In a traditional Passover meal, it’s common to partake in bitter herbs. A seder often includes an herb called maror, which literally means “bitter.” The word bitter comes up a lot in the book of Exodus, probably because the Israelites don’t really look back on Egypt with a whole lot of fondness. But they looked back on it nevertheless. And thousands of years later, their descendants are still honoring it, still remembering.
Why would they remember such a terrible time? Their entire race was enslaved by a powerful kingdom that was unbending when it came to labor and punishment. They had all but given up on God after their own newborn babies were killed in front of them. Even after Moses led them out of Egypt, the Israelites wandered around the desert for a heckuva long time. Probably not a lot of happy memories.
But every year, generations gather together and partake in a meal of six parts. A lot of times we eat food to enjoy, but this meal is eaten to remember.
How often do you think about something you’ve done and it brings a bad taste to your throat? If you’re like most people, it happens often. We as humans like to carry around regrets. We like to look back instead of look ahead. And looking back – remembering – is a good thing to do, if you do it right.
See, the Passover meal isn’t shared and eaten in order to wallow in self-pity. While the meal does involve saltwater to represent the tears and anguish the Jewish people have suffered (as well as other foods that are eaten symbolically, not out of enjoyment,) it’s not a pity party where everyone cries woe is me, woe is us, nothing has gone right.
It’s a meal to remember the goodness of the Lord.
After Moses delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they were far from grateful. Although they were free from bondage, they had no idea what was going to happen next. They got scared. When humans are scared, they do things they regret. The Israelites muttered and complained and lost faith in God almost altogether. They wanted sign after sign to know that God was still with them. And even when he did send them a sign (i.e., manna from heaven to provide food for them) they still got scared and stored as much of the food as they could because they didn’t trust that the Lord would provide the next day. The same thing also happened with water. Most of the Israelites literally wished they’d have died in Egypt.
Not very great memories for a people to have, am I right? “Hey kids, want to hear about the time me and your mom were so hungry we wished we would’ve died in slavery?”
So why do families gather together every year and eat a meal that represents the mistakes and suffering of their ancestors?
Because remembering the bitter times reminds us of God’s goodness.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to wait on the Lord. I hope that doesn’t sound like a complaint. I’ll tell you right now, 2018 has not been an easy year for me so far. Things have happened that have caused me to plunge deep into self-searching. That self-searching easily turns into self-doubt and then self-pity. Every day is a struggle to wait on the Lord.
And lots of people have gone through way more adversity than I have and remain faithful to the Lord. How? By partaking in a feast of bitter herbs.
There is a fine line, however. Remembering can easily become a pity party. At least I know that’s true for me. If I think about my past mistakes, I end up wasting the rest of my day by wallowing in my own suckiness. There’s no hope for me. I’ve made too many mistakes, too many regrets.
There’s a difference between regretting our bitterness and remembering our bitterness.
Have you ever noticed how if you regret something, it really doesn’t help anything, other than making you feel terrible? Yeah, me too. Remembering is different. Remembering is feasting on our own bitter herbs, tasting the ugliness of it –
And remembering what God did to restore us.
Remember your bitterness, but also remember the grace of God that came alongside it. Remember your faults, but also remember how God has filled in the cracks of your imperfection with his love.
Remember the badness, but remember also the goodness of the Lord.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Think about your bitter herbs. Be specific about them. A lot of people see the Lenten season as a time to give up something earthly, like sweets or social media, but I also see it as a time of deep (and sometimes painful) reflection. What is preventing you from approaching God on His throne? What needs to be purged from your soul so that you may open your soul to God?
You will experience bitterness in this life, in some way, shape, or form. It may come from an oppressor on the outside, or it may come from within. If you don’t confront and taste your bitterness, you will remain locked in a cage with the key in your hand, complaining about how there’s no way out.
How have the Jewish people been able to survive for thousands of years even in the face of adversity after adversity? By tasting the herbs, and remembering the Lord.
How will you, as a Christian, be able to stand the darkness of the world and still keep your faith? By tasting the herbs, and remembering the Lord.
Remember these bitter herbs. Taste them. And then remember Who was by your side all along.