Saved by his cross

"Moses" by Michelangelo in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. Photo: OmiStudio/Shutterstock

Around this time of year, I love to remind everybody of the stunning metaphysical similarities between the Exodus narrative and the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ.

Tell the truth: you groaned a little when you read that. It is one more thing to think about, right? One more profound truth to understand and be accountable for when we also have to bake all the right goodies, practice the right songs, dig out the right shoes, and pray the right prayers, all without forgetting for one second what it all means. Now there is one more thing to get right.

I hear you! And that’s what I want to tell you about today. One message we can hear, when we hear about the long, long story of salvation. The Holy Spirit has got this covered.

Let me tell you what I mean, and then I’ll tell you why you don’t need to worry about it.

As Hebrew Catholics, my family celebrates Easter as the glorious high point of the liturgical year. On Holy Saturday, we prepare an enormous seder feast (an elaborate version of the Last Supper). As we drink and sing, nibble and pray our way through the ancient ritual meal, we draw out the parallels between old and new. Here’s one part that gets me every time:

Moses told the Jews that, to protect their families from the Angel of Death, they were to mark their doors with the blood of a sacrificial lamb.

First you dip the hyssop brush in the blood and make a mark on the lintel, overhead. You dip again and mark the left post, and then the right. Your house is marked as God commanded. You are protected. Death will pass over your house.

What did you just do?

Up, down, left, right, with the blood of the lamb. You just made the Sign of the Cross.

That is what Moses and all the faithless, grumbling, terrified Israelites were doing, over 2,000 years before anyone had ever heard the name “Jesus of Nazareth.” They were making the Sign of the Cross over their houses to bless and protect their families. Christ, his cross and resurrection, cast such a long shadow that it stretched thousands of years before he was even born. Before the Incarnation, the work of salvation had already begun. He was already with his people.

And he wasn’t with them because they were “doing it right.” He didn’t wait for them to know or feel the full significance of what they did. How could they? They were bound up in their times, in their current lives, in the tasks that God had given them.

They didn’t need to comprehend each ontological, soteriological significance of their slavery, liberation, exodus, and triumph. All they were supposed to do was listen to God, to let themselves be part of the story. The ones who reached the Promised Land were the ones who kept their eyes on God and kept reminding themselves that he is wise, he is merciful—and he is in control.

We do our part, and the Holy Spirit spreads his wings over our messy nests, overshadowing the human race from age to age with one warm, eternally wide embrace. Whether we live 2,000 years before the Incarnation or 2,000 years after, God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

We are all captives in our little Egypts, all slaves to our current concerns. Even on Easter morning, when our salvation should be clear as day, we lose the thread of the story. We worry. We fret over logistics. We complain, even as we are freed, “Is God with us or not?”

But consider this: Those Israelites didn’t recognize the cross on their doors. They couldn’t. And yet that cross was still efficacious. God recognized it, and he recognized their trust and obedience. And Death recognized that cross, too, and Death fled.

Cling to that idea. It’s not all up to us, thank God. His embrace stretches so far and so wide. His mercy endures forever; it covers us in our ignorance, shelters us in our grumbling, and comforts us in our darkness. Alleluia!

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