Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño: Wondering on Monday of Holy Week
March 29, 2021 | by Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño invites us to wonder what the travelers to Jerusalem must have experienced as we journey together this Holy Week.
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You may also read the text of Bishop Minerva's message here:
Wondering on Monday of Holy Week
I wonder…….wonder what the travelers to Jerusalem on that first Holy Week were remembering as they descended upon the city. Perhaps through their remembering, our memory can be restored and our faith in and commitment to Christ our Lord strengthened as we travel these days of Holy Week.
We know they traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a pilgrimage festival dedicated to telling the story of the exodus from slavery in Egypt, and remembering how the angel of death had passed over the houses of the Israelites during the 10th
plague on Egypt.
The Book of Exodus tells us the story. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years. They were forced to build “treasure cities” from making bricks from clay and straw to constructing tall and impressive buildings in whose construction many died. When the Israelites grew in number Pharaoh felt threatened, so he ordered every son born to an Israelite family cast into the river like a piece of trash.
But God heard the cry of the Israelites, saw their suffering, and took pity on them (Exodus 12:23). God appears to Moses in a burning bush and commands Moses to confront Pharaoh – to tell Pharaoh in no uncertain terms to let God’s people go; release them from their slavery and their suffering.
To show his anger over the oppression of the Israelites and his power, God inflicts a series of 10 plagues on the Egyptians, culminating in the 10th plague – the death of the first-born. The great Pharaoh and all the people of Egypt were forced to endure what Pharaoh himself had inflicted upon the Israelites.
Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5
Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the hand mill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6
Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.
Exodus 11:4–6 NRSV
Before this final plague God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to mark their doors with lamb’s blood. When God saw the mark on the Israelite’s doors, he passed over them and did not touch their first-born son.
Not only did God pass over them and not inflict death upon their sons, God empowered Moses to lead the Israelites to freedom.
As the faithful traveled to Jerusalem for Passover on that first Holy Week, they traveled with the sacred memory of how God had freed them from their slavery and protected them from the plague of the loss of their first-born sons.
One of the many things I deeply value from our Jewish roots as Christians is the importance of remembering –
- Exodus 12:14 reminds us that God’s people are called to remember the deliverance of the firstborn sons from the 10th plague, and to do so through a feast to be held from generation to generation.
- Exodus 13:3 repeats the command to remember: Remember this day, in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, for by strength the hand of the LORD brought you out from this place.
- Deuteronomy 16:12 states it simply: Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and diligently observe these statutes.
The Israelites who like Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, remembered that God is on the side of the oppressed! Always has been. Their lives gave witness to this eternal truth.
Freeing the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt is not the only time God has acted with compassion and liberated the enslaved. It was God who also freed the slaves in this country. And it is God who continues to call those who oppress others, to let his people go. Do we remember this?
Does knowing that God stands with the oppressed and always frees the enslaved make a difference in our lives? It should!
I don’t think that Pharaoh by his own will or volition would have ever freed the Israelite slaves. Oppressors get used to the lifestyle of oppressing others and benefitting from their suffering. Nor do I believe that slave owners in this country would have ever freed those they cruelly enslaved if it hadn’t been for God who intervened and said, “Let my people go!” This country heard God’s voice through the anointed of God; great spiritual leaders like Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriett Tubman.
In a nation that claims to trust in God we certainly have a hard time remembering that God in whom we trust stands with the oppressed and will forever call us to free them, for their well-being and for the well-being of the oppressor as well.
Over the last 4 years there has been a call to make America great again. While America has done many great things, it needs to wake up – we need to wake up – and remember that the oppression of others will always undermine any greatness this country may strive to achieve.
We cannot oppress people because of the color of their skin, their socio-economic status, or their religious beliefs and say that we are a great nation. People down to little children are today enslaved in this country through the perpetuation of the systemic and institutional racism upon which this country was built. God calls for the enslaved to be freed. It is in remembering this biblical truth and living by it that America might someday be as great as God calls it to be.
As Christians, with the Israelites set free from their bondage in Egypt, we are called to remember that we serve God who sets free the oppressed and is able to redeem the oppressor. Remembering and committing to being God’s people, by God’s grace, we might be able to serve as a light for America’s journey to the true greatness God calls it to.
I wonder, friends, if we are ready to remember who God is and who we are called to be.
May you have a blessed Monday on this Holy Week.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño is Resident Bishop of the California-Nevada Conference of The United Methodist Church.