“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Some 1600 years ago a man by the name of St. Jerome wrote these famous words. What is often surprising to most people is that Jerome wrote these words in a reflection on Isaiah. Now Isaiah is in the Old Testament and what Jerome was saying, is that to truly know the full identity of Jesus we have to be familiar with all that was written about Him centuries before, and we must be familiar with the many events recorded in the Old Testament, the events that prefigure what Jesus would do for us. If we’re to understand Easter, really understand Easter, we need to know the Old Testament, because all of it prepares for Jesus.
Salvation history is a drama. And God is the author. Great authors often start their novels with characters and events, which at the time; seem obscure and insignificant but later turn out to be crucial for understanding the ending of the story. The Bible is like that. Now, we don’t have time to address all the figures and events that foreshadow Jesus and the great day of Easter. But we must, absolutely must, know well at least one event. That event is known as the Exodus, and it is found way back in the second book of the Bible.
The Jewish people, the Israelites, had been slaves for 430 years in Egypt. And for that whole time they were oppressed by the cruelty of the kings of Egypt, the pharaohs, who took away their freedom and dignity and used them to build the cities and monuments of Egypt. 430 years! That’s almost twice as long as the history of our country. Imagine what our national psyche would be like if, from the date of our founding, we had lived as slaves to another people? Despair would be rampant. Hopelessness would be the norm. Life would seem, and would be in many ways, meaningless. But God rescued the Israelites from their slavery. He did this by raising up a man named Moses, through whom He worked great signs and wonders.
The greatest of all the signs and wonders happened shortly after the Israelites left Egypt when Pharaoh, suddenly awakened to what he had lost, sent his army after them to bring them back. That army finally caught up to them and trapped them at the shores of the Red Sea. And suddenly the Israelites were stuck. In front of them was a body of water. And behind them was the most powerful army in the world. So they did what I would do, what many would do. They complained! They cried out! They despaired! They thought it was hopeless. They thought that the God who had rescued them from slavery would be unable to save them.
But then Moses said to the people. In the midst of all their fear, and confusion, and despair, Moses instructed the people to turn around and to look at the Egyptian army. And as they did so, full of fear, he said to them, “Look well at this army, this enemy that you see today, for you will never see them again!” And with that the waters of the Red Sea parted, and the Israelites walked through as if on dry land, and when the Egyptian army followed in after them, the waters returned to their normal place, destroying forever the slave masters and oppressors of the Israelites.
That event, that real event, is meant to help us understand what is happening today and why we are celebrating with such joy, not just today, but for the next 50 days (we had 40 days of fasting for lent, we now have 50 days of feasting and joy for Easter). The waters of the Red Seas were a foreshadowing of the sacrament of baptism. And just as the Egyptians were drowned in those waters of the Red Seas, so are the sins of those baptized drowned in the waters of the font. Just as that water broke pharaoh’s stranglehold on the Israelites, so will the water of the font destroy the grip of the powers of hell. And Jesus, the new Moses, the one whom Moses foreshadowed, speaks now to those about to enter the waters of baptism and says, “Your sins, those enemies and memories that chase and harass you and accuse you and tell you that you are stuck the way you are, you will never see again!”
What difference does Jesus’ death and resurrection really make for our lives? It makes all the difference in the world! The Exodus told the Israelites, and Jesus’ death and resurrection tells us, that God exists. He cares. He saves. He rescues. He intervenes. He gets involved. He get his hands dirty, he gets His hands bloody. And He does this because He loves.
Many of us, I know, feel trapped, hemmed in by present circumstances at work, in our marriage, at home, in our family, our personal life. We can feel like the Israelites staring at the Red Sea in front of us and the Egyptian army behind us; or like Jesus’ mother Mary and John the Apostle standing at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. All can look bleak. There seems to be no way out. But just as all that was foretold in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus, so all that he has promised us will also be fulfilled. The enemies that chase and harass us and cause us so much fear and sadness in our lives, and the greatest of those enemies is death, one day we will never see them again. It might be a while yet until that happens, but it will happen, as surely as the Israelites pass through the Red Sea as on dry land, as surely as Christ truly and bodily rose from the dead.
I have two stories about lives that were transformed by Christ’s resurrection. The first is about a working class-man with almost no education. He tried to make something better out of his humble, poor life, by going to work for a friend who was starting a new company. He was hoping for a new lease on life, but it didn’t work out. In fact, his friend was arrested and thrown in prison, wrongly condemned for a crime he didn’t commit. In the end, he was brutally killed by a furious mob. The working class man was not only discouraged by this failure, but he was actually afraid that the same thing might happen to him. So he disowned his old friend and, dejected, went back to his former life.
The second story is about a talented woman with a poor reputation who had squandered her abundant gifts. She never got respect, and never did anything to deserve it. A slave to her own sin, she cried herself to sleep night after night. She simply couldn’t imagine a better life than the one she was living. Then she met someone who gave her hope, the same man from the first story, who was starting a new business. She also went to work for him, trying to get a new lease on life. But then he was murdered, and her hope was extinguished.
And what happened next? Well, they found out that Jesus rose from the dead, and that made all the difference, for the woman’s name is St. Mary Magdalene, and the man is St. Peter. Putting our faith in Christ, our stories become just like theirs.
This truth, that Jesus’ resurrection has destroyed death forever is what takes the sting out of our tears. This truth that the devil has been stripped of his power just as Pharaoh was stripped of his power is what enables us to live with hope. The basic message of Easter is perhaps simply this: what God does best is to turn trash into gold, darkness into light, and death into life. His power is literally beyond anything we can ever, ever imagine. And His love, His love, is even greater than his power. Happy Easter!
Pax et Bonum,
Rev. Christopher J. Ankley