The Readings for Tuesday in Passion Week (B2)
Why didst thou bring us out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness?
In the Fathers, Egypt is seen as a symbol of our human bondage to sin. The Passover is a glorious sign of liberation, a foreshadowing of Jesus work. The Red Sea is baptism (our initiation into Jesus work) and the Promised Land is the final consummation of that work in this life/in the next life. The Forty Years though (and, by extension the 40 Days of Lent) usually get assigned to catechesis. Yet, while all the other signs are in order, this one is not. Would it not make more sense to view the 40 years of Wandering in the Wilderness as a true mark of the Christian Life? Easter is Passover. The Baptism in the Red Sea. Pentecost is the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and the giving of the Spirit to the Church in Confirmation. The wandering comes after Passover, after Pentecost.
The newly Baptized is freed from sin and then left (not alone, but still left) to Wander in the World. For, about, 40 years…
If that description “clicks” at all for you, then the passage we have today will make sense.
How many times does one say to oneself over morning coffee alone (or over Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevensies, Lunch, Tea, Dinner, Supper, or grocery shopping, or maybe in the shower, or cleaning the litter box…) Why did I ever leave Egypt?
Even though the very Idea of Egypt, often, makes us nauseous when we are sane, in these moments of insanity, when it’s enough to remember the food was good, or mercy, but a swim in the Nile felt good on a hot evening. There are no Niles in this desert. There are Oases, sure, and miracles and daily manna from heaven, but we’ll spend all day on our feet in the hot sun and every day its manna bread and the morning and tiny birds at night. There were games in Egypt, and pastimes that could while away the hours on those Sunday afternoons while the Bottomless Mimosas wear off, the long dark Brunch Hangovers of the Soul. Let’s go!
This is why God’s serpents don’t seem to rough to me: but rather merciful. When I am sane, I know that a return to what was killing my soul and warping the reward pathways in my brain would be beyond foolish. But in my insanity, nearly nothing can distract me from committing spiritual suicide. My cat has taken to jumping on my lap and clawing my hands. A serpent seems merciful. (The Fathers say God allows death because it keeps us from continuing to sin…)
Monday afternoon on the 38R Geary Rapid bus, I hesitated to cross myself as we passed the Cathedral because someone might see and I yelled at myself because, What are you going to do, date someone on this bus? Egypt is so real.
The 40 Years are a perfect sign of the Christian journey from Pentecost to Death. Stay in the tribe, daily Manna from Heaven (Mass), be the Church in place, Keep a can of Whoopin’ Spray on hand for the Amalekites, rejoice when God stomps your enemies, mourn when your people fall, get wowed by the occasional miracle, put up with things happening, and stop complaining about wanting to go back to Egypt, diddle darn it all: Hush!