As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day
from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
- Exodus 14:10-11, 21-22, 30a
It is quite amazing that this Red Sea crossing is still so captivating to us, even after all of the other kinds of high-speed chases and other sorts of close escapes that we have portrayed in literature, our news and on film. The parting of the Red Sea is a moment so fantastic, miraculous, mysterious and terrifying all at once, that it always reminds me that there is no shortage of great stories to discover in the Bible. My favorite rendering of this passage is in the Dreamworks
animated film, Prince of Egypt. As the water forms walls to make way for the Israelites, the dry ground before them is rough and rocky. Despite this miraculous path that God makes way for through Moses, the way is still treacherous. Wagons and carts are left behind as wheels cannot turn and axles snap. We watch the Israelites make decisions about leaving behind their worldly goods for freedom that lies ahead.
Yet before we even get this far, I am amazed by the first person to dare step foot between those high walls of water. Is it trust or faith? Desperation? Nowhere else to go? I have never seen a visual portrayal of this story that did not capture the risk and uncertainty that the Israelites felt in stepping onto that dry land in between the Red Sea waters.
These days we hear so much talk about walls, travel bans and other attempts to keep in some and keep others out. This story always reminds me to have compassion for those who are seeking refuge. Our brothers and sisters who are so desperate to get away from where they have lived that they’ll step into God knows what - a long asylum seeking process, a refugee camp, a raft, the back of a delivery truck - to get away and reach their hands for whatever freedom might be in their grasp somewhere else.
This story also reminds me that when the walls, the travel bans, or even large bodies of water appear impossible to cross, tear down or overcome that we need to turn to God to see what impossible way God might be preparing through us to give passage for the oppressed and poor. And when we
discover the way that God reveals to us, may we find the courage to take that first step even when the road ahead appears uncertain and unsteady.
- The Rev’d Jenny Owen, Assistant to the Rector