I like the book of Exodus.
If you read my blog on any kind of a regular basis, you probably already knew that. I tend to refer to the Exodus a lot. The Exodus story is one of those stories that really resonates with me as a follower of God. It’s a story about a God who calls a stuttering geriatric criminal refugee to lead a slave revolt against the most powerful nation on Earth. What’s not to like about that? Exodus is the greatest underdog story in the history of underdog stories.
The story is filled with iconic moment after iconic moment. The baby Moses in a basket in the Nile, the fiery bush that never burns up, the 10 plagues, the blood of the passover lamb on the doorway of the Israelites, the pillar of cloud and fire.
The parting of the Red Sea.
I’ve spend some time exploring about other aspects of the Exodus story in this blog, but this time I want to talk about the parting of the Red Sea, because I really think it’s one of the most important moments in all of Scripture.
Moses raises his staff. The winds blow in, and the water parts, leaving a path through the middle of the Red Sea. The Hebrews cross on dry ground, and their enemies are swallowed up in the Red Sea as it closes in behind them. The Israelites go from certain death to new life. They emerge on the other side of the Red Sea a new people, no longer Egyptian slaves, but free Hebrews. Yahweh’s people.
The Hebrews’ oppressors follow them into the path that God has created for them, and they are swallowed up in the sea. The oppressors are lost in the chaos of the sea, and the Hebrews are birthed to a new existence as the people of God. It is a creation story.
And actually, it has similarities to the creation story in Genesis 1. When God creates in Genesis 1, he does so by separating water from water. On day 2, he separates the water to create sky, and on day 3 he separates water to create dry land, and the dry land brings life, first in the form of plants and later in the form of animals and then people.
Separating water from water to create dry land and bring life… that’s the language of the Exodus account, isn’t it?
In the Exodus event, the Israelites cross over the Red Sea because God has separated water from water. He creates a dry path in the middle of the chaos of the Red Sea and leads his people into the Promised Land. God delivers his people from the chaos of slavery and oppression in Egypt (eventually) to a land flowing with milk and honey by way of the separated waters of the Red Sea.
Exodus is a new creation story. It’s a retelling of Creation in a way that places the Hebrew people directly in the center of it. This is the pivotal moment in Israelite history.
And it sounds a lot like baptism when you think about it.
When God calls his people to himself, he provides an escape from the slavery of sin through the waters of baptism. There is a path to the promised land in the water, wherein the oppression of slavery to sin is washed away by passing through the water.
Baptism is a participation in the Exodus story. In baptism, The Hebrew story becomes our story. Their deliverance becomes our deliverance. Their new creation story becomes our new creation story.
No wonder we resonate with it so much.
When we enter into relationship with Christ, we participate in the Exodus story. We participate in the new creation of God’s people.
Actually, we become participants in the whole story of scripture by entering into the waters of baptism. It stops being just a Hebrew witness of God’s working in history, and it becomes our witness of what God continues to do in the lives of Christians all over the world.
One of the hallmarks of my own faith tradition, the Church of Christ, is the emphasis on baptism for salvation. While it’s true that this can (and has, at times) become somewhat of a legalistic requirement in some pockets of Churches of Christ, I also deeply appreciate that my heritage recognizes the importance of baptism. Not as a holy bath, or an arbitrary measure of faith, but as a participation in the overarching story of scripture, spanning from the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 all the way until the Amens at the end of Revelation. By joining Christ in baptism, we become participants in the whole story of God’s interaction with history. The whole story of the Hebrew people becomes more than just a story of what God did, but becomes a story of what God is currently doing in us.
We recognize the Exodus event as being something that continues to happen, and baptism is our way of joining in it. The power of the Exodus story for the Church is not that it’s a cool thing that God did once upon a time for the Hebrew people as they were trying to get their start as a nation. The power of the Exodus story is that it continues to be a part of the way God interacts with the world. The Exodus story is not a historical story nearly so much as it is an ongoing, perpetual story of deliverance.
What this means for us is that scripture takes on a whole new life in the waters of baptism. Scholars can debate the historicity of scripture, and they probably will for the rest of time, but this historical nature of scripture is the least important aspect of it for Christians. What makes the Exodus story powerful isn’t that it happened, but that it happens. What makes the Bible authoritative in the lives of Christians isn’t that it is Absolute Historical Truth, but that it is the shared experience of all the followers of God. By entering into the waters of baptism, we enter into a deeper story of communion and deliverance with everyone who has chosen a relationship with God.
This is the power of the Exodus story. This is the power of baptism. This is the magnitude of belonging to the community of God-Followers.
May we join in the Exodus story with everything we have. May we lose ourselves in the story of God’s Creation, Redemption, and Deliverance. May we enter into the waters of baptism, and find life.