An outline for “Alternative Worship” on Exodus – a longer format, where 2 voices lead through a thematic service.
A & B are going to discuss the idea of Exodus having anything to say to 21C Christians. A is doubtful. After the opening worship (we sang Worship songs – you do what fits), they sit on chairs at the front.
A: I see the service tonight is about Exodus; might be good for an exciting story, I suppose.
B: But not much else, you mean?
A: Hardly. If you want to know about the Christian life, you read the New Testament, don’t you? The gospels, and then Acts and the Epistles, but hardly all that OT stuff. It’s not as if we do the sacrifices, or have to quarantine lepers, after all.
B: I know what you mean, but don’t you think there might be some important things in the Old Testament as well?
A: Such as
B: Well there’s – no I’ve got a better idea. Let me read you a bit of Exodus and see what it contains.
A: Well, all right then. What are you going to read?
B: Let’s start with Exodus 3. God has appeared to Moses – you remember the Burning Bush – then he says:
“The leaders of the people of Israel will accept your message. Then all of you must go straight to the king of Egypt and tell him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us go on a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go except under heavy pressure. So I will reach out and strike at the heart of Egypt with all kinds of miracles. Then at last he will let you go. And I will see to it that the Egyptians treat you well. They will load you down with gifts so you will not leave empty-handed. The Israelite women will ask for silver and gold jewelry and fine clothing from their Egyptian neighbors and their neighbors’ guests. With this clothing, you will dress your sons and daughters. In this way, you will plunder the Egyptians!” But Moses protested again, “Look, they won’t believe me! They won’t do what I tell them. They’ll just say, `The LORD never appeared to you.'” Then the LORD asked him, “What do you have there in your hand?” “A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied. “Throw it down on the ground,” the LORD told him. So Moses threw it down, and it became a snake! Moses was terrified, so he turned and ran away. Then the LORD told him, “Take hold of its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it became a shepherd’s staff again. “Perform this sign, and they will believe you,” the LORD told him. “Then they will realize that the LORD, the God of their ancestors–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob–really has appeared to you.” (Exodus 3:18-4:5 NLT)
Now, what does that say to you?
A: Not a lot. I mean, I think I remember most of the story from Sunday school, and some old films, but that’s all it is, an old story.
B: There’s more to it! Think about the Israelites. They are slaves, and they have got used to being slaves; its the only life they know. To set them free is an enormous task, but God is going to do it, and then people will know that he is a God with real power.
A: If you put it like that, I suppose it would have made a point at the time.
B: Only “at the time”? Isn’t this a story about God rescuing his people from the power of evil by his own, greater, power?
A: You mean Christians could read this and think about God setting them free from sin and death, that sort of thing?
B: Yes, but that’s not all. What about the Israelites themselves?
A: I think I’m beginning to understand. You mean the Israelites needed to be convinced about freedom – and about Moses, that was why he had that trick with the snake? In fact, there was almost as much work persuading and teaching them as there was twisting Pharaoh’s arm to let them go?
B: Yes, you’ve got the idea.
[Prayers : about slavery and freedom (physical, mental spiritual), some more songs/hymn]
A: Well, you’ve convinced me that Exodus can teach me something about the power of God to set his people free, and to teach them about their freedom as well as forcing their enemies to let them go. But is there anything more? Is the detail relevant, or just the big picture?
B: Why don’t we look at the Passover? I think it might show you some relevant detail, and give you a new perspective on Holy Communion as well. Would you like to read from Exodus 13:8?
A: OK. I think we’ve skipped over most of the plagues, and come to the final instructions for leaving.
“Then Moses called for the leaders of Israel and said, “Tell each of your families to slaughter the lamb they have set apart for the Passover. Drain each lamb’s blood into a basin. Then take a cluster of hyssop branches and dip it into the lamb’s blood. Strike the hyssop against the top and sides of the doorframe, staining it with the blood. And remember, no one is allowed to leave the house until morning. For the LORD will pass through the land and strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the LORD will pass over your home. He will not permit the Destroyer to enter and strike down your firstborn. “Remember, these instructions are permanent and must be observed by you and your descendants forever. When you arrive in the land the LORD has promised to give you, you will continue to celebrate this festival. Then your children will ask, `What does all this mean? What is this ceremony about?’ And you will reply, `It is the celebration of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he killed the Egyptians, he spared our families and did not destroy us.'” Then all the people bowed their heads and worshiped. So the people of Israel did just as the LORD had commanded through Moses and Aaron. And at midnight the LORD killed all the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn son of the captive in the dungeon. Even the firstborn of their livestock were killed. Pharaoh and his officials and all the people of Egypt woke up during the night, and loud wailing was heard throughout the land of Egypt. There was not a single house where someone had not died. Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron during the night. “Leave us!” he cried. “Go away, all of you! Go and serve the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, and be gone. Go, but give me a blessing as you leave.” All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, “We will all die!” The Israelites took with them their bread dough made without yeast. They wrapped their kneading bowls in their spare clothing and carried them on their shoulders. And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed and asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The LORD caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So, like a victorious army, they plundered the Egyptians! (Exodus 12:21-36 NLT)
B: Now, do you see some significant detail? No? What about the blood and the death of the firstborn?
A: Well, I know there are Christians who go on about the “blood of the Lamb”, but I’ve never really understood that, – or liked it much for that matter. And the death of the firstborn is frightening.
B: I agree, but it was the final plague to force a stubborn Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Christians will see a significance in –
A: Jesus, it must be Oh, he was the firstborn, wasn’t he?
B: Who died for us, the Lamb of God. Yes. And you can probably see now how it is his death – his blood in rather lurid terms – that is our protection from evil.
A: Yes, and you’re right, I hadn’t seen the Communion cup in quite that way before. I see that they had unleavened bread because they were in a hurry to be on the move. We use wafers made without yeast when we have Communion in our Church, but I can’t say I’d ever made the connection with a hurried escape from slavery before.
B: It does give you a different perspective to think about. And how about the plundering of the Egyptians?
A: I was hoping you weren’t going to ask that; wasn’t it a bit of wild opportunism?
B: Perhaps, but who do the good things really belong to? Do you belive in a world where everything nice is sinful?
A: No, in a world where God made it good and evil spoils things. So – the Israelites are discovering that the good things belong to God people, not his enemies?
B: And Christians need to know how to enjoy the good things without being distracted from the God who made them, right. Is that enought detail to be going on with.
A: I think so, yes.
[Prayers: about use of sacraments, and of creation, and perhaps of coming to terms with the detail. Songs / hymn]
B: Time for a last chunk of Exodus?
A: Yes, go on, this is fun!
B: Right; this is not much later. The Israelites have left Egypt, but Pharaoh has changed his mind – again – and is chasing them to get them back. God is still in control, though:
“Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the LORD opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! Then the Egyptians–all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers–followed them across the bottom of the sea. But early in the morning, the LORD looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw them into confusion. Their chariot wheels began to come off, making their chariots impossible to drive. “Let’s get out of here!” the Egyptians shouted. “The LORD is fighting for Israel against us!” When all the Israelites were on the other side, the LORD said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back over the Egyptian chariots and charioteers.” So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea. The water roared back into its usual place, and the LORD swept the terrified Egyptians into the surging currents. The waters covered all the chariots and charioteers–the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived. The people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry land, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. This was how the LORD rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites could see the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the LORD had displayed against the Egyptians, they feared the LORD and put their faith in him and his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:21-31 NLT)
A: I’m disappointed.
A: Yes, it’s the happy ending – they all go off to the promised land and live happily ever after. It’s a fairy story.
B: And what’s the point about fairy stories?
A: I thought we were having a serious conversation!
B: The serious point about fairy stories is that they deal with big issues in ways we can cope with. Like this. This is about the overthrow of evil – not petty nastiness, but rampant, selfish, bloodthirsty evil.
A; You’re saying that Christians might understand more about victory over evil by reading this story? I suppose they might. It’s different to the cross and resurrection, but when you think about it, it does have the same elements – God giving the instructions and doing the work; his people being kept safe, and those who wish them harm having the tables turned on them.
B: And you think that, after seeing all this, the Israelites understood and never put a foot wrong again?
A: Well, they should have, but I remember it didn’t work out that way. Didn’t they moan, grumble, complain and rebel all the way to the Promised Land?
B: That’s about right. They saw the power of God, and forgot almost immediately. They knew Moses had spoken for God and lead them out of slavery, and still they wouldn’t trust him as their leader.
A: And before you say it, Christians have just the same problem. They can say that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and set them free, but they very easily forget. They think God can’t deal with their day-to-day problems, and hesitate to follow Jesus in real life, as if the evil he faced is something they don’t also have to confront.
B: Yes, if time allowed we could go on reading about the Exodus journey, and find lots of parallels with Christian life – personality conflicts, loss of confidence, fear, guilt – all sorts of things that are by no means out of date. But perhaps we’d better leave it there for the moment. Have I convinced you about the value of Exodus?
A: You might have. I’m seeing an old story in a new way, and it’s having an effect on the way I read the New Testament, too. ask me again when I’ve had a chance to think.
[Prayers: about remembering what God has done, and finding faith for everyday reality. Lord’s Prayer Songs / hymn, closing]