A Modern-Day Exodus Story: Passover, Easter and COVID-19

Passover and Easter are behind us, and like many people, we are left scratching our heads. What exactly was that? It sure wasn’t a familiar Passover. Israel was under national lockdown with police and army making sure we don’t leave our homes. We ate matza, drank the four cups of wine and asked our questions in a state of bewilderment and isolation. Frankly, this Passover was a bit lonely, a bit silent…still.

As we try to make sense of what kind of Passover that was, it’s not really surprising that many people are seeking connections between the Exodus story and this time of “shelter in place.”

The most obvious connection to make of course comes from the Exodus story itself, when the children of Israel were commanded to stay home on the night of the last plague, with blood-marked lintels, so that the destroyer passes over the homes of Israel while God plagues Egypt.

Making that connection might work, I guess, if we ignore the obvious fact that Jews suffer today just as does the whole world. And it might work, I guess, if we are willing to forget that Passover is actually about movement, commemorating our leaving Egypt, and specifically not about staying in place.

What can we say about the exodus from Egypt – and perhaps even Easter – that is true to both our confined moment and the promise of our liberation?

If we look a little further along, in Exodus chapter 14, verses 10-12 we find the Israelites camped on the edge of the sea, where – in fear – they look back. Here we encounter a most pathos-inspiring moment of a people with a restricted horizon of sight. The children of Israel cry out, “You are offering us death. We should have stayed where we were. We want to go back. To the known, to the normal.”

The people at this moment can see only two options: backward to slavery or forward to death.

I’ve walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem with Christians several times, and honestly I find the story of Good Friday challenging to think about. Following along with the Passion story, it’s a bit of a horror show. I can imagine Jesus’ disciples wondering, “Can’t we turn back the clock? Have things as they were? Frankly, they weren’t so bad, right? It has to be better than that cruel, lonely death.”

At the edge of the sea (Exodus 14:13-14), Moses tells the children of Israel, “Don’t be afraid. Keep still and be quiet. And then, only then, you will see the third option. Only then can your horizon expand. Neither slavery, nor death, but God’s salvation.” And it is only once this message has been delivered, that God tells the Israelites to go forward.

Perhaps that is one purpose of this time of confinement – the challenge of standing still and being quiet. The great pause. The waiting through the long space, the chasm, between slavery and death, and God’s salvation. A time – perhaps like Christian traditions of Jesus’ harrowing of hell on Holy Saturday – where we think we are just confined: Nothing. Is. Happening.

But we would be wrong. Because our sight remains restricted.

It is only then – now! – when we can fully pause, on the cusp between slavery and freedom, death and life, only when we are not just able but truly ready to see God’s salvation, only then can we start to move forward, from lockdown to true exodus.

May we merit to see true liberation and God’s deliverance, both now – in this moment – and soon.