For those reading this blog who are not Episcopalians, you probably don’t know that the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio is focusing its attention on The Book of Exodus for the next several months. Why Exodus? I have a hunch that the Bishop and others believe that its message has a particularly relevance for the church today. Only time will tell if that is indeed the case.
We begin our reading of Exodus this coming Sunday with the opening chapter and the birth of birth of Moses in Chapter 2. But I want to jump ahead to a few verses at the end of chapter 2, which are arguably the most important in the entire book. After the birth of Moses and his fleeing from Pharaoh, we hear this: “After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them (2:23-25).” These words tell us that the Bible dares to imagine that voiced pain and suffering enlists God’s saving help. And notice: the text doesn’t say that the Israelites are crying out to God; it simply says that they are groaning and God noticed.
In a very real sense the rest of the story only happens because oppressed people didn’t remain silent. God heard their cries and God then acted to liberate them from their distress. In a world full of so much suffering, I find these verses extraordinarily Good News. It is comforting to imagine that God notices the cries of the millions of refugees in this world, and the populations living with endless war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the impoverished mothers and fathers throughout the world struggling to keep their children alive. It is comforting to imagine that God notices the cries and groans of victims of all forms of violence and abuse. And it is comforting to imagine that every groan mobilizes God to respond.
This text invites us to cry out when we are in pain, but it also invites us to pay attention to where the oppression and injustice is in our world and give voice to that pain on behalf of others. It invites us to give voice to pain and suffering and trust that it matters to God. Does this mean that God will instantly make the world a more just and peaceable place? No. That is not what Exodus tells us. What it means is that the God who wants to liberate the oppressed responds to the cries and groans of human beings. How? By enlisting people like Moses—and you and me—to lead a movement to liberate people from what oppresses them. How? By giving people like Moses—and you and me—the endurance to keep fighting for justice and peace even when Pharaoh fights back. How? By reassuring us that even when we feel inadequate to the task—like Moses—God will make up for our inadequacies.
Giving voice to our pain and the pain of others is not only heard by God, but according to Exodus it mobilizes God do something about it.