There’s no denying the victory that God has won for His people. It’s there before their eyes, that the Lord has gotten glory for Himself over Pharaoh. So Moses and Israel sing with great joy, and praise the Name of the Lord, and celebrate their salvation from slavery and death in Egypt.
But then what? Within a chapter the people are groaning and complaining against the same Lord God, and against His servant Moses, because they are hungry and thirsty, bored and restless.
From the waters of the Red Sea they are confronted by the wilderness with its harsh and difficult conditions. That is what they will have to face and deal with for the next forty years. Only two of the grownups will live to enter the Promised Land. So it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire.
And so it is for you, as well, who share the Exodus of Christ Jesus by virtue of your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. You die and rise with Him, and then you still have to face the fallen world with all its sins and griefs and sorrows, as you sojourn through this vale of tears.
The Christian faith and life are a struggle against the ongoing experience of sin and death, and against the knowledge of natural reason, which may be persuaded by the evidence and the facts, but cannot comprehend the Scriptures. As of yet, you do not know as you are known.
On the one hand, you are confronted and seemingly trapped by your enemies, who hate you and hurt you and hurl abuse at you. And on the other hand, you must grapple with the poverty and depravity of your own life, within your heart and mind and outwardly in your words and actions.
The Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is in fact your rescue from all of this, no doubt. It is the saving grace of God, the answer and solution to all of your problems. But it hardly seems real for the time being, and it may not appear to be making any difference or doing any good.
You’re still sinning against God and your neighbor, still grumbling and complaining against the Lord and against His servants. What is more, your neighbors and the devil are still sinning against you; if not Pharaoh and his minions, there are plenty of others who oppress you and fight with you. And on both counts, you’re still dying, day by day, year after year, both inside and out.
So there is this wrestling match within you, in your heart and mind, and in your flesh, between faith and unbelief, and between real love and the lies of anger and fear, apathy and despair.
Against all that, again, there is the fact that Christ has died — once for all, never to die again — and that Christ is risen — He is risen indeed, just as He said! But He seems to have disappeared, to be missing in action, and frankly you don’t know what to do with yourself. “They” have taken away your Lord (whoever “they” are), and you do not know where or how to find Him.
So you’re in the same quandary as those dear first Christians who have gone before you in the struggle of faith — from the waters of Baptism into the wilderness under the shadow of the Cross.
Like Mary Magdalene, from whom the Lord cast out seven demons; who loved Him with such deep gratitude, and depended on His mercy and compassion, even as she served and supported Him. She’s there first thing to pay her respects, to remember and grieve, but she’s still in the dark. And when she finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, she is beside herself with sorrow and weeping. She is at an utter loss. How will she ever know any peace or happiness again?
And there is Simon Peter, so bold and brave on occasion, but now living with the deep sadness and bitter regret of his denials. How often hasn’t he spoken out of turn without understanding, but he did not speak up when he should have done, and now he is dumbfounded by the death of Christ and the discovery of an empty tomb. Is there any hope for Peter? Any chance for reconciliation?
Even the disciple whom Jesus loves — the Teacher’s pet, the golden boy, the wunderkind — he, too, is at a loss. He enters the empty tomb, he sees with his own eyes, and he believes the facts of the case before him, but he does not yet know what it means. So he goes home. But what now?
And how is it for you and yours?
Whether in confidence or desperation, you race ahead to get where you’re going, to wherever it is you think you should be, but you also come up short. Johnny or Suzie on the spot — up before the dawn, or burning the midnight oil — but then it’s the proverbial “hurry up and wait.”
With misplaced zeal, you cling to the wrong things, because they seem so good and so right, and yet, you fail to see or recognize the Lord Himself when He is standing before you in His Gospel. Your overeager efforts do not help, but lead you instead to exhaustion and disappointment.
Maybe you have brief glimpses of clarity and insight, moments when everything seems to make sense. But then it all shatters and fades away, and you’re left again with perplexity and confusion.
Despite all that you know and believe, there is still this darkness that weighs upon you, and hovers over you, and follows after you like Eeyore’s little black rain cloud. It threatens to expose all your junk, to destroy your carefully crafted façade, and to bring you to shame and disgrace.
Whatever the contours and particulars of your own story, there is all this old leaven in you, which permeates your being and nature, your heart and soul, your body, mind, and spirit.
And the solution, which you already know but don’t yet understand — the great Salvation of your Savior Jesus Christ — is so counter-intuitive and scary, because it is first of all your own undoing.
It’s not just that you can do nothing to save yourself, but that you must be utterly undone in order to be saved. It doesn’t matter who you are, the good, the bad, or the ugly: You must be undone.
For the Lord God is a Warrior, Yahweh Sabaoth. In drowning and destroying Pharaoh and all his host, the same Lord also puts you to death — to yourself, to your sin, to your own righteousness, and to the whole world of sin and death, both near and far, all around you and within you.
You must be purged of the leaven on which you have relied. You must enter into the depths, to pass through the waters — with your enemies hot on your heels, breathing threats and murder.
Not only that, but what awaits you on the far side of the deadly waters is a desert, and who knows how many years of wandering, in which you will not feed or clothe yourself, but you will be fed and cared for by the Lord your God. He is the One who brings you through the wilderness — into Paradise at last — by His grace alone: By the true Bread of Life from heaven, and by the Living and Life-Giving Water that flows from the innermost Being of Christ into your body and soul.
Do not cling to what you have known or experienced in the past, but let it go, and be done with it altogether. Do not pine away for the fleshpots of Egypt, no matter how hard the desert may be.
It’s not a game. The Lord is not teasing you. The ordeal is not pointless. For it is on this journey through the wilderness that you are catechized — day by day, year after year, your whole life long — unto repentance and faith. Thus are you taught to rely upon the Lord, to trust His Promise of the Resurrection, even as you are being put to death or simply wasting away.
How, then, shall you be saved? And how shall you be able to sing in the midst of the struggle?
It is by the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives! He is your Strength and your Song, because He has become your Salvation. He is your Passover, who has been sacrificed for you, who now feeds you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood. Indeed, His Blood covers you and cleanses you, and anoints you in body and soul, inside and out. And His Body enlivens you and strengthens you with forgiveness of sins and communion with God.
The same Lord Jesus Christ has passed through the deep waters — ahead of you, and with you — in order to bring you through death and the grave into His Resurrection and His Life Everlasting.
So does He travel before you and with you — He is your Vanguard and your Rearguard — through the wilderness into the Promised Land. His Ministry of the Gospel and His Means of Grace are the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night, by which He leads and guides you all the way. And as He has passed through the waters of the Jordan into Canaan by His own Baptism — that is to say, by His Cross and Resurrection — so do you enter with Him, by your Holy Baptism, into the Good Land that God has promised and pledged to you in the Body of Christ Jesus.
For in His Body, with His Blood, Christ ascends to His God and Father in heaven, that you might also be with Him there; and not only with Him, but like Him, and one with Him; that His God be your God, and His Father your Father, by adoption and by grace, both now and forevermore.
You also are His disciple whom He loves. You follow after Him and learn from Him, who has in fact also made Himself your Brother in the flesh, in death as in life, unto the Life Everlasting.
To your enemies within and without (including your own old Adam) He is a fierce and mighty Warrior, and the thunder of His mighty Law is not to be denied. But hearken to this Holy Gospel, and hear how He also speaks to you so gently, and how He calls you by name to Himself, and calls you by His own Name. For you are His dear lamb, and He is your Good Shepherd forever.
With His gentle voice of the Gospel, He raises you from doubt and fear to faith and joy, from perplexity to confidence and peace, from death and the grave to divine eternal Life in Him.
He teaches you sincerity and truth in all your dealings with others, by His own Word and Spirit of the Gospel in all His dealings with you, that is, by His mercy and His forgiveness of all your sins.
Mary Magdalene is not forgotten or forsaken. Simon Peter is not cast away or rejected. And you are not abandoned, condemned, or denied, either, but you are surely rescued, renewed, and made righteous before your God and Father in Christ Jesus.
As He feeds you here in His own House with the unleavened Bread of His own Body, so do you become brand new in your body and soul, and you live a new life in Him as a member of His Body.
In this Paschal Feast He brings you into the Paradise of His New Creation, and He establishes you in the true Sanctuary, made without hands, eternal in the heavens, which is His crucified and risen Body. You enter through the Veil of His Flesh, cleansed and redeemed by His Blood, anointed and sanctified by His Spirit, and so do you worship the Father in Him, in the Spirit and the Truth.
Beloved of the Lord, as He thus calls you by His Word and lays hold of you with His own flesh and blood, given and poured out for you, so cling to Him in these Means of Grace. You will not find Him in the fleshpots of Egypt, nor in the old leaven of malice and envy, but here at His Altar is where you find Him and know Him rightly as He is: Your Savior and Redeemer.
Therefore, let us keep this Feast of feasts to which the Lord invites you. For He, your Passover, is sacrificed and risen for you, and ever lives for you as your merciful and great High Priest. So shall you sing the New Song of Christ, of God and of the Lamb. And all the host of Yahweh, together with His whole Church in heaven and on earth, the true Israel of God, sings with you in the joy of His Resurrection, to the praise of His glorious grace.
For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.