A Very Snaky Predicament

March 23, 2021

Numbers 21:4–9 | John 8:21–30 | Psalm 102:15–22

Today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Numbers recounts a scene from the Israelites 40-year journey through the wilderness following their liberation from their captivity in Egypt. The passage depicts the onslaught of venomous snakes and how the leaders pleaded to Moses for God’s relief. God responded not by dispelling the snakes but providing his people with an antidote from the snakes’ deadly venom.

As an interfaith family, one of our favorite traditions this time of the year is to gather around the Seder table to celebrate the Passover portion of the Exodus story. Much like our own parish’s Maundy Thursday service, the Seder meal is a reenactment of the Exodus story in which God frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. One of the livelier parts of the ceremony involves God’s infliction of ten plagues on the Egyptians, the final one being the death of all firstborn sons. To allow this scourge to “pass over” them, God commanded the Israelites to mark their doors with lamb’s blood.

Over the years we’ve shared our Seder table with family, work colleagues, neighbors, friends, and friends of friends. The principal theme of the Exodus story is liberation, so many of our Seders have blended the 2500-year-old Passover Haggadah with contemporary readings about liberation from our modern day serpents: freedom from racial and ethnic violence, freedom from food and housing insecurity, freedom from social and political strife and division. This year we will pray for simple ways to serve as God’s instruments of healing in our deeply divided society.

By tradition, the Seder concludes with the singing of the hymn Lashanah haba’ah biy’rushalaim, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” As I read those lyrics today, I am reminded of our state of mind last April as we celebrated Easter virtually in front of computer monitors. Who could blame us then for following our singing of “He Is Risen” with a communal cry of — Lashanah haba’ah on Peirce Street! What a joy to know that this year we will once again return to our own spiritual home in celebration. See you there.

Michael Grady