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Evensong, 3rd Sunday of Lent March 7, 2021

March 8, 2021

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‘What is a fronted adverbial’? ‘What is pi?’ ‘How do I calculate standard deviation?’ ’What is a normal pulse rate?’

Just some of the questions surging on the internet search engines during the past year as school closures have caused home-schooling parents to realise the limits of their own education.  It’s not just been parents who’ve felt the strain.  During the pandemic working out how to do our daily work while protecting ourselves and others, how to work in the work-place and how to work from home, and how to work online.  How to care for others within all the restrictions.  How to cope with new challenges and dangers while separated from family and friends and sources of support.  Without hugs and kisses, without coffees with friends, personal resources and energies have been stretched and not replenished.  We’ve had to dig deep.

For many people, this past year has felt like making bricks without sufficient straw.  Which means being required to make something without the necessary resources, without the energy or knowledge or resources required.  As we’ve learnt this past year, human inventiveness can get around lack of resources, and google search can help us with homework.  But doing a task without sufficient resources, is hard and tiring.

‘Make bricks without straw’ is one of many sayings, in common speech that comes from the bible.  Here, in the Book of Exodus, Pharaoh orders that the Israelites who are working as forced labour under Egyptian task masters must fulfil their normal quota of bricks but that from now they won’t be given one of the components needed to do that work, they’re given mud, but no straw.  They have to find the straw themselves.  I expect that we can relate to the principle, that a hard task has become much harder.

But, let’s go deeper into this scripture, beyond simile, back to the actual mud and straw.  Because it’s really important that we recognise the significance of what’s happening here.  Which is that across the whole of scripture can be traced an arc of narrative: the journey from slavery to freedom.

The people of Israel, having escaped famine were living in Egypt.  They had prospered and multiplied.  So much so that the native Egyptians began to feel threatened.  In fear, Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, giving them punishing, back-breaking work. They made bricks for his grand building schemes, a double humiliation.  They were deliberately oppressed in order to break them.  We see in ancient scripture a ghastly premonition of labour camps and concentration camps ever since.

Moses is called by God to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go. But this provokes Pharaoh to make the work and its punishment harder, by taking away the straw.  Following this deliberate cruelty God sends the plagues that wreak havoc and eventually change Pharaohs mind.  This story of enslavement, release and freedom is the overarching story of our scriptures, culminating for Christians in the freedom that Christ brings through death and resurrection, of forgiveness and new life in the Spirit.

The past, difficult, year has revealed to us our own vulnerabilities and needs.  And also revealed enormous inequalities between nations, races and groups of people.  We’ve been in the same storm, but not in the same boat.  The story of the Exodus is a powerful revelation of God’s heart for justice.  The plagues that overwhelm Egypt, the darkness, locusts, frogs and blood, that overwhelm Pharaoh’s capabilities, represent how profoundly Pharaoh has offended Gods ordering of his creation and that humans are called to steward.  Most essentially, to live in love and peace.

As we emerge from pandemic, with renewed awareness of human vulnerability and connectedness, of our needs and of our abilities, we have a God given opportunity to rebuild better.  To hear the cry of those whose daily lives are made unbearable by others, to see injustice and not to turn away.  This may be a time of renewed human solidarity and justice.

Scripture give us resources to imagine a future in which slaves are freed, in which each human life is afforded dignity and respect.  If we can imagine this different future, we have the ingenuity to make it real and to make the world a better place.