Exodus 14: 19-31 (NRSV)
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, 'Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.'
Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.' So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
In Steven Spielberg's telling of the story of Moses (Prince of Egypt), this scene at the Red Sea has all the drama of the old Cecil B. DeMille version, but then something just a bit different. At the end of the story, after the children of Israel have crossed the sea on dry land and the water has rushed back in to drown the chariots and chariot drivers, Moses hears his adoptive brother, the Pharaoh, crying out from the other side of the sea. Moses sits on a rock, looking out at the pieces of chariots floating by and knowing their drivers have now drowned, knowing that he is severed forever from his family in Egypt, and he is obviously distraught at what has just happened. For just a moment before the great victory song, we are reminded that this victory came with multiple losses.
Thirteen years ago the towers of the World Trade Center fell, and the planes flew into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. In the thirteen years since then, our nation has fought two wars, and both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be places of struggle and death. Wars pile up one loss after another, and each loss brings cries of pain and breaks families and communities. In Moses' song in chapter 15, we find the words "the Lord is a warrior," and it seems that the three great faiths who honor Moses, including the one which claims to honor the Prince of Peace, all are quick to insist that God the warrior is on their side. Perhaps the way out is to pause for a moment in all the warring, to stop the rush to the victory song, and to recognize the loss upon loss in every conflict. Perhaps if we did not charge so quickly out of sadness and grief and into triumphalism, we might be more motivated to be peacemakers. This week, as we remember 9/11, let us sit on that rock by the sea with Moses, and remember all those of many nations who have lost lives since then. Out of our lament, perhaps, will come a passion for peace instead of a song of victory.
For a time of prayer today, sit in silence and let the sadness of the world flow through your mind. Then lift each hurt, each loss, each pain up to God in silent lament. End by praying for peace for all.
The Rev. Rochelle A. Stackhouse has served in parish ministry and seminary education for 40 years, the last 16 in Connecticut, and now is the Senior Director of Programs at Partners for Sacred Places.