As those of us who are Christians enter Holy Week, our sisters, brothers, and family of faith in the Jewish community are engaged this week in celebrating the joy and challenge of Passover, the story of their journey out of slavery into freedom.
I thought to celebrate and remember this event, it is appropriate to re-post a devotional I wrote some time out of the story of the life of Moses. I hope it helps you embrace the call to freedom, justice, and new life at the heart of the Passover story which is central to the faith of our Jewish friends in faith, and also which is the foundation for the way of Jesus embraced by we Christians and also the path of fidelity to one God at the heart of the paths our Muslim and Sikh friends journey.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
I See Your pain, Your suffering, Your sorrow
7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
As I reflect on these words, I try to imagine where Moses and the people of Israel are in their own journey as Moses hears these words. “I have observed… I have heard … I know … I have come down…”
In their experience of oppression and rejection, they have likely felt unseen and unheard. I have never experienced the oppression, slavery, and abuse the people of Israel faced in the days leading up to the Exodus, but I know in my own experience of loss, suffering, and pain, so often I feel invisible to others. Walk into a crowd, seeing others laughing, smiling, and talking, while I feel I am dying inside. In my own recent experience of grief, many times I felt like one unseen and unknown.
As I listen to the voices of those around me facing oppression – people of color, women, queer friends, people with disabilities, people of minority religions – it seems as if often this is their experience of life. Why is it young people stand on street corners with signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Our Lives Matter Too” if they do not feel as if the world in which they live doesn’t truly see them for who they are?
The message Moses is given, Israel is given, and we are given in this moment of breakthrough is “I know. I see. I have observed. I hear. I am coming down”. We are being told that, all appearances to the contrary, God does see us, know our potential and our pain, our heartache and our heart longings.
To be honest, as I type these words, I cannot but sympathize with the skepticism those who are hurting face into when hearing such promise. It can be reassuring, but…
But as I grieved the death of my late wife, whom I prayed and prayed would live conquering her illness, I had a hard time seeing God as there, God as holding my life in God’s hands.
I see too how if I was facing oppression, I would ask “Why does God not deliver me from this?” and “if God is so good, how can this happen?”
Moses does not get an answer to this question, which is troubling but also fairly easy to understand. It does not seem to matter how much we cry, question, even holler at the Almighty, I do not think we ever find satisfactory answers, although through that experience many of us, like Moses, experience an all embracing lovingkindness that comes alongside us, letting us know we are not alone but somehow God is with us.
The answer Moses gets, Israel gets, that we all get, is a challenge: I see your pain. I see the pain of those around you. And so I tell you I am with you. I am with them. And if you want to truly know and experience me, partner with me. Join my hand to yours, and let us work to right this together.
We are invited to use our experience of pain and loss not to shatter us, not to cause us to throw up our hands and give up on life, but to be present with those so hurting around us. For some of us it means sitting with them as compassionate friend, neighbor, relative, or partner. Listening, holding their hand. Reminding them as we do not give up on them that God has not given up on them through our actions.
For some it means taking our hand to the plow, engaging in what our Jewish brothers and sisters call tikkun olam, repairing the world. We can work to help ensure those struggling and oppressed have basic needs met. We can work to repair systems that keep others in oppression. We can work to consider the injustice, prejudice, and discrimination, in front of us woven into the very fabric of our community.
For some right now, this is particularly painful. Many, like me, look at those who have acted in pain, fear, and anger, voting for people and policies that promote intolerance and discrimination against the least of these in our communities. We feel heart-broken. How? How can we move forward?
We must remember, we are seen. Those on the fringes are seen. Our heartache is a place in which God can be found, calling us forth to find our place in mending the brokenness that birthed such fearful circumstances.
Like Moses, I do not have answers. But like him, I am reassured. We are not alone. There is a lovingkindess that encircles our lives, like a mother hen wraps her chicks in her many-feathered wings. And we are called to embody this lovingkindness in this world.
Though we hurt, though we are full of fear, let us choose to embrace that love and live it out.
Your progressive redneck preacher,