They must have been scared. They must have been disoriented. Joy must have been absent. Laughter had long ceased. Their life and community continued to be in tumult. Darkness was descending. The people of Israel at the beginning of the Book of Exodus had endured bondage under pharaoh, slavery…sufferings long dominated their existence.
They were told to leave and to trust in their deliverance from slavery – they were told that they would be brought into the wilderness, into the promise land and the land flowing of milk and honey. They were given a leader, Moses. A leader who’s very name means to draw out, to deliver. So they followed Moses, they followed the voice of God.
Yet, they continue to cry out. In great fear, they cried out to Lord, why lord, where are you lord (v.10)? What is happening to us, Lord? They must have cried out to God with full throat, with all heart and from a deep sense of fear.
Old Testament Scholar Walter Bruggeman calls Exodus “the primal scream that permits the beginning history.” Bruggeman is pointing to the constant fear, grief, suffering experienced by Israel. A constant Lament, that roots the origin of God’s people, Israel, in suffering, and crying out to God for salvation
This crying becomes part and parcel to the liberation of God’s people.
It is at this emotional location, with this Primal Scream, that we pick up the story of Israel and the story of God in today’s reading.
In creation, God spirit hovered over the deep, over pain, death and grief – over the pit. God hovers over the Israelites, now. The cloud, God, lights up the darkness, shines the light into the death and despair felt by Israel. The Psalmists says; Darkness is not Dark to you. The night will shine like day to you; darkness is light to you. But darkness, is darkness for the Israelites, and this band of brothers and sisters had reached the shoreline…they were tired and beaten down, and facing this huge body of water in front of them they began to hear the distant beat of Pharaoh’s army. The hooves of the horses and sounds of the riders are becoming louder and louder. Israel must have been at a point of exasperation or “PANIC” as Sally Lloyd Jones writes in the Jesus Story Book Bible.
The panic must have been real and the spiritual captures this perfectly, “Oppressed so hard they could not stand; let my people go.”
God is hovering over those who cannot stand, who cannot move and who are facing the sea on one side and pharaoh’s army on the other. Water on one side and their sworn enemy on the other. They must have felt as if they could not stand and no way to walk– this cloud that hovered over top as the horses marched towards Israel and the waves crashed at their feet. Unable to stand, darkness descends, Israel on its knees, terrified about is next and fear, and sadness clawing into the hearts and minds of this community. The moment of darkness must have been the final straw. Why God, they must have thought? `
God creates a path through the water- on Dry Land – on desert-cracked land. Hard land, tough to walk on land, a scary walk with walls of water on each side – the water seemed poised to engulf everyone and wash them away.
God is present in the face of suffering, in the face of lament, God shows up; God hears and listens to the primal scream. God hears the primal scream. God provides a walk through the sea, a walk that is not a lazy river at great wolf lodge, rather it is the long walk taken by Andy Dufrain in the film Shawshank Redemption. Andy crawls through 500 yards of sewer pipe to escape the prison.
Bob Dylan captures the feeling of the Israelites in his song Not Dark Yet
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.
We remember Exodus stories as triumphant marches. AS God’s omnipotent power liberating God’s people. We think of them as walks on the beach, not as crawling through the sewer. We have to recognize the rawness of the Israelites. The panic, the confusion, the lack of God’s voice and the ever presence of the coming night sky captures the emotions of this people as they prepare to walk on the dry land – desert land – sewer pipes- this is the story of the Red Sea and the deliverance for Israel. For Israel, like Dylan, they felt like they were standing still and every nerve in their body was naked and numb. This feeling must have engulfed the people even as God Creates.
This past week two members of our community died. The tragic and sad loss of Sherri and Ben leave all of us feeling raw and numb. The grief settling over us like the nighttime sky without the moon. The feeling of being trapped, and lost and scared. Why God, why God, echoes in our ears and hearts!
We feel the darkness over this community as we mourn the loss of Ben and Sherry. We grieve for their families, for their brothers and sisters, children, parents, friends, we feel this together in our Church Community. We ask why, and we cry. We offer our own primal scream.
We wring our hands, and our heart breaks. We look to God for guidance and feel lost and unsure of God’s presence in the darkness. We feel the grief and fear of the Israelites. The walls of our community seem to be crashing in around us. So we lament to God, Why God, Why God?
In the climactic story of the Red Sea, Moses steps into the breach and the Lord orders him to raise his staff and open his arms. The seas part and the Israelites began a passage toward the other side that will lead to their deliverance. The deliverance is not from our grief, but through our grief. God is not absence from our grief and Moses points to another man on a hill. The outstretched arms of Moses give way to Christ’s outstretched arms on the hard wood of the cross. Arms stretched out for you and me. Christ stretches our arms out on the cross for us. Christ cries out My God My God, for us, to join us in our grief, in our fear, in our sadness. God join us in our suffering, in our grief, through the cross of Christ, and it is on the other side of this Cross- that we find Salvation.
Nicholas Wolterstorf writes about the character of God:
God is Love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering Love. (Lament for a Son, p.90)
God loves us to the depth that God did not remain absent from our pain rather God entered into our pain, and let out his own Primal Scream, My God, My God, for us. God suffers for the world because God loves the world. God, on the cross, hears and is present to our screams of WHY God, My God, because God issued this same cry.
In Christ Jesus, we have the ultimate advocate, God himself, embedded into this cry, this is not just the cry of lament, but the cry of hope and freedom because God, through his Son, not only suffered and wept with us, but died for us on the cross, and in this final act of sacrifice gave us eternal life. And promises to suffer with us in our grief, promises to cry and to love us through the grief, promises to cry for us when cannot, promises to hold us when we cannot, God through his Son Jesus Christ, holds out his wounded arms and delivers us through the pain, not out of it, until that day when Christ will return, in all Glory and splendor and every tear will be wiped away.