Passover, The Mass, & Graduation.
This week is the week of Passover for Judaism. It began this past Thursday and will continue to this coming Thursday. In Jewish homes around the world there will be the reading of the familiar story of the original exodus.
Israel had been in captivity, but this was the eve of their liberation. They were to take an unblemished lamb and sacrifice it, taking the blood to mark the doorposts, and taking the meat to make a meal. But they were to eat this meal in rather unusual fashion. Notice verse 11.
In this Manner shall you eat it.
Your loins shall be girded,
Your sandals shall be on your feet,
Your staff shall be in your hand,
And you shall eat it in haste.
Your loins are to be girded.
That meant that Israel was to get ready for a long journey. Their long flowing garments were to be hoisted up under their belts, to leave their legs free for walking. Peter, several centuries later, would lay this same charge on the Church. “Gird up the loins of your mind.” They were to allow no impediment or obstruction to hinder them in their pilgrimage.
Your shoes must be on your feet.
They were to eat the meal with their shoes on, contrary to eastern practice. A meal was a time of relaxation. But not on this night. Once more there are the indications that Passover and Pilgrimage go together. They are to get ready for a long walk. But they were also to be prepared to leave at any moment. Obedience to the command to move out was to be instantaneous. No time later to find your shoes and lace them on.
Your Staff must be in your hands.
Once more it is obvious that Passover and Pilgrimage are to be connected. The staff gives another signal, however. Not only is there to be a pilgrimage, not only must they be ready to go in a hurry, but the way will be long and hard, and a staff will be needed. A staff was for helping the climb over rough terrain, to give support for the climbing of hills and descending treacherous valleys. This journey is not a trip around the block, or a hundred-yard dash, but to quote Eugene Peterson, “a long obedience in the same direction.” It will not be an easy thing. Be ready for the long haul.
You must eat the meal in haste.
This meal is not a meal to dawdle over. They could not be allowed to take their time. Life is not a meal; it is a journey. The meal is not an end in itself, it is a means to the end. So, they were to eat it quickly. Pilgrimage begins at this very moment. In fact, the inference seems to be that the pilgrims were to eat this meal standing up. This banquet they were to eat with their coats on, their shoes tied and their walking stick in one hand, and the sacramental meal in the other. No time to sit down. It must be eaten in a hurry.
Standing indicated several things. Standing at attention. Standing in readiness. Stopped but ready to go. Standing together as though they were a contingent of soldiers ready for action.
This first Passover was a significant moment in the life of this people. It marked the end of one age and the beginning of a new era. It marked the end of an old bondage and a new beginning for the nation of Israel. Every year Passover was the celebration of the birth of a nation and the beginning of its pilgrimage.
Several centuries later Jesus met with 12 followers in an upper room at the time of Passover. It was also the end of one era and the beginning of a new day for mankind. In place of Passover there was a new meal. A new people were being formed, with a new age about to dawn for all humanity.
And, on this day, all of us are aware that a new beginning point has been reached in your lives as graduates. We call it Commencement to remind us that we have not reached our destination in achieving a degree, but that we have merely finished the preface, and we are now ready to begin the real story of our lives.
It is therefore very fitting that we should celebrate this service of communion. I called it communion because that is the title often used in protestant circles. But let me introduce you to another word. It is the word “MASS”. As you know, this is the preferred word in Roman Catholic circles. We, however, also celebrate Mass this morning. The word mass comes from the Latin word “Mittere” which means “to send.” or “to depart” or “to dismiss”.
The communion service is a sending service, or a commissioning service.
We come here that we may go.
We tarry here in order that we may travel.
We pause here so that we can continue our pilgrimage.
We wait in these moments so that we might walk the better.
For it remains forever true, that:
“they that wait upon the Lord,
shall renew their strength.
They shall mount up with wings as eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
The “mass” is our standing at attention waiting for our marching orders. Over the past years we have been getting our loins girded, getting our shoes on our feet and getting our staff in hand. We have been preparing for the future. But now that future is here. It is commencement time. But to begin without God would be a terrible disaster. To go without his sensed presence would be tragedy. Let us gather together, taking communion together, to receive strength from God for the days that lie ahead.