The final and devastating plague meted out on a stubborn and recalcitrant Pharaoh and his hapless subjects, is also the only plague that the Israelites had to consciously and actively choose to evade. According to the Exodus account all the other plagues assailing Egypt left the Land of Goshen (where the Israelites dwelt) untouched—all this without their needing to do anything. However, this final disaster is one that Moses and the people had to actively evade by taking some of the blood of the Passover Lamb and applying it to the lintel and doorposts of their homes. Is there any significance to this interesting detail?
Saint Augustine reminds us that although God created us without us: he did not will to save us without us.” Those among us fortunate enough to have been baptized in infancy and brought up in the faith, experienced a similar situation: we were initially baptized into Christ and into his Mystical Body at a time when we were unable to consent or refuse. Only later in life did we confirm this choice made on our behalf by parents/guardians with our best interests at heart. As Catholics we believe that God’s grace was active in that intermediate period between our baptism and our later free choice to embrace Christ and that life begun in baptism.
Similarly, there is a sense in which God’s decision to irrevocably bind himself to his Chosen People, in the great event of the Exodus, was undertaken without any consultation. Indeed, although initially responding positively to Moses’ message, when this resulted in further hardship, we are told that despite God’s promises of full deliverance they would not listen to [Moses] because of their dejection and hard slavery. Accordingly, this resistance needed to be overcome with obvious and powerful signs—not only of God’s power, but his unfailing solicitude and protection. Thus, at the time of the final plague, the call to mark their homes with the blood of the lamb, was God’s way of allowing them to accept his loving choice of them and freely become his Chosen People.
As we know, though, this trusting acceptance would be repeatedly tested and would falter during their desert sojourn. This would call for God’s patient and repeated need to regain their trust and would ultimately result in forty long years of desert wandering. Ours is a similar journey in which we too, as it were, marked our homes with the blood of Lamb, by confirming the choice made for us at baptism. But, like the Israelites, this personal and conscious commitment has not precluded repeated faltering and stumbling along the path of faith and trust. This annual celebration of our deliverance from the slavery of sin and Satan is thus one manifestation of God’s immense patience and his unfailing fidelity to his promises.
For, like the Israelites and their annual celebration of the Passover, this Sacred Triduum is not merely commemorating a past event, but re-immersing us in its mysterious power to save. As such, it is a graced opportunity to acknowledge the numerous ways in which, like the Israelites, we have lost faith and trust in God’s saving love and presence, and have found ourselves murmuring against God’s will and doubting his loving providence. As we use these sacred days to recommit to the struggle, we remind ourselves that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. However, in that struggle, we also remind ourselves that we are not without resources.
Indeed, this day in which we celebrate the inauguration of the Eucharist, we take heart from Saint John Chrysostom’s assurance that in our battle God has prepared a food more powerful than any armor, so that [we] may not weary in the fight, and that [we] may dine joyously and then win the advantage over the wicked one. For, if the devil merely sees you returning from the Master’s banquet, he flees faster than any wind. If you show him a tongue stained with the precious blood [of the Lamb], he will not be able to make a stand; if you show him your mouth all crimsoned and ruddy, cowardly beast that he is, he will run away.