It seems that every year I find myself bemoaning the irony of World Communion Sunday. The first Sunday of October Christians all over the world celebrate our unity in Jesus Christ with the Sacrament of Holy Communion, that reminder of the defeat of the barriers of hate and difference. And despite our differences in nationality, ethnicity, gender, all of the categories by which we are different, we claim this victory all around the world. And yet the painful fact is that this world-wide celebration is completely counteracted by the fact that we CANNOT share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion—that celebration that is supposed to demonstrate our unity—with another church of a different denomination that is just up McKnight Road from us. It seems that even though most all Christian churches celebrate this Sacrament, there are many different rules about how—and about who gets to, based upon certain guidelines that differ from denomination to denomination.
We have some clues about that kind of thing in the passage from 2 Chronicles. Hezekiah has determined that the nation will have a renewed focus on their commitment to Yahweh God—which includes the celebration of the Passover. A part of this focus is on how the Passover is to be celebrated most respectfully. The books of the Law lay it all out—not just how it started, but what the proper, appropriate, and devotionally correct way to engage in the Passover is. A person must go through the steps to be ritually clean. The Passover lamb must be prepared in a specific manner, at a specific time relative to when it will be eaten. Passover is to be celebrated on a specific day, of a specific month. The blood of the lamb must be used and disposed of in a specific manner. All of this is meant to heighten the importance of what God has done and the serious nature of respectfully commemorating that. It is all clearly laid out. Doing the correct things, in the correct ways, in the correct timeframes—all of this demonstrates the seriousness and respect that this key time in their faith calendar calls for. As Exodus 12:14 says, “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” in the first month of the newly established year (newly established by God’s activity in freeing them from their slavery in Egypt).
Well, that is not quite how it turns out this time. As 2 Chronicles 30:2-3 tells us, first of all, “the king and his officials and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the passover in the second month (for they could not keep it at its proper time because the priests had not sanctified themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem)”. Already they are having to make adaptations—but they seem to agree on these adaptations this time, because enough priests do end up sanctifying themselves a month late. And then another dynamic happens with the people themselves: “there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord. 18 For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed” (2 Chronicles 30:17b-18a).
So they had to delay it a month, and then the people were not ritually clean to actually “legitimately” celebrate this most holy of festivals. Is disrespect being shown to Yahweh God by the utter lack of seriousness about doing this right? Is it too casual? Should they be castigated? Hezekiah could be pretty hardcore about things, and you’d expect him to come down hard on them for their moral failing here. And yet, his response was this: “But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘The good Lord pardon all who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:18b-20).
So the practices may not have been perfect, but their HEARTS were in the right place. Maybe in our haste to critique those whom we see as wrong, we need to look a bit deeper than the surface, at devotion that is heartfelt, even if not “proper” and “correct”.
OLD TESTAMENT Exodus 12:1-8, 14-19
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.
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. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a solemn assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance. 18 In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread. 19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land.
OLD TESTAMENT 2 Chronicles 30:1-22
1 Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover to the Lord the God of Israel. 2 For the king and his officials and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the passover in the second month 3 (for they could not keep it at its proper time because the priests had not sanctified themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem). 4 The plan seemed right to the king and all the assembly. 5 So they decreed the making of a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba to Dan, that the people should come and keep the passover to the Lord the God of Israel, at Jerusalem; for they had not kept it in great numbers as prescribed. 6 So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his officials, as the king had commanded, saying, ‘O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your ancestors and your kindred, who were faithless to the Lord God of their ancestors, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your ancestors were, but yield yourselves to the Lord and come to his sanctuary, which he has sanctified forever, and serve the Lord your God, so that his fierce anger may turn away from you. 9 For as you return to the Lord, your kindred and your children will find compassion with their captors, and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.’
10 So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun; but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them. 11 Only a few from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 12 The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the officials commanded by the word of the Lord.
13 Many people came together in Jerusalem to keep the festival of unleavened bread in the second month, a very large assembly. 14 They set to work and removed the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for offering incense they took away and threw into the Wadi Kidron. 15 They slaughtered the passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and they sanctified themselves and brought burnt-offerings into the house of the Lord. 16 They took their accustomed posts according to the law of Moses the man of God; the priests dashed the blood that they received from the hands of the Levites. 17 For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had to slaughter the passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to make it holy to the Lord. 18 For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘The good Lord pardon all 19 who set their hearts to seek God, the Lord the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ 20 The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people.
21 The people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the festival of unleavened bread for seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, accompanied by loud instruments for the Lord. 22 Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the Lord. So the people ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing offerings of well-being and giving thanks to the Lord the God of their ancestors.
GOSPEL Matthew 23:23
23 ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.’