Just as the Passover has symbolised for Christians the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, so the crossing of the Red Sea has symbolised resurrection and deliverance. The links with water are important in Christian baptism, and as with Maundy Thursday and the Passover we have today a rich vein of symbolism as we celebrate today the mighty acts of God in raising Jesus from the grave.
The starting point of the story is the sheer hopelessness of the Israelites’ situation. With the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind, they quite literally have nowhere to go. There simply is no human solution to their problem: what is needed is nothing short of a miracle. But God is a God of miracles, and so just as it is needed, one is provided. The sea opens, and they are free. In fact they are a lot freer than they expect as those who would kill or recapture them are drowned in the very waters which have parted to allow them the road to freedom.
One of my more memorable sermons, about Mars Bars and Lifebelts, asks the question ‘How do you understand your salvation?’ Many Christians see their relationship with God as a bit like if I were to give them a Mars Bar. Most of them would be really grateful to me (apart from once when I chose a member of the congregation who was allergic to chocolate, but that was just an unfortunate pick on my part). But if instead of my giving them a Mars I had given them a lifebelt just as they were drowning, they would be more than merely grateful: they would quite literally own me their life. Jesus doesn’t just come along to make our quite nice days even better with a little gift called ‘salvation’: he quite literally provides a miraculous rescue for those who without him would remain dead in their sins. What we need to save us is nothing short of a miracle: the rising of Jesus from death, when we had nothing in ourselves to save ourselves, is that miracle.
Exodus 14 also encourages us to hope for a miracle when all looks hopeless. The famous words in verse 13 ring down the ages to all who face impossible situations: ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you’. Our instinct is so often to rush around trying to sort out our own problems: God is the God both of the 11th hour and of those who can hold onto their trust in him with quiet faith.
Another motif is the glorification of God through this mighty miracle. ‘The Egyptians will know that I am God’ says the Lord to Moses, although in the event they won’t know it for very long before the sea gets them. The resurrection of Jesus vindicates him, and his Father, before the world which has hounded and condemned him. It is in the nature of judgement that there will be those who realise the truth too late: Revelation 1:7 talks about the mourning of those who had pierced Jesus but them seen him gloriously vindicated as he comes in glory. The celebrations of this greatest day of the Christian year also have a bittersweet flavour as we are reminded of the urgency of the task of telling others about Christ’s victory.