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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, September 11, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 14:19–31

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

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. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, 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. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (NRSV)

This story from Exodus 14 is a critical piece of the ritual meal that is the Passover Seder. The Seder liturgy takes time to remember how God acted so purposefully in Israel’s deliverance and to praise God for that work. At the same time, however, the liturgy also makes another powerful statement. It acknowledges the suffering of the Egyptians, not just in the ten plagues but also in this moment when the sea closed in.

This is from the leader’s part of the liturgy: “Our rabbis taught: The Torah recounts that when our people passed through the parted waters of the Sea, in their flight from Egypt, Pharaoh’s armies drowned as they pursued them. The Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. God silenced them and said, ‘My children are perishing . . . How can you sing praises?’” (The New Union Haggadah: Revised Edition, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2014).

Then, together, all of the people respond, “Though we are the descendants of those redeemed from Egyptian cruelty, and have ourselves rejoiced to see our oppressors overcome, yet our triumph is diminished by the suffering of our enemies, also children of God.”

Each time I have participated in Chicago Sinai Congregation’s interfaith Seder ritual, I have been struck by this moment. Even in their celebration of liberation, our Jewish neighbors still take the time to acknowledge the suffering of their oppressors and to speak of them as God’s children. As we continue to live in such polarized days, how different might our relationships with other people be if we learned from this Jewish liturgy and took it to heart? How different might our country be if we remembered that those we typically refer to as “enemy” are also God’s children and always mourned their suffering as if it were also our own?

Liberating God, free me from all that sets me against my neighbor. Teach me to look upon each person I meet as one of your people. Give me the courage to love my enemies, as I do my friends. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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