Pastoral Post 4.19.2019

Easter in Egypt

Written by Scott Taylor

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.  Suddenly my brother called out what has become a familiar refrain in our years of debate and conversation.

“Sounds to me like you believe in some kind of universal atonement.”

Knowing this to be a pretty dangerous accusation in our world of religion, I just sat quietly and considered my response.

***

It is common at Easter for the church to recall some stories from the Old Testament.  One of the familiar stories that may be told in churches this Sunday is that of God’s saving of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea and the drowning of the armies of Egypt.  One of oldest bits of poetry in the Bible comes from this story.  One of my favorite Easter choir anthems is based on this text: Sing ye to the Lord by Edward Bairstow.  The Chancel Choir has sung it each of the past two years for Easter Sunday.  We even have a version of it in the hymnal on page 153 – we call it the Canticle of Moses and Miriam:

I will sing to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host the Lord cast into the sea.

Hymn 315, which we will sing this Sunday, also tells the story:

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;

God hath brought forth Israel into joy from sadness;

loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters,

led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.

I have recently been thinking about a myth/parable I heard a long time ago.  I’ve asked a number of folks if they could place the story.  Our former pastor Sandy Giles thinks it originated with the great preacher, Fred Craddock.  Wherever it comes from, this is the best as I can remember it.

And God called two angels and said to them, “Go to the Red Sea.  My people are escaping slavery in Egypt.  Help them!” 

The angels departed and went at once to the Red Sea.  As the Israelites approached, the angels caused the waters to part and the people crossed safely to the other bank.

But the angels’ work was not yet done.  They said, one to the other, “Let us leave the path open and lure the Egyptians into the sea bed.  Then we will punish them for their sins against God’s chosen people.”

And so, the Egyptian army pursued the Israelites into the sea.  Once the entire army was in the sea bed, the waters collapsed and they were killed, each and every one.

In the evening, God passed by and saw the two angels celebrating their conquest.  God asked why they were celebrating and they told the whole story: how the Israelites passed safely through the sea and how the Egyptians were swallowed in the current.

And God spoke.  “Get away from my sight!  Both of you!  Do you not know that the Egyptians are my children too?”

 

***

“Sounds to me like you believe in some kind of universal atonement.”

After a moment, I responded.

“If it’s not universal, then it’s not atonement.”

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