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The Crossing of the Red Sea

July 21, 2015

Exodus 14: 21- 15:1                                      Tuesday 21st July 2015

I had the privilege yesterday of going to the home of a Nigerian couple and their new baby – a lovely family! I went to bless the newborn baby, bless the house and to arrange the baby’s baptism. This is the link with today’s reading from the Book of Exodus. The interesting thing was that as I said to prayers they were joining in and they were giving responses – they were a classic African family: they were delightfully lively…. “Praise the Lord!”….. “Amen”… kept coming through in the middle of the prayers. And you get that around the world. Us English tend to be a little more reserved! But this morning you have excelled! Roger introduced the psalm, that glorious psalm that reminds us of the Easter Vigil – straight into the psalm after the reading! Rejoicing at that amazing miracle of the dividing of the Red Sea. And you responded in kind: I don’t know whether you noticed…. You’re a bit louder than normal so you’re a bit fired up. That’s great. [You’re supposed to shout out ‘Alleluia!’ at that point in my homily! You would in Africa!]

But today’s reading from Exodus really is an historic moment in the history of Israel. A remarkable miracle. Now you do get people who try and get scientific answers to explain how the Red Sea can part. They’ll say, ‘Oh, there were all sorts of weather conditions, and the wind was blowing in a certain direction, and it was that time of year when the tides were low, and it was low and it blew and it divided the sea, and they were able to get through.’ Well, that’s all very interesting but actually we are not into that. It’s interesting to find out HOW, as science always does, but it doesn’t explain WHY. And it also doesn’t explain another miracle: how does Pharaoh, getting across the Red Sea with his 600 chariots and best horses, how come all these trained soldiers drowned in 3 inches of water? This is ridiculous!

So here we are. We are coming to the culmination of the prefiguring of the arrival of Jesus Christ and what He will bring – the New Covenant between God and mankind. So the first prefiguring was when they left Egypt, the Paschal Lamb, the Passover meal: Jesus has been sacrificed for us to save us from slavery of sin. He’s bringing is out of misery to find our true selves, worshipping the true God, allowing us to worship the true God, and to know God better. And remember that was something that the Jews were forbidden to do in Egypt – the Pharaoh would not let in worship.

There is a second pre-figuring which comes today of baptism, and this is what is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1094 and 1221 if you want to look it up, more in 1221).

They crossed from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land through the Red Sea and then there followed 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. And I’m back to yesterday: some things take time. Some people seem to take longer to work out what they need to do. Why did they need 40 years of preparation in the wilderness? Because they had had 400 years of paganism in Egypt. They needed to be brought back to the ways of God and true worship; the same applies to us. We need to be here, practising Catholics, practising being good people in our daily lives. We are preparing for the Promised Land. We have passed through the Red Sea to a journey in this world through the waters of baptism.

But we will not cross the river Jordan into Paradise, into the Promised Land until God decides. That’s when we’ll find the results of our preparation.

Sometimes that crossing across the River Jordan is delayed. I think this is a nice example of the Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory. Moses, during that 40 years – remember that he had been told that he would know at the end that he had done God’s work, that would be the sign – that it happened! Moses certainly had a sign today! Over a period of forty years people sometimes wobble, and it’s difficult for Moses to be in a position of leadership. We learn from Exodus all about how he’s had to learn to delegate… he is spending 40 years setting up the nation and providing an infrastructure; providing the Law for the for the Jewish people; it’s there in the Pentateuch – you’ve got to the Book of Leviticus which lays down the laws that Moses established – we’ll find out more about this later when Moses gets the Ten Commandments. Then as he came towards the end of his life we come to the Book of Deuteronomy: it’s a repetition of Leviticus largely, it’s the law again, reminding them before he goes, Moses telling them, ‘This is what you need to do.’

Moses himself did have moments when he wobbled. Certainly the people had moments of wobbling during that 40 years….. they began to worry that it wasn’t going to happen, and again you’ll see that whilst Moses was away up the mountain with God (we will hear this in a few days time) – they’re worshipping the Golden Calf, they’ve gone back to their pagan ways in desperation.

Preparation takes time. Sometimes we make mistakes. Moses made mistakes, and God said to him ‘You’re not going to be the one to lead them across to the Promised Land. You’re not going to have that honour of going across the River Jordan. That would be the responsibility of the next leader, Joshua. Moses had to wait. He had to wait. He died and he waited a bit longer. That’s the idea of Purgatory, if you like. Not based on time, but it is based on a state: are you ready to see God; are you completely cleansed and ready to see the face of God? It’s not a horrible place like Dante would have us believe, it can be a nice place (apparently, but we don’t know a lot about it). But there, in the book of Exodus, just another idea which feeds into our understanding of what happens after we die. Some people might go straight to heaven: I hope most people do; others, they have to atone for their sins after their death.

[And again, I make this point: some people say ‘I don’t believe in God’, or ‘I don’t think there’s life after death.’ That’s a bad attitude – with closed minds that are not open to spiritual thinking. The problem is that when they die and they find out that there is indeed life after death, what is their attitude going to be? I fear it might be the same, and they’ll just say, ‘Oh, I’m in another place now, and it’s obviously another stage of random events that leave me in existence. I don’t believe it.’ And they’re still stuck there, separated from God. We have to pray for those people. We pray for the souls in Purgatory regularly.]

But today is about our redemption and being saved. Our salvation through baptism, a repetition of the Red Sea. There are plenty of baptisms coming up in this Parish. I always think that they are a joy, and I’ve got a lot coming up in August, a real joy. I have started putting them on the Parish Bulletin, because baptism is the way into the Catholic Church. We start baptism services at the church door symbolically – you come in the door and enter the church. it’s a marvellous example of people who come to God at a time of joy, just like that psalm this morning, and ask God to come into their lives. Some of them drift away again. That’s what happened with the people in the wilderness. They are not lost forever. Baptism is the opportunity to mark the souls of the children through the waters of baptism.

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