Tonight we do service, taking the day as a convocation to that which led us out of bondage. We are meant to know and to understand that it is a service that we do, and not a celebration, although in the common meaning that is what we are told it is. We know this because it is written:
And it shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the LORD will give you, according as He hath promised, that ye shall keep this service.
The story of Passover is one which always has had special resonance to Americans, both Jewish and not. There is a reason why that most American of icons, the late Charlton Heston, portrays him in the universally known film. How could the story of a people coming out of bondage to an autocratic king, into a new land (which the people would cleanse of its prior inhabitants, while making heavenly excuses for their behavior), finally their own free nation, yet with a new and heavy obligation to live their new lives in accord with a higher purpose not resonate in the American psyche?
It is because of this that the service performed at Passover has such meaning. Because the sin that had to be committed to give us this gift, this opportunity to live in prosperity and freedom, is not a secret to us. It is spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:
Yet He also is wise, and bringeth evil, and doth not call back His words; but will arise against the house of the evil-doers, and against the help of them that work iniquity.
The age-old question of why God allows for bad things to happen to good people has long been answered: God brings the evil intentionally but with wisdom, placing in the souls of humanity the opportunity to redeem themselves against it. As Isaiah says, “He will deliver it as He protecteth it, He will rescue it as He passeth over.”
It is understood by all, Jew and gentile, the believers and the non-believers, that it took great sin, horrific evil, to bring us here. The purpose of the Passover is to remind us to give service to that wrong, to redeem it, and the sacrifice of those who were killed to grant us the freedom we have and enjoy, the opportunity to do good which they are denied.
What Isaiah is telling us that we are obligated to be the ones we have been waiting for.
I say this not to suggest that Isaiah endorses the candidacy of Barack Obama, or that there are religious implications to any of this at all (although it is a credit to the time Obama spent in the pew that he understands the basic calling placed upon Israel by God). I say this because the service of Passover is upon us, and rarely has its import to all Americans been more clear. Today, the great sins that are upon us are not mostly in our past. Today, the sins of torture, of war, of poverty, of the profanement of the land, of disobedience of the law, and of the obligation placed upon us as free people are terrifyingly immediate.
The service of Passover reminds us that it matters not that we were not ever the slaves who gained freedom. It reminds us that but not for the sins committed to free us, we would be slaves. And that we must give thanks for that, but also that we must honor that through our actions.
I am grateful to be free. I treasure that freedom, for it is a treasure. I honor the sacrifice and the sin which was required to allow me to be here, where I am, a free man. Tonight is not different from other nights, in that respect: each and every night, I am so fortunate to eat and drink and be free. But I give service to the fact that others are not; not my ancestors, not the dead whose progeny no longer walk the earth, not those hemmed in by barbed wire in the land of Abraham, nor those imprisoned by our armies in the land where Abraham was born. But tonight, I will reaffirm my service to the wrongs which have brought me to this moment.
I will again vow to do my part to redeem that sin.