Take a moment to go back in memory a couple months ago now. For those of us who live here in B.C. I am specifically thinking about what was happening here in our province in about mid-June. What I want you to remember is that back in mid-June, things in our province were beginning to open up. We were told that we could begin to travel within the province and then eventually outside of the province. Masks regulations were lifting. We could have people in our homes. Do you remember what that felt like?
Many of us did begin to travel again. My family went to Victoria for the weekend and it was wonderful to get out of the house. It was like we had been set free. Over the course of the summer people began to gather together for all kinds of celebrations. One person I know cooked a Turkey in the middle of July and hung stockings on the fireplace because his mother and his sister were coming to visit for the first time in almost two years and they had missed their Christmas celebrations. Weddings that had been postponed were celebrated. Grandparents held new grandbabies for the first time. Some of us even had spontaneous dance parties in our kitchens because we were so overcome with the joy of sharing a meal with our friends we couldn’t contain our happiness.
Maybe what you felt back in mid-June or at various points in the summer was grief and joy both at the same time. Because when we have gone through a harrowing time and we experience even just a bit of release from what we’ve been experiencing, tears start flowing, tears of relief and tears of grief both at the same time.
These feelings we’ve had are the same kind of feelings that Moses and Miriam and the women who picked up their tambourines and started dancing together on the far side of the Red Sea were experiencing after they had narrowly escaped death at the hands of Pharoah’s army. They danced for joy and they danced with relief. They danced in awe and they danced in wonder. They danced with a spirit of liberation and a spirit of vindication. Maybe they danced out their grief for all they had lost when they had been enslaved.
When we tell our children the story of Moses and how he dared to stand up to Pharoah demanding that Pharoah release his people from the bonds of slavery; when we tell them how God sent plague after plague upon the land of Eygypt until Pharoah finally let the people go; when we tell them how even though Pharoah said they could go and he changed his mind at the last minute and sent his army after the Israelites and how the people stood upon the shores of the Red Sea with the army honing in on them and they did not know how they were going to make it out alive; When we tell them how God said to Moses hold up your staff and Moses held up his staff and the waters suddenly began to part and the people walked across the Sea on dry land; When we tell them how Pharoahs army followed them into the sea and how their wheels got stuck in the mud until the sea washed back over them and they were drowned; when we tell them how the Israelites made it to the other side safely; when we tell the children all these amazing things, at least one child always asks “Is that true? Did that really happen?” I always respond, well we don’t know if that really happened but what we do know is there is truth in the story.
There is no scholarly evidence that the story of the Exodus is historically true. Which is a good thing because even though we all love a good Marvel movie where the forces of good defeat the forces of evil, our contemporary, progressive Christian ears are not so keen on stories where God is fighting on the side of good and killing off the “bad guys.” Somewhere in our being we have actually appropriated the notion that God loves everyone regardless of race or creed etc.
The truth in this story is not that God will eventually kill off all our enemies. The truth in this story is that throughout history people both groups of people and individuals become enslaved. Sometimes people literally become enslaved. Sometimes people become trapped in jobs, in relationships, in addictions, in unhealthy patterns of behaviour, in poor health in general, in their houses when it is not safe to go to church or to the office or to the home of our newborn grandchild. That’s the truth in this story. We become enslaved.
The truth is also that whenever that happens, God, the source of life, the force of good, the great liberator, is always on the side of bringing people to a place of freedom and restoration There are casualties along the way. God is not all powerful but God is a God of freedom.
The truth in this story is that when we dare to move forward and to step out into the midst of chaos (in ancient literature the sea often represents chaos or the great unknown) it is often the case that the waters part, a way forward appears and God, the sacred is made manifest within us in the form of courage and strength and wisdom to cross over to a new land.
In this time in history we can look back and see that although we continue to be pursued by Covid-19, by racism, climate change and the fractures that exist between indigenous and non-indigenous people, there have been moments when the waters have parted and we have taken a collective step forward, maybe not all the way through to the safety of the other side but momentum has been gaining. There have been ways that we have been set free.
And we need to celebrate those gains and those hard won freedoms. We need to celebrate the moments from the last several months when we have experienced a sense of deliverance, new beginnings, moments of relief and prayers that have been answered, moments of wonder awe and grace – both the big moments and the little moments. And those celebrations need to be shared.
It’s said that the story of the prophet Miriam singing and dancing on the shores of the Red Sea, banging on her tambourine with all the women joining in alongside her is the first act of ritual recorded in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. The first act of ritual recorded in an act of celebration.
I believe we were made for communal celebration. It’s why it’s been so hard to celebrate Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays and to honour the lives we have lost without the capacity to join together. It’s why we’ve found all kinds of ways to do those celebrations communally even while we’ve been apart. We’ve eaten dinner with our families on zoom, we’ve had car parades and birthday parties at windows and gatherings in our backyards that Bonnie Henry may or may not have entirely approved. Celebrations need to be shared.
It’s been difficult for families and its been difficult for communities of faith that are used to celebrating and giving thanks together especially for those things in our lives that feel more than a bit miraculous. In the Christian tradition, celebration is something that both unites us and reminds us who we are. It’s why when we gather at table we take the time to remember, to remember the way God, liberating presence and source of life itself has been and continues to be present in our lives setting us free and luring us towards wholeness and liberation for all.
In the story of the Exodus, when the Israelites reached dry land and Pharoah’s army lay defeated at the bottom of the sea, Moses sang and Miriam danced. The people gathered together and celebrated so that they might always remember that first moment of liberation. They needed to do that because as the story goes, it would take them another 40 years of wandering around in the desert before they reached the land that had been promised to them.
My hope is that it will not take 40 years for us to get out of this pandemic or for racism to be buried at the bottom of the sea once and for all or to heal the devastating wounds inflicted on our Indigenous brothers and sisters. But I know from experience that when you are wandering around in the desert of confusion, grief and despair, standing half way between an ending and a new beginning looking for the right way forward it can feel like the journey will never end, especially when you thought you were at the finish line and apparently its still a long way off.
And so it’s important for us from time to time, especially when we are gathered together to pause and to celebrate. It’s important because celebrations bind us together. They build us up and remind us who we are and who God, the great force of liberation is. And we have become far too divided in these days, so we need to come together.
What miracle, what answered prayer, what deliverance have you experienced over the last several months that you would like to celebrate and share?