed to give them happiness, however fleeting. None of these stories helped our ancestors make meaning of their lives either. Even with their best efforts, they couldn’t keep suffering and chaos at bay.
The Israelites also wrestled with how their lives made sense, particularly when they were in exile. It was while they were in exile that they began to write down the stories of their history that they had been telling each other, and their children, for generations. The story of Creation, the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Exodus, Passover, King David, King Solomon, division of the kingdoms, psalms, proverbs. These stories gave them a framework from which to live their lives in joyous and difficult times. In all these stories are realities of living as a human: joy, fear, contentment, success, ego, mistakes, lament and suffering. These stories also gave them the foundation of their source of meaning for their lives: God. These stories that became the Hebrew scriptures, shaped how the Jewish people knew themselves and the meaning of their life. To love and praise God, to know that suffering is inevitable, they belonged to God and God is always present. They took seriously the word of God and the call to embed these stories into the flow of their life. The Passover, as we read in Exodus, was one such story.
It is a story of the Israelites suffering in slavery in Egypt. God heard their cries and acted. God affirmed Moses as leader and sent plague after plague to get Pharaoh to let the slaves go. Finally, it took one last terrible plague where first born children would be killed. Those homes with blood of a lamb over the doorway would be passed over from the horrible event. Suffering would occur that night and it’s horrific to consider how the Egyptian families, innocently caught in this geopolitical/cosmic showdown, would pay the price. But the Israelites, would be spared. This is part of their identity as God’s people. God led them out of Egypt to the desert to go to the Promised Land, where they would live in peace and abundance. But first they had 40 years of manna, quail and water from a rock; first God leading them with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night; first God forged them as God’s own people, and this story of Passover each year gave them again the story to live into that God will save them, God will provide for them, God gathers them as God’s beloved people and God promises to be with them no matter where they are. It’s a story of living as God’s own people.
Jesus celebrated this story each year of his life. His whole life and ministry is framed by scripture, the story of God’s love for God’s people. Jesus lived solely into this story. And on the last Passover that Jesus would celebrate with his friends on this side of the cross, he added to the story, added meaning, richness and depth. He gave his friends and us something to help us make sense of our lives no matter what year it is or where we are. Jesus and his friends, including Judas who would succumb to another meaning and betray Jesus, heard the story again of God’s love, protection, provision and promise. Jesus then told them another chapter of this story: once again we live under occupation from an Empire, once again it seems that suffering and oppression abound, once again it appears that might, hate and betrayal will win, but that isn’t the story of who you are and it isn’t the story of who God is. Here is bread, bread that God provides, bread that sustains, bread that gathers you as one. It is my body, it is my life, not only for yours but with yours. My body that tells the world that you belong to God and no one else. Here is wine, wine that reminds us of God’s abundance and joy. Wine that is red, the color of my blood and yours, that will be shed. Blood shed to invoke selflessness, sacrifice and promise that God withholds nothing from God’s beloved people. Tell this story over and over. Do this story over and over. Tell this story when you are filled with joy and hope, tell it when you are suffering and in distress. Tell it to your children, tell it to strangers, tell it every time you gather. Tell this, do this, experience this and live this.
This story is unlike any other story for us. It’s a story that re-members, reconnects, you, all of you, into the body of Christ, into the community of God. It is your meaning for life, life here on earth and life eternal. This story makes sense of joy from suffering, hope from despair and life from death.
We share in this story that began thousands of years ago, created meaning for our Jewish brothers and sisters, created meaning of the early Christian communities, created meaning for the Medieval reformers and creates meaning for us today. We continue this story here in 2018 and tonight during Holy Week: The story of mercy, promise, abundance, forgiveness, hope and radical, selfless love. It’s story that we take in with all our senses: we hear it, we see it, we smell it, we touch it and we taste it. This story truly lives within us as Christ lives in us too. We receive this story with open hands and open hearts. We receive to live it and to tell it. We do this story when we accompany someone who is hurting from disease, suffering from discrimination, lamenting in grief. We tell this to those whom we think deserve to experience this great love and to those whom we think don’t deserve this truth and joy. We tell it because it is really Jesus who tells the story, Jesus who makes meaning from bread and wine, Jesus who frees us to live as people of God and Jesus who gathers us all to the cross and makes meaning of our lives in the story of God’s promises for life now and forever. Come to the table to hear the story once again, for all is ready. The gifts of God for the people of God.