Even though the entertainment business does not often seem to overtly share my religious sentiments, it at least pays attention to the religious calendar. I have noticed that almost everyday one of the cable or streaming services is offering the movie, The Ten Commandments, the 1956 American epic religious drama film produced, directed, and narrated by Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille. The film stars Charlton Heston in role of Moses, Yul Brynner as Pharoah, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, and a host of other film stars from the 1950s. It was critically acclaimed, won tons of awards, and was one of the most financially successful films of all times, grossing approximately $122.7 million (equivalent to $1.23 billion in 200). The film is based on Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Pillar of Fire by J.H. Ingraham, On Eagle’s Wings by A.E. Southon, and the Book of Exodus. All evidence indicating that this crew of people knew how to present a good story. A story of faith for me, but a story with epic scenes, even a classic chase scene as Pharaoh’s army chases the escaping daughters and sons of Israel. Good stuff.
In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, the tension is mounting. Nine plagues have already hit the people and land of Egypt; yet still the reply,”No” comes in response to the plea, “Let my people go.” The first nine plagues have been increasingly horrific and a tenth is coming: “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go forth through Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the slave-girl who is at the handmill, as well as all the firstborn of the animals.” (Ex 11:4-5) I can hear the orchestral score in the background becoming more somber as the tension builds. Surely, Pharaoh will let them go lest the be “loud wailing throughout the land of Egypt, such as has never been, nor will ever be again” (Ex 11:8)
Pharaoh refuses, and “so at midnight the LORD struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner in the dungeon, as well as all the firstborn of the animals. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians; and there was loud wailing throughout Egypt, for there was not a house without its dead.” (Ex 13:29-30)
This is a great narrative, a page turner….what will happen next? I mean the action just flows from Ex 11:8 right into…. into…. what? There is our first reading is “what.” The “action” does pick up again until Ex 13:17. In between is a description of how Israel is to remember and celebrate the events of how God rescued his chosen people. It is detailed description of the how-what-when-where to celebrate the night the Angel of Death passed over the land.It is a break in the action. A pause before the events of the parting of the waters and passing into the safety of Sinai. So while the movie fan in me want to jump right to Ex 13:17 and continue with the action, it is good to pause and remember the how-what-when-where to celebrate this night.
And so, generations upon generations have carried out the traditions of Passover. Not just telling the story, but preparing oneself to remember and live the story. “This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you will eat it in a hurry. It is the LORD’s Passover.” (Ex 12:11) The household prepares all the traditions and carries out all rituals “And when your son asks you later on, ‘What does this mean?’ you will tell him, ‘With a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of a house of slavery.” (Ex 13:14)
This night, right in the middle of all the action, between the heralding of the Messiah at the gates of Jerusalem and before the arrest in Gethsemane, we too pause, remember and celebrate, so that when our sons and daughters ask “What does this mean,” we too can give our own answer.
“With the gift of the life of his only begotten Son, the Lord brought us out of slavery to sin and death, out of a house of slavery and into the promised land of salvation. This is the night of our redemption. And the Lord gave us this meal, this celebration to remember. And this is the night Jesus gave us the Eucharist and showed us how to live in service to God and one another. that we might pass over into the kingdom of God.”
“And so when we hear the words, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” It is the call for us to remember the whole history of salvation culminating in the life, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth. And so we pause on this special night and remember, and celebrate.”
It is not a movie plot careening from scene to scene. It is the story of our salvation.