Four hundred and thirty years. Four hundred and thirty years to the day. That’s a big anniversary. Something worth celebrating. The day Israel’s God brings the people out of bondage, liberates them from oppression, and sets them free from all that has diminished them and diminished their hopes. It’s a new beginning. But it’s a beginning made in haste, with no time for looking back, no time for dallying, no time even for bread to rise.
Not even time to realise what had happened. Certainly no time to sing. The song we heard, we sang, is the canticle Moses and the people sing later, when their freedom is sealed at the Red Sea. But right now they are too busy leaving, to sing. Singing is for later when they look back and follow their freedom to a particular time and place.
And I dare say that many of them would have turned right round and headed back for the comfort of their chains if they’d guessed the road that freedom was opening up for them as they hurried that day from Rameses.
Because isn’t that the reality of all our lives? Looking back we can mark the day, the hour, when the gift of freedom was laid like a yoke on our shoulders. “That’s when it happened”, we can say. But even at the same time we know that the giving and the receiving of our liberation was in some ways the least of it. Accepting freedom is a life long labour. Living it daily. Living free. Not choosing chains again when every day they are offered. Like the woman in the gospel healed after 18 years of being bent double—every morning after she faced the choice to stand up straight or bow down again.
Our freedom is a life-long labour. A choice repeated each morning, each hour, each breath. When it first steals upon us, our freedom can feel a fragile thing—a reed already broken, a flame on the verge of going out. It needs to be nurtured, nourished, sheltered.
That’s what God is always doing—nurturing and sheltering the flickering flame of your freedom. I think it is all God does. God doesn’t brawl or rage or shout. You won’t hear God shouting in the street about your shortcomings—or even whispering them in your ear. God’s one activity is to lead the truth to victory within you. And the hallmark of that is a gentleness of touch. God never breaks the crushed reed. God never puts out the smoldering wick.
July 19th, 2003