I’ve borrowed the title of this post from a book by Torah and Talmud scholar, Avivah Zornberg, who wrote a book on Exodus by the same name. In an radio interview I was recently listening to, Zornberg presented a beautiful reflection on the Israelite’s crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 15. One of the things she stresses throughout the interview is the need to move beyond what may from the outset seem like something of a children’s story, and into the deeper and vastly complex realities within this pinnacle event which has shaped the life of the Jewish people, as well as Christianity.
As I mentioned, one of my favorite segments came as a meditation on the deeper reality of the crossing of the Red Sea. Zornberg–drawing on ancient midrashic tradition–says that if we read carefully the text of what is called the hymn of Moses–in which the Israelites rejoice in their salvation from Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and riders, who have been buried in the waves of the sea–we see that the people are not merely singing after they have been saved, but while they are still in the midst of the parted waters. She says that,
the song is an expression not just of jubilation, but of the human situation. Of being in the middle; of being full of fear; the sense of life and death in the balance; seeing what can happen to human beings all around them; and that, there but by the grace of God go I. And so the song is not a simple ditty. It’s a song that human beings sing in the face of mortality.
The text itself says that even while the waters crash down upon the armies of Pharaoh, the Israelites have not reached the end yet. They are, Exodus tells us, walking “on dry ground in the midst of the sea” even as they cry out, “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:19, 21). Zornberg says that,
If one imagines it as people still in that rather menacing corridor, which they know can collapse, because it just has behind them, then the song becomes a different song; and it’s a song of human beings at the edge, between death and life; celebrating life…but at the edge.
In many ways, this is the situation we live in today. Death, sin, violence is all around us. War, corruption, Christians at one anothers’ throats. We know that at any moment we might be overtaken, but in this moment, God’s grace is present. Do we believe that God is actively in the process of saving us even though we are not yet out of the woods? This, I think, is what true Christian hope consists in: knowing that while death seems to have the final word over the present world, Christ has conquered this world and is actively creating a new one–made, no less, out of the material of this fallen world! As the Christian fathers suggest, the same waters which silenced Pharaoh’s armies were the waters in which Israel received a sort of baptism into God’s covenant. God is calling Christians to trudge on through the intimidating waters. We, if anyone, should know that there is light at the other end of the tunnel, that there is hope in the midst of darkness. Jesus proved this, showing us that even crucifixion–the most brutal form of death the world had to offer–could not defeat him. Particularly in this Easter season, if we cannot carry this hope–the hope that suffering really can lead to life–and carry it like an emblem within ourselves as we struggle through the darkness of our times, who is the rest of an increasingly hopeless world supposed to look to?