In her book Night Visions, Jan Richardson writes “When you have thrown the cloak of evening across me, and when you have drawn your midnight hand across my face; when you have made my soul as dark as the nighttime sky, and when the shadows are my only companions; then, O God, turn my face upward, that I may know the grace of stars and give myself to rest.”
The first time I encountered this poem was in 2012, 5 years ago—just days after the horrific event at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since then more stories of mass shootings just keep coming–Washington DC, San Bernardino, Orlando….and now Las Vegas. Each senseless tragedy has us feeling the weight of the “cloak of evening” and wrestling with the ‘midnight hand’ that draws across the face of humanity. For a story that should never be told, we hear it far too often. Evil makes itself known again and again.
Evil is present in the Old Testament story today too. Egypt had been a brutal regime built on the backs of slaves. Pharaoh cared more about maintaining his power and comfort than about recognizing and honoring the humanity of Israelites. His heart is hard. Sin and evil have a firm hold on him. Time and time again he’s given a chance to choose a different path but instead, he pursues the Israelites, preferring them dead, not free.
The Israelites have begun their journey toward the Promised Land. But when the Egyptians catch up to them at the edge of the sea, it seems their freedom may be short-lived. Caught between the army and the sea, a terrifying space that holds inevitable death, the Israelites forget the promise of God’s rescuing them.
With fear and dread, they turn on Moses: “What have you done?…It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”. Moses proves to be the leader they need. In the face of evil, he remains a non-anxious presence. He reminds them of God’s promise and gives them something to do. His words are a formula that can be helpful for us too.
In some ways, the world isn’t dramatically different from those thousands of years ago. Evil still exists. Sin takes hold of our hearts. We live with fear and dread. In the space between chaos and threat, we wonder where God is. We fail to trust God’s promise that there is a way forward, free from the way of sin and death.
Moses says to the people: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…the LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
These same commands have power to strengthen us in faith and shape our lives today. First, in the face of evil, do not be afraid. Call to mind who you are—people of God, children of God. As followers of Jesus, we are shaped by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of what God has accomplished through him we can trust that love wins, not evil…that acts of care whittle away at sin, and that life comes out of death. Service to neighbor that puts others’ needs before our own is the truest way to live like Christ.
As people of faith, we can dare to enter into service for the other and to show up in spaces where loneliness, hopelessness, and despair exist. Between chaos and threat, the Holy Spirit empowers us to witness to the unrelenting grace of God who forgives our sins and leads us into everlasting life. As people of faith, we can dare to live in this world while seeking to live according to the values of the world to come. And so we do. Fear is real, but so is the power of God and by God’s power hope lives.
Do not be afraid. Moses says. Stand firm. The letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10 says it like this: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful”. The author is making a case to the Hebrew people that because of what God has accomplished through Christ they can have confidence that they are made holy in the presence of God. They need not waver. In faith, we can stand firm. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we are brought closer to God. Because of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us nothing can separate us from God’s presence and love—not death, not demons, not doubt, nor anything else in all creation! Author Joyce Rupp writes: “there is never a moment when God’s great love is not keeping vigil with us, surrounding us with mercy and compassion.”
1– Do not be afraid. 2–Stand firm. And 3: See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.
The story of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army is the bedrock of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. We hear about it throughout the bible. The prophets proclaim the story again and again; the psalms sing it verse after verse; authors of New Testament letters write about it too: See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.
The Exodus story testifies to the power God has to defeat oppressors and deliver the oppressed. This is a justice story that reveals the heart of God. God opposes the death-dealing ways of the world. Privilege and money and power will not prevail over justice and love. The Exodus story is a defining story about who God is and how God chooses to act in the world: God saves; God rescues; God provides; God is faithful.
And here’s something amazing too: God’s rescue story includes you. In the waters of baptism, God has rescued you and me from the ways of evil and the power of sin and death. In baptism, God names you, child of God and so you are forever caught up into the communion of saints and given a future that neither death nor the devil can destroy.
This is the message of baptism that Paul proclaims in the reading we heard earlier from Romans: that through baptism we are united to Christ. And if we are united to Christ, then what is true of him is true of us. Sin is no longer master over us. God’s grace is our reality and we are able to join with Christ in the work of that reality alive in the world.
Is this promise from God enough? In moments of tragedy? And injustice? In times of uncertainty? In the face of evil? Is this one promise enough? We are conditioned to doubt the power of one. How much easier it is to believe that while one is good, certainly more would be better.
But God’s way is not our way. We gather here, week after week, month after month, year after year, and for generations to come to be reminded of that. In this community we tell the stories of God’s life-giving promise handed down through people of faith; we taste God’s life-giving promise in the meal we share that feeds us with the presence of Christ, and we are sent into the world, to see and name and participate in God’s saving work that happens every time another’s needs is met before our own. Do not be afraid. Stand firm. See the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today. This is God’s promise to you—a promise that empowers you to embody God’s grace in the world. Amen.