December 11th, 2013

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Remembering the Red Sea

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Scripture: Exodus 14 & 15

Come with me to the far banks of the Red Sea, where the People of Israel, after crossing through on dry ground with walls of water on each side, still tense with fear, spill out in every direction.  Remember all that has led up to this moment, the devastating plagues one after another, the false starts, the peculiar meal and ceremony that preceded the long anticipated flight to freedom.  Place yourself in that scene, as a mother, a father, a brother, a frail grandmother, or a child.  Let the scene bloom in your imagination.

The Biblical passage in Exodus 14 gives us the facts, a play by play of who did what and how it happened, but I need to remember that real people lived this story.  Being conscious of this invites me to enter the story differently, rather than merely as a historical review.

Watching from here I see thousands of faces turned back toward the sea, shocked to absolute silence as the sea engulfs the Egyptian army.   There is total silence, and then someone at the front nudges his neighbor, and the neighbor nudges him back and then one of them snickers, and a wild outrageous laughter breaks out among them that ripples back through the throngs of people. Mingled with the laughter is crying as well and also those who just collapse in exhaustion.  Men are slapping each other on the back, women are frantically counting heads trying to find all their children, or clinging tightly to each other.

From the very edge of the Sea, Moses begins to sing. And Miriam, Moses’ sister grabs a tambourine and with the women around her a dance begins. Then the men line up, link arms and lines of dancing men and women spin and shift along the banks of the Sea.  Singing, dancing, jumping, crying, laughing, every pent up emotion accumulated not just from the days leading to this crazy exodus, but from years of pain and misery and longing, spilling out from every man, woman and child.  If these emotions were rain they would be making puddles all over the ground, decades of emotions making big sloppy puddles that overflow and spill back into the sea.

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(Miriams Tanz, Miniatur aus dem bulgarischen Tomić Psalter.  1360/63)

It is to this event that the People of Israel are drawn every year as they celebrate the Passover, this moment of deliverance, this time marked by exuberant celebration and cathartic expression.   As Christians we are drawn to the birth of Christ.  Each year we tell the story, we gather together, we celebrate.  Both groups of people, in reviewing their history are saying: remember, live it again, make it real enough so that your hearts are stirred and your faith in God’s plan and promise are refreshed.  The emotions that accompany this discipline are as varied as the individuals who practice it.  I don’t think it has to be ‘merry’, but I do think it requires some intentionality and maybe a little dancing.

Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen

(I love the movie Fiddler on the Roof  and recalled it has this great dance scene during the wedding of the oldest daughter.  Enjoy the link