We heard the Exodus text just over a week ago at the Great Vigil. There it’s followed by this prayer:
O God, whose wonderful deeds of old shine forth even to our own day, you once delivered by the power of your mighty arm your chosen people from slavery under Pharaoh, to be a sign for us of the salvation of all nations by the water of Baptism: Grant that all the peoples of the earth may be numbered among the offspring of Abraham, and rejoice in the inheritance of Israel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (BCP 289)
Coming at it cold, and, perhaps, more awake, the story may give us pause. Is this what the soldiers in Pharaoh’s army signed up for (if choice was even involved), soldiers not unlike those serving our country for which we pray weekly. We humans live in societies in which we’re profoundly interconnected. It makes our life possible; it allows both dying and killing to cascade.
The Jews have wrestled with this story, as in this saying: “God silenced the song of the angels with the words: ‘The work of My hands is drowning in the sea, and ye wish to chant songs!” (Ginzberg The Legends of the Jews, VI.12).
Can we bail with “Well, that’s the god of the Old Testament for you”? Not with today’s Gospel: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” The God at work in Jesus: the God who orchestrated the Exodus.
Where might this reflection end up? Here’s one possibility: all those Egyptians “dead on the seashore”: we owe it to them not to replicate Egypt’s idolatry and oppression in our common life. Otherwise, they truly would have died for nothing.