The book of Exodus tells the story of God calling Israel out of slavery into new life. One of my favorite parts of this story happens after the burning bush and the plagues, when Pharaoh has finally allowed the Hebrews to go. They’ve had their Passover meal, gathered the wealth of their masters and are on their way.
Suddenly Pharaoh realizes that the Egyptian economy cannot survive the loss of slave labor and sends the full power of the military after them. The Hebrews look back and see the Egyptian army baring down on them. They are frightened. They want to go back. Seriously. They want to go back to being slaves in Egypt. They even tell Moses that they warned him that they would die in the desert if they followed him.
Moses understands that what they are feeling is fear. They don’t really want to go back, but they are afraid to go forward, so Moses finds a third way: “Do not be afraid, stand firm.” Don’t go back, don’t go forward, just stand still “and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today…The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still (Exodus 14:13).” Moses encourages and models a commendable faith in God. Sounds good, right? Don’t go backwards, just stand still. Put your trust in God. Moses believes that God will accomplish everything by Godself, humans are merely recipients of grace and spectators in God’s theatre.
But God disagrees. God hears their cries and Moses’ advice and responds: “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!” Don’t go back, don’t stand still! Get moving! And you, Moses, “lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it (Exodus 14:15-16).” We are in this together, now do your part!
COVID-19 has us hunkered down in our homes. We worship from our couches and nurture our relationship with God and with one another. We long for the day when we can go back to worship in person in our sanctuaries. Or, maybe our longing goes even further back than that–we long for the day when our sanctuaries were full and we felt part of something exciting. We are not the Israelites, we do not see our past pursuing us into the Red Sea.
And yet. How much time do we spend crying out to God from our couches, praying for a return to a romantic memory of our past? Do you hear God saying: Don’t worry, I’ll fix everything, you just have another cup of coffee and watch? If that’s what you are hearing, could be you are listening to Moses. God says to us as God said to the Israelites: “Why are you crying out to me? Go forward!” Pray and ACT. It’s true, the actions we can participate in now are different than they were before, but they are no less real. What is God calling us to move toward? Maybe that’s what we should be praying about.
Rev. Dr. Marj Funk-Pihl
DEM, SWCA Synod