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For the Passover Seder, the ancient Rabbis for many years debated whether to drink four Cups of Liberation or five. They finally decided to prepare a fifth cup but set it aside, waiting for Elijah the Prophet to come to herald the Great Turning-point of history. Elijah would decide whether we should drink the fifth cup.
So we will drink four cups of wine or grape juice, dedicating these four cups to facing the deadly triplets Dr. King named (Racism, Materialism, and Militarism), and one more: Sexism.
Our four cups will address (1) Racial and Economic Justice and Justice for Workers and Organized Labor, (2) Hyper-materialism, devastating Mother Earth for the sake of corporate profit; (3) Militarism abroad and at home; and (4) Sexism.
We will also lift up the vision of a transformed society. We will drink a fifth cup, the Cup of Elijah, dedicating the cup and ourselves to taking action to bring nearer Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.
[We kindle candles to light up the path of the Seder and our lives All say together:]
We are the generation
That lives between the fires.
Behind us is the flame and smoke
From Black and blackened bodies
Burned and hanging from a myriad lynching trees,
And the flames of burning crosses lit by hate
To choke our people in the smoke of terror;
Behind us is the flame and smoke that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima,
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
From the glare of gun fire exploding in our children.
From the hottest years of human history that bring upon us
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
Before us is the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.
Lit by the deadly triplets named by the Prophet Martin:
Racism, hyper-materialism, militarism:
The scorching of our planet
From a flood of burning fossils,
Or the blazing of our cities
In thermonuclear fire.
It is our task to make from fire
Not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other—
Each of us different,
All of us made in One Image, glowing with One Spark.
[Kindling the candles of commitment:]
We light this fire to see more clearly
That the earth, the human race, are not for burning.
We light this fire to see more clearly
The rainbow in our many-colored faces.
Blessed are the Many in the One;
Blessed is the One within the Many.
Blessed are you, Yahh our God, Creative Interbreathing Spirit of the Universe, who makes us holy through connections with each other, and connects us through the kindling of these candles so that we may light up the path toward peace and freedom, justice and healing, for all peoples and our planet.
Blessed are You, Creative Interbreathing Spirit of the world, who fills us with life, lifts us up, and carries us to this moment.
[We take into ourselves the foods and meanings of the Seder.]
We begin with the teaching of Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years ago, on the evening before his death. He came to Memphis, Tennessee to support the striking sanitation workers of the city, and he spoke to a gathered crowd:
“The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. One thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike. Now we're going to march again, and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. And we've got to say to the nation: We know how it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”
This oppression of workers is nothing new. It is at the heart of the story of Pharaoh and the Exodus, 3,000 years ago:
“Now a new king arose over Mitzrayim, the Tight and Narrow Space [Egypt]. He said to his people, ‘Here, this people, the Godwrestling folk, the children of Israel, is many more than we and might make war against us. Come now, let us use our wits against it. So the Tight and Narrow Place made the Godwrestlers subservient with crushing-labor; they embittered their lives with hard servitude in clay and in bricks and with all kinds of servitude in the field, all their serfdom in which they made them subservient with crushing-labor. (Exodus 1: 13-14 )
And so all of us remember and taste within ourselves the bitterness of slavery and the oppression of workers.
[Everyone takes a piece of raw horseradish.]
All join to say: “Blessed are You, Creative Interbreathing Spirit of the Universe, Who brings forth the fruit of the earth—the bitter and the sweet.”
[Eat a chunk of horseradish.]
[The community sings “Go Down Moses,” African-American spiritual.]
When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go; Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go; Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land, Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
The pillar of cloud shall clear the way, Let My people go; A fire by night, a shade by day, Let My people go. Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land, Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
As Israel stood by the water-side, Let My people go; At God’s command it did divide, Let My people go. Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land, Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
When they had reached the other shore, Let My people go; They sang the song of freedom o’er, Let My people go. Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land, Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
Oh, set all Earth from bondage free, Let all My peoples go; And let all life be free to Be, Let air and water flow. Go down, Moses, way down in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs: Let My creation grow
And in our generation?
“I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers, I saw sewage-filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by opioids, and I met with people in Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them, bringing illness, disability and death.”
- Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
[Everyone gets “sheet” of matzah. Someone reads:]
“Why do we eat this pressed-down bread?“ Because it begins as the bread of affliction, the bread of a pressed-down people—but becomes the bread of Freedom when we hasten toward Resistance. Hasten to bake it without time for the bread to rise, For then we lived and now we live, as Dr. King taught, in the “fierce urgency of NOW!”—swiftly moving toward our liberation.”
[Each person breaks the matzah and hands one piece to a neighbor.]
“Why do we break and share the matzah?”
“Because if we do not share it, it remains the bread of affliction; when we share it, it becomes the bread of freedom.”
Together say: “Blessed are You, Breathing-Spirit of the world, who through sun and soil, seed and human sweat, brings forth this bread from the Earth.”
[All eat the matzah given them by someone else.]
DAYENU: THE PATH OF MANY STEPS TOWARD FREEDOM
What are the Ten Healings that can begin to make our world a Beloved Community?
[For each of the Ten Healings, we drink some wine or grape-juice and then say L’Chaim!—To Life!]
Create organic farms in countrysides and cities.
Purchase home and company electric power from wind-based suppliers.
Families buy hybrid or electric cars; convince cities, government agencies, and businesses to switch their auto fleets.
Use public transportation.
Families and congregations, at Bat/Bar Mitzvah time and teen-age confirmations, study together how to address the climate crisis so as to “turn the hearts of children and parents to each other, lest the Earth be utterly destroyed.” (From last passage of Malachi, last of the classical Hebrew Prophets)
Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP) : Colleges, congregations, pension funds, and others shift their investments from fossil-fuel companies to renewable, sustainable energy.
Vigil, picket, do civil disobedience at sites of mountaintop destruction by coal companies.
End fracking: Insist on moratoriums or prohibitions.
Lobby Congress for laws to put prices on carbon-fuel production and pay dividends from the incoming fees to American families.
Organize neighborhood solar-energy coops where many households band together to stop burning coal for their electricity and generate it from the sun instead.
Research and choose among proposals not only to end CO2 and methane emissions that are scorching our planet, but restoring for our children and grandchildren the healthy climate that our parents and grandparents lived in, amidst more justice than most of our forebears knew
[Share a spoon of charoset to each person around the tables.]
Why do we eat charoset?
“Because by mixing apples, apricots, and raisins, nuts and cinnamon, wine and cloves, we embody the tastes and smells of the Song of Songs, the earthy poem of love and Eros—the springtime when flowers rise up against winter, the juices of love arise from the depths of depression, and the night-time of history gives way to the sunlight of Eden, the garden of delight; the Earth and human earthlings at loving peace with one another. [Eat some charoset.]
“What in our past traditions can teach our own generation how to heal ourselves and our wounded Earth?”
“The seventh year shall be a Sabbath of joyful rest for the land, a Sabbath to Yahh, the Breath of life; you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your undressed vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of joyful rest for the land. For the land is Mine; you are but strangers and visitors with Me.” (Leviticus 25)
”At the end of every seven years you shall grant a Release. Every creditor shall Release what s/he has lent to a neighbor; s/he shall not exact it of the neighbors, because Yahhh, the Interbreathing of all life, has proclaimed a Release from debt.” (Deut 15; 1-2)
There are three aspects to the growing militarization of America: (A) The military overseas, through great increases in military budgets and the longest war in American history; (B) The militarization of domestic U.S. police forces, especially those intended to deal with Black and Latino communities; and (C) the rising number of deaths by gunfire, including by weapons intended for war. Let us look at each:
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death” (MLK, April 4, 1967) (B) At home, Dr. King’s separate triplets of racism and militarism have melted into one. In Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, local police mobilized tanks and other weapons of war to address protests over a killing by police. (C) And hundreds of “civilians” bearing rifles, hand guns, and semi-automatic de facto machine guns are each year killing spouses, children, and themselves—in numbers unheard of in other affluent countries. Wikipedia reports these figures of firearm-related death rates per 100,000 population in one year: Japan, 0.06; United Kingdom, 0.23; Poland, 0.26; Australia, 0.93; Germany, 1.01; Sweden, 1.47; United States, 10.54.
What do these numbers look like in flesh and blood?
David Hogg, a 17-year-old student journalist who interviewed his classmates during the rampage in Parkland, said he had thought about the possibility of a school shooting long before shots from an AR-15 started to blast through the hallways. As he huddled with fellow students, he stayed calm and decided to try to create a record of their thoughts and views that would live on, even if the worst happened to them.
“I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive,” he said in an interview here. “But I knew that if those videos survived, they would echo on and tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things, I hoped. And that would be my legacy.” (New York Times, February 16, 2018)
“American society is living now at the moment when an abused wife walks out of the household. It is the moment of greatest possibility for freedom, and the moment of greatest danger that the abusive husband will try to kill her. Freedom depends on her having a community to protect and nurture her.
“Right now, many abused communities are walking out of their abusive households. Almost certainly, there will be attempts by those in power to choke these energies to death. Together, we can nurture them and all of us to greater freedom, greater justice.”
( Gloria Steinem, “This is What 80 looks Like,” The Shalom Center, 2013. )
This story is not new:
“The king said to the midwives of the Hebrews, whose names were Shifrah and Puah: ”When you help the Hebrew women give birth, if he be a son, put him to death; but if she be a daughter, she may live.” But the midwives held God in awe, and they let the children live. (Exodus 1: 16-21).
The Narrow Pharaoh tried to subjugate these women, make than tools of an even broader subjugation–-indeed, his genocide—of these foreigners, these immigrants, these followers of a strange religion. But it was these two women—only two!—who through their resistance to the Narrow Pharaoh first gave birth to freedom in the ancient story.
And in our own generation, when our modern Narrow Pharaoh boasted of subjugating women close to him and across the breadth of all America, it was women—millions!—who led the first great wave of Resistance.
I am speaking today, not just for the #MeToos, because I was a #MeToo, but when I raise my hand, I am aware of all the women who are still in silence. The women who are faceless. The women who don't have the money, and who don't have the constitution, and who don't have the confidence, and who don't have the images in our media that gives them a sense of self-worth enough to break their silence that's rooted in the shame of assault. That's rooted in the stigma of assault. Every single day your job as an American citizen, is not just to fight for your rights; it's to fight for the rights of every individual who is taking a breath."
( Viola Davis, Women’s March in Los Angeles, January 21, 2018
“On the Shabbat just before Passover, we read the last passage of the last of the Prophets, Malachi, who proclaims on behalf of the Breath of Life:
“Before the coming of the great and awesome day when the Breath of Life may become a Hurricane of Change, I will send the Prophet Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents, lest the earth be utterly destroyed.”
[ The community goes to open a door to the outside, to welcome Elijah, and they say together:]
“As we open our door to the winds and the air of the world, so we open our hearts to the future, to the hearts of our children and their children. We open ourselves, each one of us, to take on the task of Elijah, to heal the world from its suffering. “
Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around Turn me around, turn me around Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin' Marchin' up to freedom's land
Ain't gonna let no hatred turn me around Turn me around, turn me around Ain't gonna let no hatred turn me around I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin' Marchin' up to freedom's land
Ain't gonna let low wages turn me around Turn me around, turn me around I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin' Marchin' up to freedom's land
Ain't gonna let injustice turn me around Turn me around, turn me around Ain't gonna let injustice turn me around I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin' Marchin' up to freedom's land”
“We join with the Prophet Martin (April 4, 1967) in calling on the Spirit to move us into action:
“A genuine revolution of values means that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all life. Love has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of humanity. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
[ The Cup of Elijah is passed around and each person pours some wine or grape juice from the Cup of Elijah into her/his own cup.
“Together, we take on the task of Elijah.”
[Each person turns to a neighbor and each tells the other one action s/he pledges to take to bring nearer the Beloved Community.]
[Everyone drinks from her/his own cup, which now includes some of the wine or grape-juice from Elijah’s cup.]
[Sing this translation of Psalm 148 to the tune of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.”]
Praise God, sun and moon, Hallelu-YAH. Praise Yah, you stars of light, Hallelu-YAH. Praise God, you high heavens, Hallelu-YAH. All that flows in all the world, Hallelu-YAH. Let them all praise God’s Name, Hallelu-YAH. For God spoke and they appeared, Hallelu-YAH. With God they take their stand, Hallelu-YAH. God’s rhythm none must break, Hallelu-YAH.
Praise Yah from the Earth, Hallelu-YAH. You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-YAH. Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-YAH. Stormy wind to do God’s word, Hallelu-YAH.
Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-YAH. Trees of fruit and evergreens, Hallelu-YAH. Wild beasts and quiet flocks, Hallelu-YAH. Creeping bugs and winged birds, Hallelu-YAH.
Men and women, young and old, Hallelu-YAH! High officials and whole peoples, Hallelu-YAH. Every breath whispers Your Name, Hallelu-YAH. Kol ha’n’shama t’hallel YAH, Hallelu-YAH
“I have been to the mountaintop. … I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968)
[All stand, link hands, and sing: “We Shall Overcome”]