The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. …
Exodus 12:1-2, excerpt from Exodus 12:1–4, 11-14, lectionary text during Holy Week, 2020
I am writing this on Good Friday. It is night. All day today the wind blew, great gusts of wind, soughing through the trees and around the house. I sat at my desk and looked out the window at tall trees swaying back and forth and smaller trees bending on a swifter, tighter arc. I watched and imagined the new green leaves of the pear tree and the cream blossoms of the dogwood holding tight as the wind played crack the whip with their branches. I took a walk outside. The wind buffeted my body and roared around my ears. The afternoon was bright blue; white clouds scudded across the sky.
Now it is night. I listen and hear quiet and realize the wind has fallen. The rising, rushing vigor of the day has ebbed. Now is the dark; now is the waiting.
Exodus 12 is the text for Maundy Thursday, the celebration of Jesus’ last supper with his closest disciples. Exodus 12 gives the Passover command, ‘take a lamb,’ and tells the reason. The LORD is about to execute judgment on all the gods of Egypt, the false powers that enslave and oppress and destroy, but will ‘pass over’ the households which have marked their identity with the blood of the lamb. Death shall not destroy these households that have marked themselves as God’s own. Exodus 12 works well for this night too, for the Lamb has been lifted up. There has been blood — enough for sign. The work is completed. But the work is not over.
I am writing this on Good Friday. It is night and dark and quiet. And I am waiting for the rest of the work. I am waiting for beginning.
‘This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.’ Of the whole passage, that is the phrase that has held me this week. This month the beginning of months. It came upon me unexpected. I had remembered the lamb, the command to share, the girded loins and hurried eating. I had remembered the preparation. I had forgotten the beginning. The word came as an unlooked-for present — a treasure to hold cupped in one’s hands, a tender seed to brood over and watch until it cracks and sprouts, sends forth roots and shoots and leaves, grows into something too great to be contained in one’s own grasp, something that withstands the strongest of winds.
‘This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.’ Beginning. Not starting over. Not returning again to some earlier point. Beginning. Going on through to the next.
This is the strangest Lent of my memory. We gave up church — congregating our bodies as body, I mean. We gave up going to work and school (aware of our fortune in being able to work and teach and learn from home). We gave up going to the grocery on a whim, leaving the house even just to walk without a thought (aware of our fortune in having a house, a space in which to walk). We gave up gatherings and plans, a careless ease, and — as a nation — any illusion (ill-founded as it was) of some inherent immunity to instability, to pain, to loss.
‘This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.’ Not going back to before, but beginning, going on to a new that cannot yet be seen, that can barely be imagined beyond the promise in the word itself — Beginning.
Tonight is Good Friday. We held worship via Zoom, a liturgy of scripture readings and dramatic monologues. A candle was extinguished after each; seven candles, one by one. A soloist sang from his home, a capella, into his computer screen, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord …’. One candle was left. The last speaker held it cupped in her hand, its flame lit her face as she prayed, then she placed it again on its stand. Its light was small but steady against the dark. A woodwind played ‘What wondrous love is this.’ On a whim, I changed to gallery view and saw on my screen the faces of forty-some households, each shown in its own neat square. So many faces. Each face was absolutely individual, yet all seemed to bear a common mark — an expression equally mixed of ache and of hope — borne of the words and of the music — an awareness of separation and a longing for reunion. Or so I read their faces, before tears came to my own eyes.
‘This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.’ Tonight is Good Friday. It is night and dark and quiet. I am waiting for beginning, and all the world as well, marked with the ache that is God’s own.