This year, Passover and Easter are celebrated together, which focuses attention on this extraordinary season of rebirth and redemption. For Jews, the story of the Exodus, repeated yearly at the Seder meal, represents the core of our understanding of redemption, what it means to be saved.
Having just left Egypt, the Jewish people find themselves surrounded, by an army of Egyptians behind them, and the Red Sea in front of them. The people are frightened, and complain to Moses, “Are there no graves in Egypt, that you’ve taken us to die in the desert?” Moses reassured them, saying, “The Lord will do battle for you.” But in the next sentence in the Torah, God tells Moses, “Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to take a step forward.” The Red Sea does not part for Moses until the Jewish people take the first step toward it.
This is a metaphor for how people get themselves out of tight spots. The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim,” which comes from the root word “Tzar” which means a narrow place. Sooner or later, we will all come to a narrow place in our lives, a time and place when we find ourselves facing potential life-threatening situations. When you come to such a place, it’s good to know that your faith will encourage you, but this story tells us you can’t just sit in prayer, you have to do something. God does what God does, and you do whatever you can. The good news is you only have to take one step; you don’t have to know what’s going to happen 40 minutes from now, 40 miles down the road, or the next 40 years. You just have to take one step on your own, and see what happens.
In this season of rebirth and redemption, it’s comforting to think there could be an end to wars, terror and absence of leadership — that we could dare imagine taking one step beyond the impasses. The story of the Exodus is not only about the redemption from Egypt, it is a story about a promise of the world to come.
As part of the service, Jews take a cup of wine to the front door, and open it to welcome the prophet Elijah. When Elijah comes, it will signal the coming of the Messianic age. My nine-year-old granddaughter accompanied the chalice to the front door and opened it. When she came back to the table she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “How is Elijah going to drink from the cup without us seeing him? Is he a ghost?” “No, he isn’t a ghost,” I reassured her. “You mean he’ll just walk in?” she asked incredulously. I said, “Yes, he will come, but first we have to open the doors to our minds and imagine it’s possible, and then we have to take one step toward making it happen.”