Lenten Devotional: We Claim Them/They Claim Us

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by Aaron Decker
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to YHWH, the God of our ancestors; YHWH heard our voice and…brought us out of Egypt… (Deuteronomy 26:6–8)
By the time the offering of first-fruits described in this Sunday’s First Testament reading actually happens, these words are false. Those standing before the priest, holding baskets of gifts, were never in Egypt. The generation rescued from the house of slavery had died long ago in the wilderness.
It was not us, they should say. It was our ancestors. Those who came before us. But we claim it as our own. The captors in Egypt harmed us. God rescued us.
Long before I was formed in my mother’s womb, this and all rituals say, this happened to me. It is ancient history, but I am also living it now. It is my story.
We lift bread and cup. Jesus is not re-crucified. The once-and-for-all uni/multiverse-shattering crucifixion-and-resurrection death-always-becomes-life event is not just remembered or reenacted. No— time collapses, and we are there, we have always been there, 2,000 years ago and before time began. We are tangibly, bodily, gathered in a small, upper room in old Jerusalem, dining with friends.
Are our dour, self-effacing Lenten austerities actually a fabulous dinner party in disguise? How queer!
And there, at the table: Ancestors whose struggles we claim as our own. Their oppressors treated us harshly and afflicted us! Their suffering is alive in us! We cried out to God in their voices! And God heard us, and—
God heard the queer Christian leaders whose courage in these last decades paved the way for our leadership now, and—
God heard the civil rights activists, the people who strove for racial and gender equity, whose work also liberated our folx’ struggle for rights, and—
God heard the mystics throughout history, whose imaginations could not be limited by social norms, who spoke about God’s love with shocking, erotic words that ring familiar in our ears, and—
God heard the nameless, forgotten, whose sainthood is greater than all the Capital-S Saints combined, whose name cards God inscribes in gold and places by hand at favored seats around that Holy Table, and—
These people are alive now, being rescued when God rescues us from our captors, our Egypts. Not just in our memories but in the first-fruits offered to us by Christ. Their pain, their struggles, are alive. Their joys, their triumphs, are alive. We live in them, and they in us, whenever we celebrate the Passover of our Beloved Jesus.
That great Passover. When YHWH heard our voice and brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is indeed right, indeed our duty, but perhaps most of all, our joy.

Image Description: Photo of chalice and broken bread over an orange background with the words: we have always been there, 2,000 years ago and before time began. We are tangibly, bodily, gathered in a small, upper room in old Jerusalem, dining with friends. -Aaron Decker

Aaron Decker (he/him) is a Theological Educator in Bolivia with ELCA Service and Justice (Global Mission). He has passions for world languages, textual ambiguity, and education as liberation. He lives with his cat, Moses; like in Exodus, Aaron might talk more, but Moses is definitely in charge.

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