The Red Sea
Two young men sit by the door of their tent. Positioned at the edge of the camp, their view of the southward road is unobstructed. They are part of the rear guard, but no passing travelers have dared trouble their people—six hundred thousand strong as they are. There is a cool breeze off the sea today, and the men talk at their ease to pass the afternoon hours. After a while one of them points to the south. “Elishua, look,” he says. “What is that?” On the horizon, a dust cloud rises.
“A caravan?” suggests his friend, somewhat haltingly.
“It would be an awfully big one.”
“It’s not…Yoel, you don’t think…”
“It’s billowing like a storm is brewing. I think one is.”
They are both on their feet now, straining eyes and ears and every muscle to learn the source of the disturbance. After a while they descry glints of light—sun reflected off metal. Not yet can they hear the rumble of wheels, but it will soon come, like a low thunder.
“Egyptians!” they cry. “Pharoah’s army!” In other quarters the alarm is already sounding. These young guards are not the only ones who have noticed the approaching army. The camp stirs to a panic, the distressed complaints going straight to Moses: “…you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us?” Moses’ reply passes from person to person, tent to tent: Fear not! …Stand your ground…the Lord himself will fight for you….” A little later another message comes: the Lord has said to go forward.
“Forward?” queries Elishua, glancing from the mountains to the sea to the army marching up the road. He can now make out the shapes of men, chariots, and horses. It looks as if all Pharoah’s warriors have come. “Where exactly can we go?” Nevertheless, they strike their tent and make ready to move. All the Israelites busily pull together their belongings, glad to have something to do other than watch their enemies close in.
Yoel looks at the sea, purpled by the light of the setting sun. Its pristine beauty has faded in his eyes; he sees only an obstacle hemming him in. “Well,” he says thoughtfully, “we’re ready. For whatever comes next.” So he thinks. But who could be ready to march between walls of water on a sea-bed road?
The light fades quickly, but even the twilight shows the figures of the Egyptians. They are close at hand and are clearly preparing to camp for the night.
“Look, the cloud! It’s moving!” Elishua cries. He is not referring to the cloud of dust stirred by marching feet, but rather the pillar. The pillar that has already become a steady companion on their journey. Yes, it is moving, and it settles between the rival camps. The normal nighttime fiery glow ceases.
“The Lord, the Lord shields us!” Yoel exclaims, gazing toward the dusky pillar.
“What? I can’t hear you…the wind is picking up.”
To walk along the sandy bottoms of the sea, plunging forward into… air, open space! To tread between soaring walls of water, what can this be like? Here is one who is exuberant at the escape opened before him; here is another who will only go in holding someone’s hand; there is the one who reasons that, if he sea does come crashing down, at least he won’t die at the hand of an enemy; and yet again, there is the one who sings God’s praises the whole way down this unforeseen road. Did anyone dare to run his hand through the water to his side or stoop to pick up a shell?
The night slowly passes. Our two young guards watch the slow movement of their people and listen for any sounds coming from the Egyptian camp. At last it is their turn; they step into the sea bed. The stars twinkle overhead, the passage of the Israelites is hushed. It feels like a dream, except for the wind in their faces.
They plod along quietly. After some time, Elishua turns his head, listening. “I hear the creaking of wheels,” he murmurs. He leans over toward his friend, points behind them and says, “They’re pursuing us.” Yoel nods, loosening his long knife, the only weapon he has.
The horizon lightens to a dull gray. Many Israelites have gained the far shore. Suddenly a light flashes, fiery red. Elishua, startled, gasps. “The cloud! …” His voice trails off, for suddenly behind them come shouts of confusion. “They’re sounding the retreat!”
“The Lord is fighting for us!” cries Yoel.
When they reach the shore, amidst the other guards, Moses is there keeping an eye on the progress. Behind him, the gray horizon has lightened to a pale yellow. “Are you the last?” he calls. “Yes,” one of the men answers. “None have straggled behind.”
“Then move on a bit farther,” says Moses as he stretches his hand toward the water.
The sea crashes into place, water hurtling heavenward and splashing back upon itself. The sun’s red disc emerges above the horizon. Night has passed, and with the dawn has come freedom. The Lord has indeed won the victory for them.
* * *
This event of events was never to be forgotten by Israel. God fought for them, He delivered them, saved them from their enemies. The Lord brought them out of slavery into freedom. The Israelites could look back on this tremendous moment in history and remember: here was a time when God led them, freed them, showed His love for them. The Exodus reminded them of their identity and the call to live faithfully as God’s Chosen People.
Even so, we who are baptized have experienced greater marvels. Greater than the crossing of the Red Sea?! Yes, for we have been adopted as God’s children and live in the freedom of the sons of God. We look forward to a heavenly inheritance, but even now we live the new life Jesus has won for us, life in the Spirit. Though to the human eye it may not look greater, there is no doubt that what we received in Baptism is greater than all the wonder of the Red Sea crossing. “You,” says St. John Chrysostom, “did not see Pharaoh drowned with his armies, but you have seen the devil with his weapons overcome by the waters of baptism. The Israelites passed through the sea; you have passed from death to life. They were delivered from the Egyptians; you have been delivered from the powers of darkness. The Israelites were freed from slavery to a pagan people; you have been freed from the much greater slavery to sin.” What the Exodus prefigured was fulfilled in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. In Baptism we were brought into that mystery, the Paschal mystery, and given a share of the fruits of redemption. Life in Christ. Yes, indeed, this is a great marvel, an amazing gift.
This is what we will remember at the Easter Vigil as we recommit to our Baptismal promises. In the midst of the trials of these current times, how much we need this reminder that the Lord has made us His own! Let us use these remaining days of Lent to prepare to greet the Risen Lord at Easter with souls that have been purified by repentance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving and with grateful hearts. And let us take heart, for as God chose us as His own, brought us from death to life, freed us from the powers of darkness and from slavery to sin, so He will continue to lead, guide, watch over and love us.
Sr. Cecilia, CFR