K. Dean Myers, interim pastor

Fairmount Presbyterian Church Cleveland Heights, Ohio

March 4, 2012, Second Sunday in Lent

Exodus 12:1-14 and Mark 8:34-9:1



Exodus 12:1-14

1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.

6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.

11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

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Several years ago at a creative writing workshop at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, we had to write a paragraph about sacred spaces. I began with Ghost Ranch itself, which is typical for anyone who has ever been there, but soon expanded my thoughts to places like this sanctuary, and a special place in a home where one feels particularly calm and directed, or a place where something important has happened or is remembered.

In a short time it occurred to me that one characteristic of all sacred spaces worthy of the title is that blood is involved. And blood spilled, as on a battlefield or at the scene of an accident or in the streets of a city such as Homs, Syria, or in the halls of Chardon High School, turns an ordinary place into a sacred space. And the ritual shedding of blood as God commanded of Israelites that first Passover and as Jesus commanded his disciples at his Last Supper- that ritual return to blood makes any place into a sacred space, creating a sacred moment here and now

Unlike the terrible and senseless blood shed that dominates our world today, Christians believe Jesus’ shed blood served a redemptive purpose. There are many ideas about exactly this works, but they all come down to the idea that in the shedding of his blood is power to save a trusting soul and a hopeful world. And when Jesus invited those who would follow him to “take up their cross,” he was surely inviting them into redemptive, blood given for life with him.

Listen to Jesus’ invitation and promise in Mark 8:34-9:1:

34 [Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ 91And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’

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A.    George Herbert’s The Agonie touches a very deep place in my soul every time I read it.

1.      Poet and priest George Herbert (early 17th century) was near death at the age of 40 when he passed this poem on to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, saying that it was “a picture of the many spiritual Conflicts that have past betwixt God and my Soul, before I could subject mine to the woof (as in “warp and woof” in weaving, I think; meaning the foundation, basic nature, of something) of Jesus my Master; in whose service I have now found perfect freedom; …read it; and then, if [you] can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor Soul, let it be made publick; if not, …burn it: for I and it, are less than the least of God’s mercies.” (as reported by Mark Noll in The Christian Century, November 16, 2004; 11)

2.      I cannot say that I have often known the level of “Conflicts” George Herbert confessed, but I have known my share of them, often regarding myself as a “dejected poor Soul.” I hear the poem today speaking to the contemporary struggle for faith in our disbelieving age, my own struggle included.

B.     I invite you to seek “The Agonie’s” possible “advantage” to your Soul as you follow along as I read it, trying not to stumble too painfully over its “olde English,” and then I’ll say a few words about it as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s Supper.

The Agonie

      Philosophers have measured mountains,

Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, of kings,

Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:

      But there are two vast, spacious things,

The which to measure it doth more behove:

Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.

      Who would know Sinne, let him repair

Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see

A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,

      His skinne, his garments bloudie be.

Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain

To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.

      Who knows not Love, let him assay (“examine, value”)

And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike (“spear”)

Did set again abroach (“to pierce a cask”); then let him say

      If ever he did taste the like.

Love is that liquour sweet and most divine,

Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.


C.     First: “liquour” here means, I really think, “liquid.”

1.      More specifically, the word means “a watery solution of a drug,” thus, something that heals and soothes.

2.      But the key word here is “Love,” which Herbert pictures as being locked in a life and death battle with “Sinne.”

3.      And we do not “fathom” or “measure” “Sinne” and “Love” with the same intensity that we explore the material things of the earth or even our visions of heaven’s celestial fountains.

4.      Because “Sinne and Love” are too close to us, too near at hand, and often too painful for us to look at carefully and closely and – even – passionately.

D.    But deep inside us, as deep and life-bearing and crucial as our very blood, these two – sin and love – carry on a battle of momentous proportions.

1.      Will our distance from God, and from God’s purposes for us, “presse and vice” the very life out of us, hunting our real humanity down body and soul, until we finally succumb?

a.       Will we one morning wake up and realize that there’s nothing left of us that really matters, that we really care about, that is worth holding on to and living for – that’s it’s all been “pressed and viced” out of us by sin?

b.      And wish, dearly wish, we’d let God’s gracious, forgiving, healing Love be our lifeblood?

c.       And at last give ourselves over to the “woof of Jesus our Master”?

2.      Indeed, according to Herbert, sin’s counter force is Christ’s love…not righteousness or goodness or playing by the rules or not making mistakes.

  1. a.       Love does help us be more righteous, be good, become faithful to “the rules” and avoid mistakes,
  2. b.      But only love stays with us when we inevitably fail to live up to all those expectations, either from within us, or from others, or from God.
  3. c.       Love flows through us, pours into our very veins, to overcome the sin that wants to destroy us.

E.     This morning, as receive this bread and this wine – this body and yes, this blood) – let us ingest them as if they are vital to who we are and how we live, for they are.

1.      Realize that Jesus’ agony for the world is for each of us, in our own agonizing struggles.

2.      Realize that when his hands and feet and side were pierced, setting free, as if from a cask, the vital life-force of Love for all, that we can taste that love

3.      Which we sense as wine, but which Jesus on the cross felt to be nothing other than Love’s very blood.

4.      May his “agonie” challenge, examine, and heal the agonies of our lives, and of the world’s, and fill us all with “that liquour – the Love – sweet and most divine,/Which my God feels as bloud, but I, as wine”. Amen.