Today's Lectionary Reading: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Deuteronomy 16:1-8; Philippians 2:1-11
Selected Passage for Reflection: Deuteronomy 16:1-8
16 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. 3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. 4 No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning. 5 You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, 6 but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, at the time you came out of Egypt. 7 And you shall cook it and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose. And in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. 8 For six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God. You shall do no work on it.
For someone who is 1. Not Jewish and 2. Unable to eat gluten without painful consequences (thanks, Celiac disease!), I am surprisingly familiar with Jewish baked goods.
Here’s a quick primer: for observant Jews, challah is the bread of sabbath and community, with two loaves laid on the weekly Shabbat table, symbolizing the double portion of manna, bread from heaven, that God gave to the Israelites in the desert. The most observant bakers practice a specific “mitzvah,” or good deed, as they prepare their recipe, separating a small portion of the dough to bless and burn as a remembrance before baking the remaining bread.
By all accounts, challah is a hearty, and glutenous delight. Sweet, yeasty, soft, and warm. Heralding an invitation to pause, rest, and rejoice in the blessing of another week’s end.
But once a year, Jewish people stop baking challah and observe the feast of unleavened bread, also known as Passover. For six days, the only bread served is Matzoh, a flat cracker-like bread made without yeast. This bread, named in the Torah as the “Bread of Affliction” is meant to remind God’s people of their escape from Egypt, when their bread had no time to rise.
Now, in my fantasies about all the loaves of bread I would devour if suddenly there was a new cure for Celiac Disease, challah falls somewhere above sourdough and just below Brioche. Matzoh doesn’t even make the list.
Because let’s be honest, who wants to eat the “Bread of Affliction”? Sounds less appetizing than a gluten-free biscuit, amiright?
We love to celebrate the glory of the Exodus story, the power of the Almighty making a path through the sea, leading the people of Israel out of their oppression and captivity in Egypt. But in this passage, what strikes me is the “haste” with which the people of Israel make their escape. Can you imagine the trauma of packing up your whole life in less time than it takes for a batch of dough to rise? And yet, that was the urgency with which the Israelites left Egypt.
This moment of liberation was what they had hoped and prayed for. When God said, “Move”, of course, they jumped to their feet! Yet when I consider the next page in their story, the ‘wandering in the desert for 40 years’ part, I can’t help but empathize with their grumbling. There must have been so many conflicting emotions in that season, as their thoughts turned back to abandoned hearths, coals still hot, heaps of dough left un-kneaded on tables that would never be gathered around again.
After moving states and teaching jobs in the past year, this idea of leaving in haste especially hits home for me. I walked out of my classroom one afternoon in March, not realizing I would never teach in that space or see many of my students or colleagues in person again. Though I was already preparing mentally for a big life transition, the pandemic turned all of my plans for slow, intentional goodbyes on their head, and the forced haste of that transition left me with some pain to process.
So for me in this season, eating the Bread of Affliction means allowing myself space to sit in the sadness of these sudden changes and accept the hard truth that life doesn’t always happen on my timeline. Often change, even change we’ve prayed for, comes suddenly and painfully. And sometimes our next season looks more like wandering in the wilderness than walking into the land of milk and honey we were promised.
Before we move on from this desert place, God invites us to stop and eat the unleavened bread of memory, to remember our past afflictions, name our trauma, and wrestle with our disappointment. Only from this vulnerability can we begin to heal. As we offer up our pain to the God of blessing, Jesus welcomes us back to the table, furnished with himself, the bread of life.
Consider what trauma, disappointment, or grief you might be carrying that you need to make space to feel, to process, and to offer to God. What “bread of affliction” might God be calling you to consume in this season?
God of the wilderness.
Thank you for the invitation
To remember our affliction
To feel our pain
To air out the wounds we’ve suffered
The disappointments we’ve buried
The trauma we’re afraid to name
You alone are our redeemer.
The healer of our broken hearts.
You are not overwhelmed
By our hurt
You suffer with us.
You weep when we weep.
So we lift our sadness to you.
Our Passover offering.
Here in the desert
Longing for the promised land
Sustained by daily bread
Hungry for the bread of life.
Fill us, O God
With the goodness of your presence.
Bless us, O Lord
With the fullness of your love.
About the Author
Sarah Roquemore is a teacher, sometimes a writer, and always a daydreamer. She recently moved from Richmond, Virginia to Atlanta, Georgia, where she is finding her way through the wilderness of a new season and trying to remember to thank God for providing (gluten-free) daily bread along the way. She sporadically writes on her blog a few times a year, but definitely not so infrequently that she had to spend over ten minutes finding the url to share here: https://sarahoffscript.blogspot.com/