We live lives in submission to the clock.
While not all of us wear timepieces on our wrists anymore due to the devices in our pockets synced with the atomic clocks presumably at Apple HQ, it doesn’t mean we aren’t slaves to time. We make appointments in 15 minute increments. Some among us work in terms of billable hours. We have multiple calendars to sync together from family commitments to work engagements to sporting events. We hustle from place to place—or Zoom call to Zoom call—trying to get things done. In the evenings we grab a quick bite on our way to more commitments in order to engage with volunteer committees or to catch up on the honey do list at home. By the time—and notice the use of that word—it’s all said and done, we crash into bed in order to start it all over again tomorrow when the alarm goes off at 0 dark thirty. Every so often someone will ask us what we do with our free time, the supposed extra minutes or possibly hours in our weeks that go unspoken for by the powers that be, and we laugh. Even being asking the question tells you how—and to what—our lives are oriented.
We are people of the clock.
After sending nine plagues on the Egyptians to encourage Pharaoh to set the Hebrew people free—plagues that make the list of horrors from 2020 look like child’s play—the Lord makes a pronouncement to Moses and his brother Aaron. “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year.” God’s ready to make good on that promise to finally set God’s people free. The preparations for the impending exodus event mark a change in their understanding of time.
This new beginning—this first day in the first month—orients them toward God’s time and moves them away from the time of Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s economy. Under that time and economy the children of Israel were seen only by the number of bricks they could produce, and if they were hitting their harsh daily quotas. If they didn’t meet the unrealistic demands, they were severely punished. In Pharaoh’s marking of the hours, the people of Israel were his primary cheap workforce . They worked as slaves, never getting ahead, having no time to speak of for themselves. Seven days a week they toiled on projects meant to stimulate the economy of Egypt so Pharaoh could continue to accumulate more and more wealth. In that economy, the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. And the ones on the wrong side of that equation were always the outsiders, the Hebrews.
I have a penchant for exploring new and exciting ways to organize my day. I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done years ago and still have his book somewhere in my collection. Michael Hyatt has been a favorite for a few years with his Full Focus Planner. I’m currently enamored with Cal Newport, he of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism fame, who promotes time blocking in his system to help you make the most of the 24 hours you’ve been given and to really dig in to more thoughtful and creative work. The idea is that I need to keep things cranking to earn my worth. Added to this are the years I spent in the high tech world that have conditioned me to embrace a harried pace that promises an elixir of meaning and worth as I juggle multiple projects and scads of email.
We are defined by what we do with the time we have. “What do you do for a living” we get asked when meeting new people, as if our existence is defined by our jobs. By an economy that allows the rich to get richer and the poor to take it on the chin. You’ve likely seen the news reports recently highlighting that during this Covid pandemic when more than 55 million people have filed for unemployment, the billionaires in our country have increased their net worth by some $637 billion more. As the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 where it’s been since 2009, it’s hard for those who are lucky enough to find work to make ends meet. Our economy isn’t that far off from the one in Egypt. Perhaps it even exceeds it.
This new day, new month, and new year that Moses and Aaron proclaim marked time from the point of God’s deliverance, and God wants them to prepare a feast to mark this time. The writer of Exodus gives intricate details about how things should be done for the Passover. A year old sheep or goat free of blemish would be roasted entirely over a fire and not boiled in the water of the Nile. They won’t have time to wait for the bread to rise so it’s unleavened, flat and crispy,. They are to serve bitter herbs which will remind them of their bitter treatment under the Egyptians. They will eat with sandals on, garments tucked in, ready to move out on a long journey when the morning dawns. And they are to continue this feast each year to remind them that they are no longer oriented to the time and economy of Pharaoh as slaves, but as those who have been liberated from bondage.
In their preparations, they are to take the blood from the goat or lamb and mark it on the door posts and lintel of their homes in order to spare them from the final plague. Their dwelling places would literally be passed over by the agent of death, and they would be saved; this is the passover of the Lord. And in the morning, together with their entire community, they were to pick up their staffs and their belongings and head out and they would be free. Free from slavery, bondage, fear, and an oppressive economy that saw them only as cogs in a system to create more wealth for others.
Professor Anathea Portier-Young describes that economy, one we know only too well, as “addicting.” She writes, “We keep resetting our clocks to the quotas of Egypt.” We continue going back to the old calendar, the old way of life that we lived before God gave us a new way to mark our time. We keep participating in a system meant to oppress the least fortunate among us. And God wants to liberate us. To remember that our time is indeed a gift, and that there is more than enough.
We are so often inclined to think in terms of scarcity rather than abundance. When times get tough, we tend to hoard. (Remember the run on toilet paper and flour and cleaning wipes a couple of months ago.) In God’s economy, we are invited to share, to see deep worth in one another, and to see time as a gift of delight. How can you mark today, this moment in your time, as a new beginning, as the point when you left a life in submission to the clock and the economy of Pharaoh and journeyed toward a place of grace and hope?